Tempting the Truth

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Matthew 4:1-11

March 1, 2020

 

Sometimes it is hard to separate fact from fiction. I have heard that the coronavirus was created by people, or deliberately released by people.  According to John Hopkins, it most likely was a mutated virus present in an animal, such as birds or mice.  So while it’s true that all the Disney parks in Asia are temporarily closed, it is not true that the virus started with Mickey.  I’ve heard that a face mask will protect you from this virus, but it won’t.  If you already have the virus, it may help you keep from passing it on.  As of February 28 this year, 80 people in countries outside of China have died from the coronavirus.[1]

While some things are easy to verify, it’s very difficult to distinguish pure truth from partial truth.  With the ease of e-mail, Twitter and FaceBook, misinformation spreads globally within milliseconds. How tempting it is to believe things that support our point of view, whether they are true or not.  My sister-in-law posted an erroneous political statement on her FaceBook page, and my husband replied with a fact-check link, letting her know that what she had posted was false.  She replied that she did not care.

We are in a period of societal regression. In a regression, people act to relieve the anxiety of the moment rather than to act on principle. In a societal regression, people think in terms of “us versus them.” “One side of the division personifies all-goodness and the ‘other’ represents badness and all undesirable attributes.”[2] Group identity becomes more important that individual identity.

Regression also altars our morality. Groups work to protect their identity and power, which leads to a sense of entitlement to seek revenge. A prime example of this happened in Tennesee after the War Between the States.  In order to reassert white power, six Confederate veterans formed the Ku Klux Clan.

Evil has been around a long time.  It tested Jesus in the wilderness, speaking to him in partial truths.  At first the devil’s requests sounded reasonable.  To a man who had not eaten in forty days, he said, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to turn into bread.  Jesus resisted and remained true to his relationship of trust with God his father.  The irony of this is that Jesus would feed more than 5,000 people with bread.  In the blessing of holy communion, he himself becomes our bread.

Placing Jesus on top of the Temple, the tempter quoted scripture.  The angels will bear you up and you will not dash your foot against a stone, the evil one said. While the scripture quote was true, the devil was not speaking the truth.  The devil’s motive was to shift Jesus’ loyalty.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison for plotting against Adolf Hitler, he began an essay entitled, “What Does ‘Telling the Truth Mean?”[3]   In it, he examined the case of a teacher who, during class, asked his student, “Is it true that your father often comes home drunk?”  Though the young man had often witnessed his father’s drunkenness, he answered “no.”

Bonhoeffer asserts that the teacher is guilty of lying because he interfered in the life of the family, and used the boy’s shame to humiliate him in front of his peers. .  In exposing the truth of the father’s drunkenness, the teacher failed to recognize and consider the addicted man’s full humanity.  Because the teacher used the truth as a weapon that would destroy relationships, he was not speaking the truth.  There was no purity of heart, nor seeking the well-being of the student, in the teacher’s question.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer posits that someone who uses the principle of truth to deceive people is a liar. He writes:  A truthful word is not an entity constant in itself but is as lively as life itself.  Where this word detaches itself from life and from the relationship to the concrete other person, where ‘the truth is told’ without regard for the person to whom it is said, there it has only the appearance of truth but not its essence.[4]  If the teacher really wanted the truth, he would have suffered along with the boy his experience of living with the drunken father.

Now the serpent was the craftiest of the animals the Lord God had made.  He asked the woman, Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?  The woman answered yes, and that God told them that she and Adam would die if they touched it.  The crafty serpent told her, “’You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”  Bonhoeffer maintained that the serpent spoke untruthfully because he used the truth to violate God’s boundary.  Not concerned for the truth, but for his own control and power, the serpent exposed, pun intended, Adam and Eve’s doubts about God. There was only the appearance of truth but not its essence in the serpent’s words. God’s truth in response to Adam and Eve’s shame was to cover their nakedness.  So, whose truth do we hear, and whose truth do we listen to?  We grapple with this question every day.

Though Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they remained God’s beloved.  We, too, are God’s treasured children.  God created us for more than just tolerance and fear or indifference toward one another.  We are created in God’s image, to honor, and celebrate our gifts and differences.  This is God’s truth.  This is our truth.  In these turbulent times, this is the truth to hold above all others.

 

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

[1] https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/2019-novel-coronavirus-myth-versus-factweb accessed 02/29/2020.

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-me-in-we/201806/7-signs-societal-regression web accessed 02/29/2020.

[3] Root, Michael.  Religion Online.  https://www.religion-online.org/article/if-the-truth-weree-told/ web accessed February 27, 2020.

[4] Ibid.

Author: Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.