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The crucified truth

Truth emerged as a people’s favourite in the recent spring election carnival. Formerly sporting the kind of odds that would keep even the most game punters at bay, it suddenly enjoyed the kind of backing that had it at short odds in every race. It’s quite possible that the word ‘truth’ hasn’t attracted such attention since the Gospel of John, where it also gets quite a look in. But in John’s Gospel it’s no Latham-like call for truth in government, and it’s no Howard-like blundering about truth being dependent upon what you know. In the Gospel, truth is a person. Jesus says, ‘I am the truth’. And so, with truth as the protagonist, the Gospel tells of what happens when truth comes into the world.

What happens, of course, is that truth gets crucified. Well, this is no news to us. Who even remembers the details of the situation that brought about the catch-cry ‘truth overboard’? We might recall a vague and grainy picture of a boat adrift, surrounded by blurry shapes. But, of the people and their destiny (aside from the unenviable place they hold in Australian political history) what do we know?

What also happens in the Gospel is that Pilate the politician comes face-to-face with truth. The issue on the table is whether Jesus is mounting a political challenge by claiming to be King of the Jews. Jesus says he has come to testify to the truth, to which Pilate responds, ‘What is truth?’ Ironically, it’s staring him in the face. The Gospel tells us (and imagine it in Jack Nicholson’s voice if that helps) that Pilate ‘can’t handle the truth’. In fact, it’s in his interests to relativise truth.

Pilate’s words buy into a political strategy. They should give us pause when we wonder at the dwindling interest in questions about the Howard government’s honesty. Perhaps Pilate’s words make us sit up straighter when we see that further evidence of pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s weaponry appears as the fourth or fifth news story, tucked in somewhere behind unfolding sporting dramas.

Despite its new-found popularity, no doubt we are right to continue to be suspicious of an easy use of ‘truth’. Recent political debate has it pegged as one-dimensional; a simple question of lying or telling the truth. Like Pilate, confronted by a bloodied truth, our leadership has diverted our attention in an attempt to trivialise the reality of the truth before us. And, in so doing, has set truth on the path to crucifixion.

But if, like John’s Gospel, we can imaginatively characterise truth—imagine it as a person with whom we could have a conversation—then we rediscover that there are many more layers to it. To allow truth to be personal is to assert that we cannot avoid being in relationship with it and that we don’t have unlimited control over it. To reflect on the biblical story is to be confronted by the rawness of the crucifixion image. It is no cheap debating point to observe truth crucified in the Gospel. Truth makes us expect more of government statements about asylum seekers than that they do not actually lie. We look for some correspondence with the human reality.

Amid the crossfire on truth, we might think the question is about who threw the dice that decided who would take Jesus’ garment home. Frankly, I want to know how we came to be at Calvary. While we observe the fight about the garment, we forget (as it is hoped we might), that there is a crucifixion in progress. It’s the crucifixion of a full-bodied truth and the casualties are innumerable. The question before us as elections give way to the business of government, is how we can re-imagine a more personal truth, and liberate it from the cross.  

Kylie Crabbe studies at the United Faculty of Theology as a candidate for Ministry in the Uniting Church.



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