Injustice is everywhere;
justice seems far away.
Truth is chased out of court;
honesty is shoved aside.
Everyone tells lies;
those who turn from crime end up ruined.1
We found ourselves in a delicate situation in which the question hung poignantly and pointedly between us. It was a question about another person that demanded a truthful answer – yes or no – the pure unembellished and unedited truth. In one sense it was a simple and straightforward question to which I would have had a quick and unequivocal response except for the fact that I am trying to live justly this year, and I knew that a truthful answer would expose that person for the kind of liar I think he is. That is what I would have done – tell the simple truth hoping that it would lead to the person being confronted with his dishonesty. But my friend was not as eager to respond with a truthful straightforward answer because, unlike me, he did not wish to complicate the other person’s life or to cause him harm.
This experience is similar to situations most of us face during the course of our daily lives, where the objective truth is one thing but our motivations for telling or not telling the truth are an entirely different matter. Truth is a powerful tool that we can use either to bring harm or to preserve another person. Admittedly, there are many times when I have deliberately withheld telling the truth in order to prevent a friend from embarrassment or to avoid complicating certain relationships. At other times I have regrettably derived satisfaction from telling the truth simply to unmask and even punish someone who has insulted, harmed, or taken unfair advantage of me or someone else.
The experience during this past week caused me to reflect on the ways in which my use of the truth may not always be just – Am I just when I refrain from telling the truth simply because I wish to protect a person who has erred but who I like? Am I just when I eagerly tell the truth in order to embarrass or punish a person I don’t like who has done wrong? Am I just when I use truth to protect or punish another person based on my own interests and motivations, even though I may not be the only person affected?
Living justly does not seem possible apart from being honest and truthful, and conversely honesty and truthfulness cannot be divorced from what it means to live justly. Truth is embodied in the very nature of what it means to be a just person. As I’ve been thinking about truth-telling and how I use the truth, I am becoming aware of how difficult it is to be truly just when it is so easy to use truth as a convenient and even justifiable way of harming others; and when it is also easy to avoid truth-telling because it might become dreadfully inconvenient.
Telling the truth does not, in and of itself, make me a just or unjust person – it is my motivation and how I tell the truth that probably matters just as much. I am discovering that living justly is not only a matter of my being completely truthful and honest but also of speaking truth with humility and love regardless of the circumstances. Just living is not only what you and I do and how we act, but is rooted in the depths of who you and I are in relationship with God for whom, “just living” and purity of heart are as inextricably linked as are justice and righteousness.
“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
― Warren W. Wiersbe