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There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one.
C. S. Lewis

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John xiv.6


I’ve been mulling over the notion of Truth recently, and it’s all come to a point after having watched the movie ‘Silence’ by Martin Scorsese based upon Shusako Endo’s novel by the same name. 

Without spoilers just in case, suffice it to say that the movie struggles with the reality of God’s apparent silence in the face of human suffering. The context being Jesuit missionary activity in 17th century Japan. There is proselytizing, persecution and torture, faith asserted and perhaps lost. 

Fascinating film, and I’ve just picked up a copy of Endo’s novel because he was a celebrated Japanese author and Roman Catholic christian so I want to hear from the horse's mouth what Silence was all about as it were.

I briefly considered writing a movie review seven years too late but it’s not the film itself that I ended up engaging with but impressions that the movie may evince or that at least we easily infer given our modern western frame. Steven D. Greydanus put it well in his movie review, “Silence tells no one exactly what they want to hear, except those who can hear nothing else.

I guess I've been wondering: what are we hearing? Because after watching this haunting film that challenges viewers with its portrayal of faith and doubt, and subsequent conversations I’ve had with family and friends about this film and book have encouraged me to share a brief offering on the notion of truth and how it intersects with our modern understanding of belief and tolerance.

A thread that I discern in conversations about Christian evangelism, God, religion, you name it, is our culture's conventional wisdom casually asserting that there’s no single truth, reality is perspectival, we all have our ways of being and believing. The real goal is no matter what we believe, we shouldn’t harm others. And to believe that there is a single truth that all must accept is generally accepted as arrogant, narrow-minded, or something else equivalent to an aesthetic or moral failing. 

This or something like this has been the generic impression I've sensed from folks who I know have watched Silence or considered the context of sharing the news of Jesus in cultural contexts different from our own. And to be honest, I'm persuaded this is a cold take, for at least two reasons.

First, it’s almost a truism but it must be said: it is not arrogant to be persuaded that something is one way or another. Just take a moment and honestly think about it. 

Consider a young woman exploring various faiths. She does her best to understand different religious theologies and philosophical perspectives. After diligent research, she comes to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and becomes a committed Christian. She genuinely believes Jesus is the Truth against all other views on offer. On our cultures view, this is arrogant. And I'm telling you I just don’t see it. I mean how is this arrogant? It isn't. Her conviction isn't arrogance; it's an informed conclusion. Her journey illustrates that reaching a belief, after thorough exploration, is fair. It can be honest. I can be reasonable. It can be generous and kind. It could be arrogant, but that would be a posture of the heart that inheres in the character of the person, not in beliefs. 

But perhaps the arrogance doesn’t lie in her reaching a personal conclusion, fair enough. But why try to persuade others to believe as she does? Surely it’s this step that is arrogant, to assume her position is true for all and attempt to show others are wrong unless they believe as she does. Isn’t that arrogant?

I guess I have a question at this juncture: is it true that there is no single true perspective, all that matters is we don’t harm others? That is, is it universally true that all perspectives are equally valid and therefore the young woman’s conclusion that only her view is true is wrong? Or is that simply your opinion? Because if it’s just your opinion, with all respect, why should I believe it? Why should I behave as if it’s true, it’s just your opinion. 

The thing is, I’ve noticed that when people offer this bit of wisdom they don’t offer it as their mere opinion, they assert it as valid and even binding to all reasonable people. And if it’s not simply an opinion but true, then you are abrogating to yourself the very knowledge that you claim no one can have. And I respectfully submit, you can’t have it both ways.

Of course, some of the more sobering reasons I’ve heard in defence of relativism lies in its inclusivity and tolerance, offering a seemingly compassionate stance in a diverse world. Unfortunately this attempt at compassion fails to take into account that we need some universal truths in the fight against injustice. Without truth, the very concepts of rights and wrongs become so nebulous to the point of meaninglessness. 

Remember the claim: we can believe whatever we want so long as it does no one harm. And now consider that most humans in our world today and throughout history have not only not believed this, they have believed the contrary: that might makes right. That the strong rule the weak. Just like in the animal kingdom, the wolf eats the lamb, the strong rule and take what they want and you’re either strong yourself or you’re there to serve. This has been the basis for all kinds of vile injustice like the thousands of years of human slavery, and the marginalisation of women across all human cultures in recorded history.

In fact, if you believe that politics and having a voice in our culture isn’t the exclusive domain of the strong, that to be small or weak does not mean you deserve less dignity and respect, that a just society is one that cares for the marginalised and oppressed, then you believe and assert a universal truth binding on all whether they are persuaded on that or not. You are not being arrogant, you’re doing what is right. And you wouldn't argue all this on the basis of your opinion because that would be the same as saying cheerios are better than raisin bran and that’s like saying nothing at all, morally speaking. Because in the end it’s not a matter of opinion, you hold necessary truths narrowly and exclusively or you don’t hold it at all. 

See the problem. It’s a double edged sword. You can cut the Christian but you also end up cutting yourself.

So to sum it up: the claim that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you don’t harm anyone is just another truth claim, just as narrow, just as exclusive, just as desiring to be held as true as the belief that young woman holds that God is love and has revealed himself in Jesus Christ who was murdered on a Roman cross and resurrected on the third day. It’s not a question of arrogance or harm, it’s a question of what is true. 

And for us Christians, if we are not careful, accepting the relativist narrative for the sake of tolerance doesn’t just backfire practically in our desire to do right in this world, it will deeply hurt us spiritually. Because the notion that all religions are valid or true is another way of saying all ways get you to enlightenment or God or heaven or whatever. Nevermind how this way of thinking completely flattens the uniqueness of each religious tradition, for each faith tradition is a universe unto itself and can't actually be reduced to each other unless severely misunderstood. No, the real spiritual danger lies not in the deluded mind but in the self-deceived heart. As the prophet Jeremiah put it:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 
Jeremiah xvii.9

Want to see how that plays out today? Here’s how the modern heart deceives: 

  • If all ways are ways to God, then there can’t be a wrong way to God really. That means if I get things wrong, I still get a pass. If there’s a heaven, I get in because even in my honest mistake, ‘all ways are ways to God’.

  • In fact, even if I really don’t care that much about faith, spirituality and all that, it’s okay because even my not caring is a path, a way, and ‘all ways are ways to God’.

  • And maybe I do care but I care about faith and spirituality but honestly I care more about living the life I want with all its distractions and pleasures, and an honest faith will put restrictions on the life I want to live! Luckily even then I still get into heaven because ‘all ways are ways to God’. 

The comfort found in the idea that 'all ways are ways to God' becomes a way of absolving ourselves of our sin that we should rightly confess and repent of, it also subtly negates the necessity for deep, personal faith. This belief, though seemingly inclusive, actually dilutes the transformative power of the love of God found precisely in the moments when we repent and turn away from the wrong in our life and recommit to following Jesus, which is central to the call of Jesus Christ to repent and believe the gospel.

In other words, we have a vested interest in ‘all ways being ways to God’ because it allows us to save ourselves without the need for God, Jesus, repentance, and faith. This is the opposite of an honest faith, it can only harm our walk with God, and in no way even remotely resembles the teachings, character, and gospel of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. 

Rather we are called to inhabit the Truth, not as a set of abstract principles, but Truth as revealed in the God Man Jesus Christ the Lord. It is in having his life, his words, his commands shape our life that we are found in the Truth, are then able to perceive the truth, live the truth, and notice the lie woven around us in so many ways. The lie that our value is in how much we produce rather than found in the love of God for you, the lie that the meaning of life is arbitrary and what you make of it rather than found in the purpose God has designed for you from all eternity in the shape of his love.

So reject the lie, embrace the Truth. Repent and follow Jesus Christ. Want to learn more about how to do just that? Join us on Sundays. I’ll also share a follow up on this soon. Message me if you want to talk about this, I’m always up for genuine conversation. 

In Christ, 
Rev Seth