When I was first ordained fifteen years ago, the “Word of the Year” was the word truthiness, which means “the belief that something is true based on intuition, opinion, or perception, rather than logic or factual evidence.” Last year the “Word or Phrase of the Year” was fake news, which refers to “false or misleading reporting that aims to deliberately deceive or misinform.” Truthiness. Fake News. These are just a few examples of the way in which we continue to struggle as a culture to discern was is true and good and right. Whether its politics or religion, the environment or the economy, over the past few decades we have been come to face to face once again with age-old question, “What is truth?”
Now, of course, the quest for truth is as old as human civilization. For thousands of years, philosophers and great thinkers have been searching for what is true and good and right. The difference for us is that we live in the so-called “age of information.” When it comes to living in this age of information, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that billions of people have almost unlimited access to information and data along with opinion and analysis. The bad news is that billions of people have almost unlimited access to information and data along with opinion and analysis. Therein lies the crux of our problem. We might as well call this the age of information overload, because the cell phone in your pocket has more computing power than was present in the computers that navigated the Apollo missions to the moon and back? The great paradox of our age is that we can’t possibly process all of that information, let alone discern, and assimilate into our lives, what is true and good and right.
Truthiness. Fake News. The Age of Information. It is in this cultural context that we hear the words of today’s gospel reading, in which Jesus says, “when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth.” When the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth. What does that mean? How is it that the Spirit leads you and me, as followers of Jesus, into all truth?
To answer that question, we have to step back for a minute and look at the bigger picture. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus is repeatedly using words like “truth” and “believe” and “knowledge” and “understanding.” Typically, when we hear these words, we interpret them through our twenty-first century cultural context that tells us truth is about information. For the past few hundred years, ever since the Enlightenment and scientific revolution, the dominant cultural message has been that truth is about empirical evidence; it’s about what we can see and touch and prove and demonstrate through experimentation. Truth, according to contemporary culture, is about information.
And so, when we hear Jesus talking about “truth,” we think he must be talking about having the right doctrine and proper teaching. When we hear Jesus talk about “belief” and “knowledge” and “understanding,” we think he must be talking about having the right information. He must be reminding us that in order to be good Christians, we have to have believe and understand all the right things. If you skip one word of the Nicene Creed, you’re automatically disqualified. We conceive of truth primarily as information. And so, if Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, he must be talking about information. He must be telling us that the Spirit will make us understand and believe all the right things. Now, let me be clear, that information is important. What we believe is profoundly important. Doctrine is important. As Christians, we have two thousand years of incredible theological study and reflection, and we have more books than we can count on every spiritual and theological topic you can imagine.
But, my friends, the truth of the gospel is not primarily about information. The truth of the gospel is about relationship. Because, you see, in Christianity, Truth is not a concept or an idea. Truth is not a doctrine or theory. In Christianity, Truth is a person, and his name is Jesus. When the disciples were confused and unsure of what they were supposed to think or do, Jesus said to them, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”