In the courtroom scene of the movie "A Few Good Men," Navy Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is grilling the witness, Marine Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), about whether he ordered two of his soldiers to enact a "Code Red" (a hazing of a soldier) which tragically resulted in the soldier's death. Lt. Kaffee is defending the two soldiers accused of murder as loyal soldiers who were carrying out the Colonel's orders. If he could get Col. Jessup to admit the soldiers were acting under his orders, the men would receive a lesser punishment and spared imprisonment. The scene escalates as Kaffee and Jessup exchange heated words. If you saw the movie, do you remember the scene? Lt. Kaffee gets louder and louder as he persists in questioning Col. Jessup. Finally the Col., who is fed up with Kaffee, shouts, "You want answers?" to which Kaffe responds yelling, "I want the truth!" The furious Col screams, "You can't handle the truth!" Lt. Kaffee doesn't back down. Pumping his arm Lt. Kaffe roars, "Did you order the Code Red?" At the top of his lungs Col. Jessup explodes saying, "YOU'RE G__ D___ RIGHT I DID!"
The famous lines "I want the truth. . . You can't handle the truth!" have been used many times in jest and sometimes in earnest. But just what is truth? Pilate asks Jesus the question to which Jesus doesn't respond. You may ask WHY. One explanation is that Pilate wasn't truly interested in truth. His question mocks Jesus and is not worthy of an answer. There are those, like Pilate, who scorn truth and feel it is pliable, ineffective and meaningless. However, unlike Pilate there are people who sincerely ask, "What is truth?" What are people looking for when they say they want the truth? Is truth a set of undisputed scientific facts? Is truth subject to change? Can truth be controlled? Have you ever noticed that those who demand truth expect truth to conform to their own preconceived ideas? For some, truth is immovable and unaffected by anything in existence. For example, God is truth, meaning God is immovable, "I change not." (Malachi 3:6) Yet Nineveh was spared destruction because God changed God's mind. By the way, Jonah the prophet, was angry God changed God's mind. Jonah's not the only one who's been angry at God because of events that happened or did not happen.
I understand truth differently. There are truths that guide an individual, truths that guide a people group or nation, religious truths and all kinds of other truths. Truth is living and has properties and facets that dovetail in the formation of a greater understanding of all existence. In the area of religion I've known people who categorize truth as right, white, good, and holy. All other things are wrong, black, bad and sinful. Grey areas are a perversion of truth. There is one truth, that being their understanding of truth. There is no room for growth or a wider acceptance of something beyond the scope of their understanding. Can God work outside the rules and boundaries we've grown accustomed to? Let me ask these questions: Does holiness require one to go to confession once a year? Does missing services constitute sin? Is truth wrapped up in participating in church activities? Does godliness require one to belong to a certain political party? Can one claim to be a Christian if one does not embrace the ordination of LGBTQ? Does one risk punishment by God if one neglects taking communion?
The church used to (and some still do) condemn women who wear pants, refuse to allow women to teach men, expect women to have babies, view drinking, smoking, gambling and going to bars as a cause for enforcing discipline, etc. Are there teachings of the religious community that cannot be violated lest one risks God's damnation? Some churches rely on rules to please God, but the letter to the Galatians regards the law as a teacher that points to Jesus. "The Law was used to lead us to Christ. It was our teacher, and so we were made right with God by putting our trust in Christ. Now that our faith is in Christ, we do not need the Law to lead us." (Galatians 3:24-25). The law served its purpose and is no longer necessary. Paul was bound by laws, 613 to be exact, but he came to understand laws restrict our worship, not enhance it. "Christ made us free. Stay that way. Do not get chained all over again in the Law and its kind of religious worship." (Galatians 5:1) Are we more holy, more religious because we follow laws? What are laws good for? Laws should be serving platters piled high with the truth of God's universal love. A hard empty plate composed of only rigid laws is worthless. It's better to have no plate and offer the truth of God's love in one's hands than to offer an empty hard plate that serves nothing. A rigid platter of laws serves a purpose, but without carrying the liberating truth of God's love, it is nothing!