Spirit of Truth
Fascinating days to be living in when truth, facts, and news are used as such flexible, malleable, and vague terms. We used to know what truth was. Or, did we really?
In this past week’s lectionary reading, the gospel reading continued from the farewell discourse of Jesus found in John 14:15-22. Jesus makes a promise that God’s presence will abide with us in the person of the Holy Spirit, referred to as the Paraclete, Counselor, or the Advocate:
It is as the “Spirit of Truth” that the Paraclete will be present. In these days when truth seems weaponized, we are need of reconsidering what we mean by truth.
The prevailing ideas of truth fall into two fundamental notions or definitions of truth. There is correspondence truth and correlation truth. Correspondence truth points to something in the empirical world. Such as, it is true that gravity pulls things down. The statement of the truth corresponds to something that can be perceived or experienced in the world. Correlational truth, on the other hand, may not have a real-world thing to point toward, but has a meaningful logic. When considering the logic of Euclidean geometry, or mathematical logic, we are using correlational truth. We all agree that 2+2=4, but none of us have ever seen a “2” or a “4” in the world. We see things. But the logic of math still holds because it correlates, or hold true to its own set of rules.
But when John records Jesus promising the presence of the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17), Jesus is speaking of a very different kind of truth. The Greek word used as “truth” is aletheia (ἀλήθεια). Using the vowel at the beginning implies the opposite. The opposite of aletheia is lethe, from which we get not the word “lie” or “untruth” or even “doubt”. Rather, lethe is the root of the word “lethal”. Lethe implies that which is obliviated, hidden, done away with, or destroyed. The Spirit of Truth is the opposite of lethality.
Truth, like art, creates from love, life.
In the 20th century, the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about the word aletheai (Heidegger, 1972). The truth of aletheia was that which was “unconcealed”, “disclosed”, “truth”. In further reflection Heidegger likened the process of art as this kind of truth. Art, which speaks and engages us, speaks a truth we could not otherwise know or experience. But the art emerges as a thing unconcealed. Sculpture, dance, comedy, paintings, and many other arts are the outcome of creative imagination, but are not fantasy, or unreal. They are aletheia, truth.
Truth is about life. Truth is about creation, about art.
How do we live in the power of the Spirit of Truth?
1. When was the last time you engaged in a debate about the truth of a news report? How could truth as a creative life-giving power change those disagreements?
2. We have heard too much about "fake news". This seems to be a criticism of the truth or veracity of a report. How would the Advocate, whom Jesus leaves for us, help us to react in creative, loving, and life-giving ways amidst propaganda and "alternative facts"?
3. The Spirit of Truth is a creative force first of all (see Genesis 1:1-2). How might we begin our days, our interactions with others, and the way we work in the power of the Spirit of Truth?