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KOEDYKER: Telling the truth, not just one’s 'version' of it

• May 9, 2018 at 3:00 PM

I went to see the movie “Chappaquiddick” the other day. Being just a youngster when that incident took place regarding U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopeckne, I had only a vague recollection of what happened.

So, thinking I needed a refresher course on the events surrounding the accident where Kennedy left a young lady at the bottom of a river, I decided to go.

The movie certainly held my interest. What especially impressed me was the group assembled by Teddy’s father, Joseph Kennedy, to do “damage control” after the accident. They all put their heads together to try to help the last remaining Kennedy brother come out of this scandal without too much harm to his persona. After his three older brothers had all met with tragic ends, Teddy was the last hope for many who desired to see another Kennedy in the White House. But keeping that dream alive had been dealt a serious setback.

Teddy never did make it to the Oval Office and most likely that was due largely to the senator’s error in judgment in leaving the scene of an accident and not reporting it to the police in a timely manner. Controversy and scandal never completely left him after Chappaquiddick. His image had been tarnished and a cloud of distrust continued to hover over him.

What surprised me the most about the movie was that what we call “spin” today already existed back in 1969. That scene where the room is filled with Kennedy family lawyers and consultants all throwing out ideas on how to control the story before it got out of hand is indeed a telling one. Even Edward Kennedy, who in the film is portrayed as at least wanting to be above board and honest about what really happened, says, “We’ve got to tell the truth — at least our version of it.”

That line stuck with me. A little bell went off in my head that got me thinking of the question of Pontius Pilate to Jesus when he was on trial before the Roman governor. Pilate’s unforgettable and almost haunting words were, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)

This was an extremely significant conversation which Jesus and Pilate had, especially when you consider the fact that this exchange took place in the middle of a trial which was taking place under the auspices of the Roman government. Pilate’s question was prompted by a statement Jesus had made: “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

Pilate may have seen this discussion as a kind of philosophical debate. But it was much more than that. Whether he realized it or not, he was standing in the presence of the divine Son of God, who was absolute truth — truth incarnate!

When one sees who Jesus truly is, the realization occurs that there are not many versions of the truth, but only one. Truth is what God says is truth!

There are numerous places in the Bible which speak about God’s word being truth. And what should especially be noted is that truth is one. There is no such thing as different versions of the truth or varieties of truth. And, for the Bible, Jesus is truth: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6) That verse actually harkens back to the introduction of the Gospel of John, where it says (referring to Jesus): “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

What all this means is that the Bible presents truth as a part of integrity. To speak of something as true which is in actuality false is to “bear false witness,” or to lie. That is the frustrating situation in which we find ourselves today, namely, what is really the truth? Not just someone’s version of the truth.

Our system of justice operates on the principle of telling “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Being humans, however, this principle — in court and in everyday life — is violated again and again and again. Yet, we need truth in order to function in life and live lives of wholeness, respect and love for other people. That is why God gave us the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

No one keeps this or any commandment perfectly. If we were to be judged on how well we keep the Ten Commandments, none of us would be saved. That’s why it is of utmost importance that Jesus is full of grace as well as truth. “We are saved by grace, through faith, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8)

And yet God holds up for us the high standard to follow of telling the truth at all times. Obeying the Ten Commandments is more like our loving response to God’s grace by living the truth.

When we do so, we not only are refraining from bearing false witness against our neighbor, we are also acting in a positive way — we are standing up for the truth!

In our world today, it is so easy to fall into groupthink and to follow the crowd rather than committing oneself to the truth. Surprisingly, binding ourselves to the truth actually frees us to stand up for the truth despite the massive outside pressure to conform.

— By the Rev. John Koedyker, pastor of congregational care for First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.

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