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Saturday, March 19, 2016

There Is Only One Truth

Vulcan Arenal from the plaza in La Fortuna in Costa Rica
Every new denomination or offshoot of one seems to believe they have the truth all figured out. So does that mean there are many different "truths", or is there only one?

I once heard Bishop Martin Lehman say he believed there was only one ultimate truth, but that none of us has the ability to fully perceive it, define it, to see it all as it truly is in this life. He compares it to our inability to accurately describe the make-up of a mountain in the far distance toward which we are moving. The closer we get to this beautiful "mountain" representing our sacred texts, the life and teachings of Jesus and of all of our spiritual ancestors, the more details we may comprehend, but we will never see it as it really is until we finally arrive. And even then, it would require an eternity of exploration to truly know all there is to know about something so majestic and vast as God's ultimate truth.

Our human tendency is to think that as soon as we receive some new revelation of it based on our coming around some next bend in our journey, that we have somehow arrived. So we tend to halt our journey, codify the insight we've gained and build institutions and write creeds to perpetrate it. Like the disciples who had an epiphany of a transfigured Jesus, we want to build three tabernacles to celebrate our latest insight.

In light of this metaphor, I'm fascinated by the photo I took recently while visiting in Costa Rica. I didn't take it with this in mind, but see it as a reminder that not only can our pursuit of earthly possessions (nice cars, for example) get in the way of our journey toward the "mountain" we seek, but the institution of the church itself can sometimes block our progress, rather than it being a wayside inn and a source of encouragement and much needed direction on our way toward truth.

Early Anabaptists tended to write occasionally updated "confessions of faith" rather than "creeds" meant to define the faith for all time.  Yet their Mennonite and other spiritual descendants have become as prone as other Christian groups to divide and subdivide over differing understandings of it.

How much better to be humble and realistic about how little we fully know, and to recognize that in this life we can only "know in part and prophesy in part" and "see through a glass darkly"? How much better to acknowledge that it will not be until the next life that we will finally see "face to face" and "know as we are known"?

Interestingly, these phrases come from the so-called "love chapter" in the New Testament, one that that tells us that greatest "truth" of all is the knowledge and practice of a love that is never boastful or proud, but is always about being forbearing and patiently persevering in all of our relationships with others.

The chapter ends with the words, "Now abide faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love."

That's the kind of truth I most want to remember.
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