The lectionary last Sunday took us to the sublime opening of John’s gospel. We only usually read it at Christmas so it was a treat to be able to give it the attention it deserves on a ‘normal’ Sunday outside the razzamatazz of carols and cribs and nativity plays. Its central message seems so pertinent still today – “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.
The phenomenon of Brexit and Trump which still continues to dominate our news day by day has generated a whole lot of new phrases about the nature and reliability of truth. It was back in 1986 when the then cabinet secretary used the memorable euphemism ‘economical with the truth’ but we have gone further now into the so-called ‘post-truth’ society characterised by ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’.
Post-truth was one of the new words entering the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016 with the definition: ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’ The president of Oxford Dictionaries was quoted as saying “Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source, and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.. I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time.”
Post-truth seems to be saying that we don’t really care about facts. We’ve seen it in political discourse where huge claims are made with very little factual reality. But then many people it seems have lost faith in established politicians or experts. They don’t trust their so-called facts. Globalisation has not delivered for them so they are ready to throw over the system for the sake of something which just feels better. We enter a post truth society.
I have some sympathy. Facts can be cold and hard. We can be overwhelmed by reality, about the world, about our country, about ourselves. We want something more relational, more understanding, more sympathetic. That for me is where John’s gospel comes in. ‘The word became flesh…. full of grace ’. God comes to us not just with commands or doctrine or philosophical insight. He comes as a human being and he comes full of grace – accepting, merciful, forgiving, loving.
But it doesn’t stop there. He comes full of grace and truth. He starts where we are – but then wants to lead us into a more honest reality. So as Christians we look not so much for a post truth society as a pre-truth society. We affirm the importance of truth, but before it we say there is relationship, there is grace, there is the welcoming face of God in Jesus Christ. God comes to us with love, understanding and patience. When we receive and trust Him, then we embark on the adventure of reality and truth and transformation.