In the movie, A Few Good Men, there is a rather iconic scene, which perhaps you have seen, during which Col. Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, is confronted on the witness stand by Tom Cruise’s character, LTJG Kaffee. “I want the Truth!” Kaffee boldly declares. “You can’t handle the Truth!” explodes Jessep. It is a powerful scene which resonates with both the emotion of the on-screen moment, as well as a certain amount of discomfort that maybe, just maybe, sometimes we ourselves have those moments when we can’t deal with the Truth.
Most people would like to think that they and Truth have a good working relationship, but, if we were to be honest (truthful) with ourselves, we would have to admit that sometimes the Truth is not actually something we want to hear.
In the Old Testament, Micaiah, a prophet of God was tasked with telling the truth to Ahab, king of Israel, a task he carried out faithfully. Ahab’s reaction to this righteous prophet was to first complain that he hated Micaiah because the prophet never prophesied anything good about him (cf. 1 Kings 22:8-9) and then to subsequently arrest the prophet for telling him what he didn’t want to hear (cf. 1 Kings 22:26-27). Micaiah prophesied the Truth, but Ahab couldn’t handle the truth.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist likewise spoke truth to King Herod, when he told Herod it was not right for him to be married to his wife Herodias (cf. Matthew 14:1-4). Herod, much like Ahab of old, could not handle the truth, but instead arrested John and subsequently beheaded him.
It is likely that very few people reading this have ever had occasion to arrest or kill someone because that someone told them the truth, but that may only be because we haven’t had the authority or power to do so. Certainly, quite a few people do not deal well with being told the truth, especially when it comes to matters of religion, salvation or morality. When we are confronted with an undesirable truth, and we react with anger, defensiveness, or disbelief, are we really acting so much different than either Ahab or Herod? Or is the only difference one of opportunity and authority?
Jesus once prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).” Two points jumps out from this passage. Firstly, we are reminded that God’s word is true. “Every word of God is pure,” says the Bible, “He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him (Proverbs 30:5).” And, “God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).” Secondly, we are reminded of the importance of the truth, especially in matters spiritual.
Truth, as expressed in God’s word, saves. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” writes the apostle Paul, “For it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).” “If you abide in my words,” says Christ, “you are truly my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free (John 8:31-32).”
There is no salvation in falsehoods, in lying to ourselves, or in following a lie. In fact, the Bible warns that people who will not love the truth will perish in the deception they have embraced (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:10). Granted, there are some things which God tells men which men don’t like being told. Nobody likes to be told that the choices they have made are wrong, or bad. But if we will not accept the Truth when we hear it, simply because it’s not what we want to hear, we are going to be in a lot of trouble.
We understand this in relation to such things as doctors and health. If a doctor tells us we have a life-threatening condition, but that it is easily treatable, we would be foolish to get mad at the doctor. It’s not his fault that we are sick. Moreover, we would be even more foolish to refuse the treatment simply because we can’t admit that we are not well. Yet, in matters spiritual, that seems exactly what some people want to do. God tells us that our sins are going to condemn us, but that there is salvation to be found in changing our ways and accepting His grace. Why get mad at God for such a message? It’s not His fault we have chosen to behave selfishly and wickedly. He has been clear from the beginning concerning what is right and what is wrong (cf. Exodus 20). Moreover, to stubbornly refuse the salvation God offers simply because we don’t like the message of condemnation that precedes it is even more foolish. All we are doing is demonstrating that we simply can’t handle the truth.
We might note that spiritually neither Ahab nor Herod went down in history as great men; both are remembered for their wickedness. We really don’t want to be in that company. So when someone shares with us the Words of God, and we can see for ourselves in the Scriptures that it is indeed what God has said, rather than getting angry, or defensive, or attacking the messenger, or doing any of the numerous other things people do when they are told something they don’t want to hear… what we need to do is accept what God has said, and embrace His word for the Truth it is. A Truth that will save us if we will let it.
If you have a desire to hear the truth, taught in love, the church of Christ invites you to study God’s word with us, and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions, including subjects you might like to see addressed, please share them with us through our website: chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.