At the Corner of Truth and Love

Reference John 14:6, Ephesians 2:11-22

“I am the way, the truth and the life,” said Jesus.

“What is truth?” asked Pilate (John 18:38), a rhetorical question which Jesus let pass, as the cynical expression of the patron saint of bad politicians.

Amended recently by former Presiding Bishop Jeffers-Schori of the Episcopal Church to read, “I am a way, a truth, a life.” Revised by her predecessor Frank Griswold into the concept of pluriform truth.

And in the polarized condition of contemporary America, the truth of one man’s news program is the fake news of another’s.

The answer to Pilate’s question was right in front of his nose. But it needed rephrasing to be a non-rhetorical question. Jesus doesn’t say in this statement that he preaches or teaches the truth, or formulates it as doctrine. He says, “I am the truth.” The correct question is therefore, “Who is truth?” The answer, according to Jesus, is Jesus.

That answer has been lost on more than just Pilate. The search for truth has been long, wide and frustrating. Many have claimed to have found it, but have failed when tested. Some claim it cannot be found, “go with those who seek the truth, flee from those who claim they possess it.” And all along it has been hiding in plain sight, as the saying goes.

While Jesus indeed speaks the truth, it is important to grasp the more basic point, that he is the truth, “I am the truth,” in his words. Truth is wrapped in the person of Christ, a special meaning to the concept of being one’s “true love.”

Many are those who believe truth is fulfilled in properly worded statements, the pinnacle of which are those of Scripture itself, supported by creeds, confessional documents and similar declarations, old and new. The Koran, Talmud and Torah, Book of Mormon all are presented as the Word of God, as is Christian Scripture. Truth in this meaning is discovered by ascertaining the meaning of the words. But the New Testament turns all that on its head. Logos is the Greek word for word. But, as best expressed by the Gospel of John (1:1-3), the basic and ultimate logos is Jesus Christ, who is God. The Word of God can be stated on paper, but the actual Word of God is the person of Jesus Christ, inseparably God, who is the logic, the mastermind of it all.

The great, and greatly undervalued, Danish theologian Nikolai Gruntvig expresses this with the Creed. The Creed as printed, he says, is just a lifeless collection of paper and ink. The Creed is only true when it comes to life, as it is spoken or sung by the congregation, the voices of the living Body of Christ in unity, showing the personal relationships which constitute our Faith, that of the Trinity and as connected to us, the living Body.

To understand this fully, it is necessary to know the introduction to the Creed in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, the basic worship service of Eastern Christians. It has been lost in Western liturgies, where the celebrant typically says something insipid like, “Now let us confess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.” As such, the Creed is distorted into an intellectual exercise in dogma, something to be stated but not particularly to be lived.

But in the East, the introduction is, “Let us love one another, that we may with one mind, confess the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”  God is truth indeed, but God is also love. The two cannot be divided. The liturgical reminder, that truth without love is false, and love that isn’t true is meaningless and unfaithful, is a necessary introduction. When truth is inflicted on others without love, it is neither true nor loving. And false love is nothing more than betrayal. To attempt the Creed without love is a vicious form of apostasy. Rightly done, it introduces the Eucharistic liturgy, the feast of love, where we approach with one mind the true presence of Christ, encountered at the pinnacle of love given for us.

The correct combination of truth and love leads, as the liturgical statement notes, to the necessary unity in the Body of Christ. It is this process which St. Paul outlines to the Ephesians (as above, 2:11-22), drawing those who have been divided, alienated by the word of law, into the unity of the Body of Christ, by the blood of the Cross, across the false human barriers created by sinful mankind.

Jesus combines his self-declaration as truth with saying he is also life. As Grundtvig alludes, truth is dynamic, living. It exists, not in commitment to a book, but in the vibrant relationship with the person of truth and life and love.

Jesus also describes himself as the Way, in understanding that we are all travelers on the road, some as wanderers, some as pilgrims. We are not in a static ortho-catatonia. We are in a process, as sinful creatures seeking our home, incorporation into the temple being constructed of living stones, as St. Paul describes it in Ephesians 2. We are on the straight road, the ortho-odos, ορθο-οδοs.

St. Maximus the Confessor therefore characterizes Old Testament times as being shadow, the New Testament as being iconic, the future as being truth. Having the living icon before us, it is as we approach the living God along the Way as pilgrims that we approach truth. As we draw nearer to God’s love, we become the true inhabitants of the Body, no longer strangers and aliens to each other but joined together in the peace of God (Eph. 2:15-20).

Those who seek either truth or love apart from the person of Jesus Christ are going down an unfortunate dead end. Saying that Jesus is THE truth, not one truth among many pluriform choices is not, as we are often accused of doing, a way of excluding others, of being intolerant. Just the opposite, it is the outreach to incorporate all, nearby or far off, into the source of all love, all true love.