Living truthfully

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

‘Everyone who is of truth listens to my voice’ (John 18.37, ESV). If life in the Spirit is one of ‘listening and response to the Lord’, it must be a life that is of truth.’ This is the same truth that ‘sets free’ (John 8.32) and Jesus tells us that worshipper whom the Lord is ‘seeking’ ‘worships in spirit and in truth’ (John 4.24). One of the chief purposes of spiritual direction is to aid the directee to live truthfully. A righteous life is one lived in the truth: a truth in which the life of the directee is lived with integrity in the truth of the Gospel. Here, of course, Pilate’s ironic question resonates: ‘What is truth?’

To live in the truth would seem impossible. Sometimes we avoid the truth because it is difficult to bear or share. As soon as we are ‘economical with the truth’ we begin the creation of a parallel world in which we become the only arbiter of what is fact and what is fiction. It is constructed on the rickety scaffolding of our own fears and fantasies and is destined for disaster. That is one side of the equation.

The other side is to determine what the truth of the Gospel is. Although most readers will confess on a Sunday they believe in ‘one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church’, it would appear that the current fashion to regulate truth by ‘context’ kills off any concept of ‘universal or catholic’. For example, it would appear that the ethics of sexuality are a different truth in some parts of Africa than in the UK. This creates what the liberal mind terms ‘second tier truths.’

I have always taken the rubric about Ghostly Counsel from the Book of Common Prayer to be essential guidance, that the minister be a ‘minister of God’s Word’. It is more a teaching and guidance ministry than person-centred counselling. This chimes in with Ignatius Loyola’s notes for spiritual directors that one of their main functions is save the directee ‘from error.’

Jesus always spoke the truth. He admitted that he ‘did not bring peace but a sword’, and that he would divide families and friendships (Matthew 10.44 ff). This sword is the sword of truth. Jesus follows this by predicting that ‘those who seek to save their life will lose it’ and saying that his disciples must stake up their cross and follow.’ Here he is describing the cost of being one of those he describes as ‘of the truth.’

This means the life in the Spirit will always be one of contradiction, conflict, denial. But this way of the cross is none other than the way of life and peace. This call to walk in the way, truth and life is a call to holiness. It is a preparation for that encounter in which ‘I shall know as I am fully known: It is the way to salvation. That is the whole point — isn’t it?