The loneliness of the truth

In his rich biography of Martin Luther, Heiko Oberman wrote of “The loneliness of the truth…” [247]. It’s an intriguing idea. Can truth be lonely?

Truth can be awkward and unwanted. It’s what an honest teacher tells a failing student. What a closeup photo offers an aging actor. Or what a doctor reports after an unhappy biopsy. Truth is raw reality that ignores our preferences for security, status, comfort, or happiness.

An alternative to truth is fantasy—what children call “make believe.” Or, in adults, “creativity.” The original fantasy—of being “like God”—came in Eden as Adam ignored God’s word and then quenched his Spirit. Without the Spirit Adam entered a ‘living-but-dead’ state. Adam’s offspring, in turn, were born without the indwelling Spirit. Afterwards human ambitions for a more godlike status grew as did the distance between God and his creatures. Soon, God concluded, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” [Gen. 8:21].

How widespread is truth-denying fantasy today? It’s common. In dishonest advertising, empty entertainments, widespread plagiarism, brash political claims, false religions, revised human identities, or even photo-shopped pictures. It’s everywhere.

Yet there are limits to make-believe. Many realities can’t be ignored. We need to work to have food and shelter. Plowed fields and plantings produce harvests. Shepherds need to care for sheep, and ranchers their herds. Cooks keep restaurants open. Builders construct homes, and manufacturers make products. Airliners require sound designs. Enduring businesses need to be grounded in reality. And human trust depends on truth.

So, there is a tension between truth and fantasy. How much truth we can ignore in favor of fantasies? Can we live with crossover zones between truth and falsehood without any conflicts?

This question takes up back to Adam. In the Bible the first Adam was replaced by a new head-of-humanity. By Jesus. He came to restore our view of reality as a whole. All of our present life, he said, is just a mist that will vanish when eternity appears. And today he gives his followers the “Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him or knows him.” He’s the ultimate realist.

So, for those who don’t embrace Jesus, Christianity is “narrow” and “hard.” Why? Because Adam treated God as optional, while Jesus insisted that he must be our all in all. Jesus called himself the Truth before he was crucified by the works of the Liar. Then Jesus was resurrected.

Paul, following Jesus, called the church “a pillar and buttress of the truth” [1 Tim. 3:15]. This was aligned with what Jesus told Pontius Pilate—”For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” [Jn 18:37]. Pilate responded by crucifying him.

And here is where the loneliness of the truth is crystallized. For followers of Jesus—what Luther called the fellowship of the cross—there is an abrupt divide. Those who love what Jesus loves will instinctively dismiss the fantasies of this world. The call to Christ’s upside-down values—as in his selfless commitment to others—will dismiss personal advancement. And this community offers a very lonely space in societies shaped by selfish ambitions and growing wealth.

The divide reveals a confusion of the truth and fantasy as the “true” or tangible realities of cooking food and doing chores are unconsciously blended with inner fantasies. So, we seem to be united with others as we share the realm of outward life. But while this tangible realm is fruitful, the realm of inner fantasy is empty. And all who delight in fantasy delight in nothingness. Pure imagination lacks substance. Believers, on the other hand, live both outwardly and inwardly with real lives. The inward and outward features of God’s external creation and his motives of love are coherent—and full of meaning. Peace is the product of this united reality.

Now the big question. What identity shapes us? Do we live in between the true-and-false realms? As godlike figures in balancing the two? Or do we have one God, enjoying him as we discover what he made us for in this tangible world? Among those who know and love him?

Loneliness is a term we’ve used along the way, and it calls for examination. It belongs to fantasy—which is inward and private. Even when it exists alongside others. But for those who share both outwardly and inwardly in the one reality of God, there is constant fellowship. And loneliness—so common in the world—evaporates in that communion.

In sum, those who are crucified to the empty ambitions of this world by union with Jesus are a family, sharing a profound and satisfying reality. And it lasts forever.

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