The year 2020 has been an unusual year to say the least. The coronavirus and its corollaries have had an unexpected and unprecedented impact upon our nations. But is this a dangerous disease or a government conspiracy? Or could it be both? What’s the truth? It depends upon where you get your information. This has also been the year of a presidential election in the USA. Certainly, on a matter of this significance, careful and objective news coverage should be easy to find. But, alas, agendas get in the way of truthfulness. Politicians can say one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. Maintaining an honest position on an issue has become less important than conforming to the changing opinions of select focus groups in the attempt to manipulate the masses. In earlier days, getting caught in such flagrant pandering would have been devastating to a candidate. Nowadays it can pass the media and much of the public with little notice or concern. But politics and viruses are not the only realms where truth has fallen on hard times. Whether one looks at the fields of science, history, morality, religion, or almost anywhere, it seems that a devastating reality of Isaiah’s day has recurred in ours: “Truth is fallen in the street” (Isaiah 59:14). How is it that nations and entire cultures, which once cherished the principles of truth and real justice, have been reduced to the chaos and lies that flood the public arena and our very streets? How should Christians respond to such circumstances? A look at a few choice texts of Scripture will guide our understanding and help us navigate these troubled waters as believers.
One of the first things to notice, as this situation descends upon our culture, is that it is not a random event. Isaiah, like so many of the prophets, was calling Judah back to truth she had already been given. When Isaiah said, “Truth is fallen in the street,” he was not speaking in a vacuum. Israel had been greatly privileged. They had been given great truth. Paul spoke of her advantages when he recalled that Israel had been given the “oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). Before Isaiah, the prophet Amos had already rebuked Israel and even recounted a series of chastening judgments that God’s people had endured, and yet, after each experience of chastening, the repeated comment was, “Yet ye have not returned unto me saith the Lord” (Amos 4:6-12). But this came after a telling reminder: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (3:2). This doesn’t mean that God was ignorant of other nations and their affairs. It simply means that there was a special acknowledgment of Israel. They had been privileged to receive His words to a greater extent than other nations. That is what made Israel’s sin so great. They had sinned against light. They had chosen to ignore truth that had already been given. This is apostasy—falling away from truth you already have. So the tragedy that Isaiah described followed something. It was the result of not living up to the truth. They lost the presence and benefits of truth because of sin.
The principles at work underneath Isaiah’s awful declaration are easy to see in the modern world. Nations, that have been the benefactors of the great truths rediscovered and embraced following the Reformation, have chosen to systematically repudiate the gospel. Is it any wonder that truth itself (in every area of life) has become compromised and lies and violence rule the day? One marvels to see many nominal Christians in our day becoming fearful at the prospect of losing freedoms or prosperity within the nation, when they cared little for abandoning the truth and power of the gospel within the church decades ago.
Another giant text on the theme of truth presents itself once the sad folly of abandoning truth has occurred. When the Jewish religious leaders brought Christ before Pilate for trial, Pilate quickly discerned that Jesus was an innocent man and that the chief priests had delivered him because of envy. He sought to release Him, but they would have nothing of it. They demanded that Christ be crucified and even threatened Pilate with more lies when they said that He could not be Caesar’s friend if he released Jesus. Pilate needed to keep peace in the troubled region of Judea.
He certainly did not need accusations of disloyalty to be levied against him in Rome. What was the life of an innocent Jewish man in comparison with his personal and political position or even the peace of the region? One could almost pity Pilate as he reads the account of his pangs of conscience and his wife’s troubled dream about dealing unjustly with Jesus. But in a day when truth has already been abandoned and apostasy holds sway, “truth” becomes just another commodity to be bartered and negotiated. Pilate allowed himself to become the servant of a manipulated mob. It would be interesting to have heard the inflection in Pilate’s voice when he uttered these remarkable words to Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). How easily are those words virtually repeated by so many in our day!
For many, truth doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever is necessary to “keep the peace”, or to move public policy in a desired direction, or to advance an individual agenda, or just to profit oneself, becomes the truly relevant and important thing. Pragmatism, and ultimately self-serving violence, enter in when apostasy has made way for truth to be negotiated instead of obeyed. In reality, the question posed in this text is a cry of despair that most sinners refuse to recognize. They just want to keep things from interrupting their sin. Truth can be twisted, denied, or negotiated in the pursuit.
Christians will readily agree with the above descriptions of the underlying problems that plague our society. But another reality confronts us in these troubled times. Many believers, as they become disheartened or frustrated at the current state of affairs, become susceptible to zealously promoting truth as they see it in order to meet the crisis. A noble motive must often be acknowledged in such hearts, but the need for discernment, and perhaps even reserve, becomes important during such times. Gospel truth unites us as believers. Clear scriptural doctrine unites us as believers. These are the truths that we need to communicate to the world. But when Christians, who should indeed seek to bring all of life into conformity with the Word, seek to convince others of their own understanding of how this applies to everything in life, they can often go astray. We can become self-focused as well. (Romans 14 warns us of this). Pick a topic. It’s easy to find a Christian commenting upon it, claiming the authority of God’s Word. Education, child rearing, vaccines, masks, traditional vs. alternative medicine, etc. Politics provides a cyclical example for Americans. Some Christians believe fervently that they cannot vote for any candidate with whom they disagree on some spiritual matter. It is a matter of conscience they say. And yet there are other equally sincere Christians who believe that they must vote for the very same candidate, as a matter of conscience, in order to keep the opposing candidate from gaining the office. Does God’s Word demand that one of these opinions prevail? The presence of social media and the instant platforms it offers only magnifies the potential for propagating opinion claiming to be truth.
This is not to suggest that God’s people should not have opinions about the issues of the day. It is to suggest that we seek the wisdom of God to know what is just an opinion, even an educated opinion, and what is a truth that God’s Word clearly demands that we (and others) hold. How easily Christians can lose credibility on things that really matter, by being inflexible or unapproachable on things that really don’t matter. Let us each seek to learn the discipline of graciously interacting with others, or graciously just allowing others to go their own way without forcing an interaction on these matters of indifference. Ironically, when we do otherwise, we usually become known for our opinions on these lesser things than we are known for our love and commitment to the greater things. A great text on this aspect of truth is, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth” (John 17:17). Let us be discerning and be careful not to claim as “God’s truth” something that is not clearly demanded from God’s Word.
A final text that is worthy of notice When Truth is Fallen in these troubled times is found in Jeremiah 9:3. Here Jeremiah laments that while the ungodly “bend their tongue like their bow for lies” they are not “valiant for truth.” John Bunyan spoke of such empty professors when he introduced Mr. By-Ends in his Pilgrim’s Progress. This character distanced himself from those Christians who were “of the stricter sort” who hazarded all for God at a clap. Instead, he preferred “not to strive against wind and tide” and to only be zealous for religion when it went “in its silver slippers.” What we need today is believers who fill in the gap that Jeremiah lamented and to be valiant for truth even when it is unpopular, or worse yet, has completely “fallen in the street.” Once we have discerned what is non-negotiable truth from God’s Word, let us firmly and calmly stand upon it with resolve. This is what it means to be “valiant for truth.” A holy boldness does not carry with it of necessity a coarse spirit. Often it is much to the contrary. Jeremiah was certainly one of the few who was valiant for truth in Jerusalem’s last days, and yet he wept for his people. Boldness and love go hand in hand.
It may take uncommon boldness to defend truth in the days that lie ahead for our nations. Persecution may again become the lot of God’s believing people. But let us seek to face the coming days, whatever they bring, with unwavering faith in the goodness of God and seek to be a beacon of truth in our times. May we be as Daniel in Babylon against whom nothing could be found, unless they found occasion against him “concerning the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5).
May God give us wisdom, discernment, boldness and grace for days such as these. And let us remember that “the people that do know their God shall be strong and do exploits” (Daniel 11:32). Such strength will certainly be needed when truth is fallen in the street.