Columnist Carl Kline: Exploring the subtleties of truth and lies


I’m not sure if clergy still use them. Mine weighs a ton. I inherited it from my father and his name is still imprinted on the cover. It has been a handy resource over the course of my ministry, especially before the days of Google; back when you had to look things up in books.

This resource I’m describing is called a concordance. Mine is published by Nelsons and is “complete.” In other words, if you turn alphabetically to the word “truth,” you will find a list of all the places the word truth is found in the Revised Standard Version of the English-speaking Bible. The total listings in my concordance comes to 146, beginning with Genesis 42:16 and concluding with 3 John 1:12. Of course there are also listings for truthful, truthfully, truthfulness, and truths. (Google says there are 167 passages where the word truth is found.)

If “the truth will set you free,” as is often quoted, a good place to begin understanding what the truth really is, might be those 146 (or 167) passages in Scripture. And if you really want to understand Truth with a capitol T, it might be well to check out its opposite. There are even more references to “lie” and “lies” in the Scriptures. Reading them will make the distinction between truth and lies even clearer, as we humans seem to have a tendency to minimize the difference.

Unfortunately, Scripture has been used and abused by charlatans, who interpret it to justify their own purposes, have sullied its inherent wisdom, and turned off potential seekers. But just as the internet has replaced books for many, people may look elsewhere for their understanding of truth and lies, if not to Scripture.

One understanding that has been helpful to me has been Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha. It has been translated into English as the “force of truth,” our concept of nonviolence. But the word Satya has deeper implications than this simple rendering. The origins are in the ancient Sanskrit language, probably the second oldest language on the globe. “Sat” is the word for “Being” with a capitol B, and “Satya” becomes “Truth,” with a capitol T. One comes away from this understanding thinking perhaps there is such a thing as “God’s Truth.” And that force is more powerful than all the weapons of the nations, if only we grasp it and use it.

Revealed in Scriptures, understood in different cultures as something to aspire to, complete Truth may be humanly impossible to realize; my truth or your truth will never be God’s Truth; but we’re meant to strive for it, rather than succumb to lies.

Usually when we think of lying, it’s a rather stark denial of reality. It’s the child telling his mother he didn’t take a cookie, while the chocolate smears are on his face and hands. It’s a George Santos event. It’s the “Big Steal” lie told again and again by an ex-president.

But we can be more subtle about truth and lies as well. There is such a thing as a half truth. The one that comes to mind from my childhood is offered by my sister. My parents were away, leaving childcare in the hands of my grandmother.

My sister was older, more daring and stronger than I. She got upset with me, knocked me onto the coffee table and broke the glass top. When my parents came home and wanted to know what happened, she told them I did it. Well, yes. It was my body that broke the glass, but how did I get there?

Then there is the tendency to neglect the whole truth, to forget things. It’s hilarious how we are finding classified government documents all over creation. First it was Trump, then it was Biden, and now it is Pence. Who is checking on Obama, Bush and Carter? What about Cheney? Shouldn’t we be checking on cabinet officials? And think of all those folks called before the House Committee investigating Jan, 6, who couldn’t remember things, or took the fifth! At least they resisted lying outright!

The other difficulty we face in our culture, besides political lies and half truths, is a constant barrage of advertising. I like 7Up, But I will never forget the ad they used years ago that said, “7Up Is Love.” It didn’t say 7Up Is “like” love. It claimed the drink for the real thing. Or I think of the fossil fuel companies, knowing for years their activities were warming and threatening the climate, but denying it publicly in their advertising.

Leviticus 19:11 reads “You shall not lie to one another.” John 8:32 reads, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And from Gandhi, “Only Truth quenches untruth, Love quenches anger, self-suffering quenches violence. This eternal rule is a rule not for saints only, but for all.”