Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1
Matthew 11:16-19

REFLECTION: “What is Truth?”
Most of us might recognize the phrase "What is truth?" as having come from the lips of Pilate in John's account of our Lord's passion. Usually, when spoken in dramatization, it comes across with a bit of a sneering tone, which generally serves to underlie the accepted perception of Pilate as a Roman functionary who finds himself embroiled in a minor local concern that he really could care less about.

And yet, today, we live in an era where the concept of truth, specifically of 'absolute truth' is widely held in scorn. One basic tenant of Postmodern philosophy is that we all experience the world with our own biases, our own worldviews; therefore we never see an object, but only the representation of that object which is appropriate to our biased worldview. What postmodernists often forget is that whether or not we actually see the object, the object is still there. It objectively exists.

Sometimes, outside forces - beyond worldview - can impact objects. Think about, for example, gravity, and its effects. If you took this candle, and tossed it into a sufficiently powerful gravitational field... a black hole, lets say... it would undergo a process which physicists call spaghettification. The atoms which make up the candle would be stretched, pulled, distorted... and ultimately, they would be hyper-compressed somewhere, before who knows what happens at the 'bottom' of the hole... if a bottom exists. The moment the candle crosses the singularity's event horizion, though, it would begin to become unrecognizable. An outside observer with no previous knowledge of what you were doing would look at the object, and perhaps identify it as something other than a candle. That perception would be based on their experience and worldview, one that would tell them that the spaghettified candle didn't resemble a candle at all, and so must not be a candle.

While gravity has a way of distorting objects, even the very fabric of space-time itself, it cannot effect truth. Absolute truth is knowable, but knowing it here, in this universe, on our plane of existence, is essentially impossible. All we know... yes, even we who follow God with great passion and determination... is a feeble echo of the truth God calls us to embrace eternally.

And so, when we hear in our first reading today of Yahweh's desire to teach us right from wrong; when our Psalm speaks to us of finding joy in following his commands; when our Gospel boldly states that wisdom is shown to be truthful based on its results... God is powerfully reaffirming his determination to show us the fullest breadth of absolute truth that we can perceive in this world, and exhorting us to avoid those things which, in spite of our human, warped perceptions, are harmful, painful, and death-bearing for us.

Does the fact that the truth we have received in Scripture is a 'feeble echo' of absolute truth overturn its veracity as a guide for life? NOT AT ALL! When I use the phrase 'feeble echo', I mean to state this: God's truth is so rich, deep, abundant, and lifegiving, that our limited cognitive and spiritual abilities in this fallen cosmos are utterly incapable of understanding them, verbalizing them, or fully communicating them.

How often do we find ourselves coming short in our attempts to explain the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, Jesus' Eucharistic presence, atonement, the problem of sin, and any of a multitude of other questions that confront us in this world? Our worldly perceptions influence how we understand them... just as our worldly perceptions influence how we view God's commandments about living life. And yet, our God is holy, merciful, and just. He gives us our commands, which do not jive with our fallen human thought processes, in order that we might be conformed more deeply to what he wants. We will falter. We will fall short. And that's OK. God seeks for us mercy, peace, and renewal when we repent and seek renewal. And yet, in this world, the renewal is finite. In the eternity to come, where absolute truth will reign without gravity, or postmodern theology to lense our view of it, our renewal will be complete, and we will behold Yahweh as he desires to be seen - for we shall behold him face to face.

How does my perception of what is true, right, and good mar my ability to understand God's revelation of what is true, right, and good?