What do we love about The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien? Each of us might respond with a slightly different answer if we are fans of the books and the films. But perhaps key to the answer is our desire to see light overcome darkness, good prevail over evil, and the lust for power brought into subjection. Maybe we recognize that in the current time and our everyday lives we still live out that theme in the present, and we are all caught up in the story that began long ago.
One of the vital things we must remember as the battle lines are drawn is that evil is not always initially obvious. It never has been and that is why it can take territory before we even recognize it is happening. Doubt is put down to cause us to give pause to words that we hear, and never before have we had so many opportunities to be drawn off the path of righteousness as words bombard us from every direction, and possibly thought about less before they are spoken or written than ever before.
“With the great emphasis on words, you might think they are studied and valued and understood more than ever before. But that is where the odd thing appears. They are not. They are used badly, sloppily, carelessly. They are wasted away. It turns out that words themselves are not nearly as important as what they can do, and when they have done their work, they are tossed aside like Kleenex. Words are used in order to influence, to sell a car or a candidate, to seduce, to persuade, to win for propaganda or for advertisement. The skill of our times is not using words as words but using them as weapons, as tools.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
In the midst of all the words meant to influence and seduce us we are faced with the dilemma of trying to sort out what is true if we are even recognizing that not every word we read or hear is true. Because we live in a swirling world of lies, we can get lost in the bombardment and the keenest of discernment can fail us if the words chosen are ones we long to hear. And that points to the unseen challenge of how much truth we know and how much it permeates our thoughts, heart, and behavior. We would like to think we are lovers of truth but whether that is truth is not something we should so quickly determine. Truth is not easy to hear oftentimes, and it is not easy to speak at times as well. It reminds us of the DNA we inherited in the Garden of Eden and even as “good” people and as believers it is not painless for us.
“One of the large and persistent tasks of living the Christian life is learning to tell the truth. The opposite of telling the truth is telling lies. We lie a lot. Most of us lie a lot. We lie more than we are aware of. We lie even when we think we are telling the truth. The reason we do so is quite clear; we want to be at the center of attention; we want to subordinate all reality, persons, things, and events to our willfulness. We want to control people’s responses and manipulate their perceptions. In order to do that, we arrange the data, filter the facts, and shape the information so that we can influence the way things will be heard and seen, so that the response will be congenial to us.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
OUCH!! The words of Eugene Peterson in his powerful book, This Hallelujah Banquet, that looks at the letters to the churches in the book of Revelation in the Bible, are piercing. The chapter on “The Test of Our Truth” focuses on the letter to the church at Pergamum and pulls off the masks and attempts to deny the facts we frequently do not want to face. Too often they are easier to ignore because we fail in loving well enough to share truth and hold ourselves and others accountable to it. We forget that Jesus IS Truth!
“Lies are not usually blatant falsehoods. In order to be successful, they have to be mostly the truth.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
And that is what makes it so easy to fall prey to in each of our lives and a truth we must recognize if we are to challenge this in our own lives. One thing that can help is how much of the Word is in us, not just what we can quote.
The author of lies, Lucifer, was skilled in the Garden of Eden when he used words to seduce Adam and Eve. He is skilled today as well. Not unlike our ancient relatives, we are prone to want to hide when lies are revealed.
“It is no part of the Christian duty to run away from a difficult or dangerous situation. The Christian aim is not to escape from a situation, but conquest of a situation.”William Barclay in Letters to the Seven Churches
What is the lie that deceives us?
“To separate what we say from the way we live. To make a division between our confession in worship and our conduct at work. Truth is lived truth. Truth is not simply what we say but what we live.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
So, how do we test for truth and pass the test?
“The truth test asks not What do you think? but Who are you? Not What is your opinion? but What is your decision?Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet
We must accurately discern the battle lines if we are to pass the truth test.
“The battle is not between good and evil but between truth and error. To fight it well means to throw one’s life on the side of truth, to discern between what is right and what is spurious.”Eugene Peterson in This Hallelujah Banquet