After deliberating for several hours in U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas, a jury found that Trinity Industries lied to federal regulators when it changed the design of highway guardrails in 2005, making them unsafe.
At least a dozen related accidents – some fatal – have been reported. Vehicles run off the road and collide with Trinity-made guardrail end caps that, instead of cushioning the impact, malfunction and spear the vehicle, according to lawsuits that have been filed against Trinity. Trinity has denied wrongdoing.
Appalling, but most of us aren’t surprised when an individual or a company lies. As a society, we’re awash in lies, including many that are far from “little” or “white.” Most people know instinctively that lying is wrong, so instead of outright lies, we often engage in half-truths, withholding of the truth and bald exaggeration. The bottom line, however, is deception, an offense against the truth.
This is particularly evident now during an election season, when politicians strain our credibility with charges against opponents, insincere promises and various jugglery to interest us in “the sizzle instead of the steak.”
Here in Iowa, this is obvious in television advertising on behalf of two candidates for the U.S. senate. Dennis Goldford, a professor of politics at Drake University, wrote insightfully about the campaigns in a recent issue of the Des Moines Register.
Solutions to society’s problems are seldom mentioned, he wrote. Instead, one candidate’s principal message is that he is a “nice guy” while the other favors “sunshine, butterflies and honey.” Basically, the TV ads ask voters to choose one candidate because he is not the other candidate. Instead of disclosing their positions on the issues, the candidates’ purpose is to manipulate voters rather than inform them.
Why should God seekers care about this? Because as I mentioned in a recent blog, seeking the truth and seeking God are – from a believer’s viewpoint – indistinguishable. To be successful in their search, God seekers must cherish the truth, rejecting the contempt for truth so often evident in society.
Tempted to be cynical, we – like Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ trial – might ask, “What’s truth?” He asks Jesus this question, according to the Gospel of John, after Jesus tells him that his purpose in life is “to bear witness to the truth.” There’s no record of Jesus responding to Pilate’s question because Jesus seems to have answered it earlier when in a dialogue with Pilate he said that he was a “king” whose kingdom “was not of this world.”
The specific truth Jesus seems to have been talking about is that in life, there is much more than meets the eye, that there is a domain, or “kingdom,” that requires faith to perceive, even if faintly.
This idea harmonizes with another famous quote of Jesus about the truth, namely, that it will “set you free.” Just how will it do that?
I believe it starts in the astonishing idea that other people are children of God, making them brothers and sisters. I know, this sounds sappy, but I believe it’s hard to seek God without understanding that we come to him/her through others. We are freed from self-absorption.
Mahatma Gandhi, the famous father of Indian independence, understood this. He proclaimed the truth through love and nonviolence. Jesus did the same but also invited people to know God, his Father (or if you prefer, his Parent or Mother).
In the passage of John’s gospel where he says that faith leads to freedom, Jesus couches his words in the biblical language that his listeners would understand. He tells his smug listeners, who took pride in being “descendants of Abraham,” that he’s talking about freedom from “sin,” a word that is foreign and even taboo in today’s society.
He wasn’t just talking about individual bad acts, however. In much of the bible, “sin” refers to a general condition of estrangement from God, of being so buried in one’s own concerns and in the world one can see, God is effectively excluded. It isn’t about coercion or about believing because someone else wants you to, but about opening one’s mind to a reality that requires faith. That’s another way the truth brings freedom. You’re no longer bound solely to the world you can see.
There is no believers' truth or unbelievers' truth. There is just truth. And that’s what we seek in order to find God.