Truth and Trauma, Remembrance and Resistance by Mark Rich

“What is truth?” asked Pontius Pilate of the one who is truth and life, just before murdering him.

The most perceptive take on truth in the NT is in the Johannine literature. I will highlight just a couple features of that in this essay, in the hope that we can then better understand the current crisis.

The word truth in John means far more than the usual current meaning of the word, i.e. correct correlation of statements to material reality. That meaning is not wrong, but it’s not deep enough. It’s the objective, non-personal meaning, rather than the personal one – facts, rather than real truth. There’s much more to truth than facts. John knows that there is a founding connection between lying, murder, and Satan.

“[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

Lying from the mouths of the powerful is far more politically-interested than merely getting the facts wrong. It serves to found (απ αρχης from the beginning or founding) the social, political, economic, and spiritual system based on murder, which the powerful need in order to oppress and exclude through fear, bullying, scapegoating, and murder.

This system needs accusations and prosecutions (both these words translate the word satan) in order to make its killing and oppression appear good, necessary, and right. This is media and legal procedure as farce, as commedia del male rather than as the tragedy it truly is. Jesus’ prosecution and murder give us, his followers, the privileged insight into just how the system operates to oppress the many and privilege the few regardless of the facts, so that we can then see that the ‘truth’ of the system is actually a profoundly self-interested lie created to cover up murder in all its forms.

The people living under this system must always live in fear to some greater or lesser degree, and that is the point. Living in fear, we can be made to accept the lordship, the mastery, the greed, the lies, the killing of the powerful. We are told that the democratic revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries happened so that the common people would become free, so that the state would now serve us rather than the other way around. But because of the system’s demonic covenant with death[1], and addiction to greed, and embrace of hate and fear, it has outlasted and perverted and subverted those revolutions, and we the people are now once again the servants of the powerful. To claim that the system’s wars are now the fight for freedom is the most barefaced and necessary of lies.

Only trustworthy, truth-telling persons in communities of trust can break these chains of lies, and that is why Jesus is called the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). All truth is finally not a ‘what’ but a ‘who’, a personal/communal trust, because it is only among such persons in such communities that the nexus between truth, trust, and life can be held together.

The new administration in Washington has already fired off threats of war toward both Syria and North Korea. The actual drumbeat of war has not yet started, with the Congress and the media joining in, but I will not be at all surprised if and when it begins. The same thing happened with Iraq and with Vietnam (not to mention all this country’s other unnecessary wars of choice and conquest).

We who are the followers of the one who keeps covenant with us through, beyond, and against death should not be surprised when these things come to pass. It’s the same thing that always happens from the system. But more than not being surprised, we should also be ready. If we haven’t done so already, we must talk with all the young men we know about the choices open to them, to help them see that there are indeed valid choices they can really make.

If you are one of the preachers or teachers who avoids this topic altogether as “too political,” I beg you to stop your silence and start preaching and teaching the gospel. It doesn’t matter if you are liberal or conservative or radical or any other such label – none of those matter in the end. You just have to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let’s do it now before the drumbeat of war starts, because once that starts then very few people have the time, energy, and courage to actually think. The drumbeat happens in order to cut off thinking, to overwhelm thinking with emotion and mob mentality, to submerge moral sense in the shouts of the crowd yelling, yet once again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

For more information, here are just a very few of the relevant Christian organizations: Presbyterian Peace Fellowship ; Lutheran Peace Fellowship ; Catholic peace and justice movement ; Baptist Peace Fellowship – Bautistas por la paz

What more connections do you readers have to add? Please add them on FB!


Mark Rich is a Jesus freak ordained in the ELCA and in ministry in a PC(USA) congregation in Lima Ohio. He holds degrees from the University of Chicago, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and Northwestern University. He is active in ecumenical and interfaith affairs in Lima, and he is proud to be married to Cynthia Holder Rich.

[1] See Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:20.