Pilate and the Baseball Bat
By JIM NICHOLS
It was just a green postcard that appeared in the mail. It read “Official Jury Summons” and identified a time, date, and place that I was to report to help construct a jury pool for an upcoming trial. I had occasionally received such a summons but was usually dismissed after reporting because I was not needed or was disqualified for some reason. A few times I was chosen and, despite it interrupting my regular obligations, I found it rather interesting and a reasonable request of a citizen. This was the first time there seemed to be some potential violence involved in the case.
The details as well as the verdict are now lost in my head, but there is one item that stands out. There were three individuals involved and one, supposedly, either threatened to or successfully struck another with a baseball bat. Did he or did he not? That was the question.
We on the jury had difficulty deciding because each of the three individuals told a different story. It was entirely possible that none was telling the truth. It seemed as if every one of them might be lying.
When I relayed my frustration later to my attorney son, he replied, “Everyone lies, Dad.”
Certainly, “truth” is one of the most powerful words in our language. I have consistently told my students that we cannot function together if we do not believe one another. Yet it seems we are surrounded by a lack of truthfulness. Making up statements and portraying them as “alternate facts” would have seemed laughable ten years ago, but it is the norm now. The concept of “fake news” does not even merit a smirk today. Perhaps this is because we are not sure any more what is meant by the word “truth.”
When one considers the concepts of truth and lying from an academic standpoint, one approach is to note that there are different types of lies. One type of lie is designed to harm others. A second type functions to protect ourselves. A third type occurs to protect others. The first two appear rather straightforward while the third might be acceptable while giving us ethical concerns. It is a topic for another day.
Individuals living in Jesus’ time faced the same dilemmas with truthfulness and it is no accident that the concept of “truth” is a central one for those trying to follow God. Indeed, Jesus himself is described as the “truth,” as well as the “way and the life.” This may be worth wrestling with a bit.
Jesus seems to bring the concept of truth-telling directly from the heart of God. The Hebrew Bible contains many examples of God’s people living lives of deceit and falseness as if God cannot see their actions or hearts. Every generation, including ours, falls into the trap of believing that there are some of our deeds and words that God misses knowing about; that is, of course, spiritually naïve. When Jesus is being questioned by Pilate, he says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” What a strange phrase, “. . . belongs to the truth.” Confused, Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
There is a lot to consider with this word “truth.” For example, people taking the Bible seriously are prone to say the Bible is truthful. It seems reasonable to ask in what way is it truthful? Are there any limits to its truthfulness? I have been instructed by a preacher in my past who, before reading a scripture passage and preaching on it saying, “Listen for the Word of God.” His point is that truth can be heard by believers who are tuned in. Problematic, of course, is that some believers may hear one truth and others may hear another. Is that not one way the Holy Spirit can speak through the written word? If we get too set on defending the inerrancy of scripture, we realize we are really defending the inerrancy of our own interpretation of scripture. Perhaps it would be best to look for truth in the person of Jesus; his actions, attitudes, and words should be our standard.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain