Truth alone is not enough. It must be balanced off with the other transcendental properties of God: oneness, goodness, and beauty.
That might sound abstract, but what it means concretely is that sometimes we can have all the right answers and still be wrong. How? If we are acting in truth how can we be wrong?
The first pitfall is this: We may be acting out of truth and, in fact, doing all the right things, but our energy can be wrong. T.S. Eliot once famously said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” We can see what is at stake here by looking at the older brother of the prodigal son. On the surface his devotion to his father lacks nothing. He rightly attests that his life is blameless and a paradigm of filial devotion. He has kept all the commandments, has never left his father’s house, and has done all the required work. The irony is that he fails to notice that he is not in fact inside his father’s house, but is standing outside of it and is being gently invited in by his father. What is keeping him outside since after all he is doing everything correctly? Bitterness and anger. His actions are correct, but his heart is wrong. Bitterness and anger are not the right energy to fuel truth. We can be scrupulously faithful and still find ourselves standing outside of God’s house and outside the circle of community and celebration because of a bitter heart. Gratitude is the energy that ultimately needs to fuel the truth.
Like the older brother of the prodigal son, we can be doing everything right and still, somehow, be wrong. And where this is particularly important in terms of a challenge is in our efforts, both as individuals and as churches, to offer the truth, the right answers, to those around us, be that our own children who no longer go to church or society as a whole. If, inside of our speaking the truth, there are elements of elitism, arrogance, anger, lack of respect, lack of understanding, or worse still, embittered moralizing, our truth will not be heard, not because our truth is wrong but because our energy is.
That is why Jesus warns us to “speak our truth in parables”. Truth is not a sledgehammer; it is an invitation that we must respectfully offer others.
And there is still a second potential pitfall: We can have the right answers and the right energy, but have the wrong understanding of those answers. We see this, for example, in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus asks the disciples the question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, and answers correctly, by saying: “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” But he is immediately shut down by Jesus (“Don’t tell that to anyone!”) and is subsequently rebuked with the words: “Get behind me, Satan!” Why? Wasn’t he correct?
Peter’s answer was correct, Jesus was the Christ, but his understanding of what that meant was mostly wrong. For Peter, the concept of a Messiah connoted earthly power and especially earthly privilege, whereas for Jesus it meant suffering and dying. Peter had the right answer, but the wrong understanding of that answer. Some scholars speculate that this is the real reason behind the so-called “messianic secret” in the Gospels, where Jesus repeatedly asks his disciples to not reveal his identity. His reluctance to have his disciples broadcast publicly who he is was based upon his fear that they could not, before the resurrection and Pentecost, properly understand his identity and would invariably preach a false message.
We can have the right answers and still be wrong because we have the wrong energy to go along with the answers or because we have a wrong understanding of the answers. It is good to take that to heart, especially when we step out prophetically either religiously or morally or socially. We may well have the water of life, the truth that sets people free, and the right cause, but nobody except our own kind will accept to receive it from us if our energy is wrong or our understanding of that truth is wrong. It is easy to rationalize that it is because we are prophetic, the faithful remnant, the last warriors of truth still standing, that we are not being heard and why we are hated. But, more often than not, we are not being listened to because we are misguided, elitist, non-empathic, or flat-out unloving, not because we are warriors for truth or justice.
And so we need to be humble and heed Jesus’ warning to guard the “messianic secret” and “speak our truth in parables”. In brief, we need to be solicitous always lest a false energy behind our truth or a misunderstanding of that truth have us so fall out of discipleship that Jesus has to reprimand us with the words: “Get behind me, Satan!”