Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

What Is Truth?
distributed 4/22/11 - ©2011

Telling the Truth about God's Creation
An Eco-Justice Notes series for Lent, 2011

There are many forms and layers of truth that shape our decisions about how to live in relationship with God's creation. Those truths include scientific, theological, moral and psychological assertions which often hold conflicting beliefs or conclusions. To be honest and fruitful, though, any statement of truth must conform to basic facts about the world in which we live. This Lenten series will address several of those foundational truths which are apparent from an eco-justice perspective, but which are often denied by others.

On the first Good Friday, the day of the crucifixion, Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) The Bible says that Jesus did not answer.

Through the six weeks of Lent this year, I have avoided Pilate's question. My writings -- "telling the truth about God's creation" -- have been confined to objective and verifiable truths. They have been limited to basic, factual descriptions.

Finally, on this last Friday in Lent (which also happens to be Earth Day), it is time to deal with the philosophical question posed by Pilate, because there are many kinds of truth. A wide variety of truth claims are based on theological, philosophical and ideological foundations. Those non-verifiable truths serve as the basis for our moral, ethical and emotional responses to objective reality. Those multiple kinds of truth shape our personal and collective lives.

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Every faith or philosophy makes claims about what is ultimately true about God (or the absence of God), the universe, our world, and ourselves. As I have indicated repeatedly this spring, some of the beliefs and worldviews that have been powerful in shaping our global society don't do well in meshing their ultimate claims with the practical facts that I have described.

My rationally-shaped expressions of truth led to last Friday's description of Earth as "damaged, depleted and destabilized" -- and those terms are offensive, even heretical, to our society's dominant worldviews. The ideology that demands constant economic growth within our limited world, or the arrogant notions of human exceptionalism that place us above the natural world, or the empty materialism which sees God's creation simply as a set of resources to be used and exploited -- these have to resort to denial about the basic truths about God's creation. They cannot coherently hold to both their vision of ultimate reality and the practical truth of our damaged world. My series has said that their inability to deal with the truth of the world makes them delusional and dangerous.

In this series, and especially in today's reflections, I have been informed by theologian Sallie McFague's book, Life Abundant. Very early in the first chapter, she makes her faith claim explicit.

I finally understand what life is about. It is, quite simply, acknowledging how things are -- living in the truth. And the truth is that God is the source and sustainer of everything. ... God is reality, the breath, the life, the power, the love beneath, above, around, and in everything. (pp. 9-10)

The truth that McFague names -- and that I wholeheartedly affirm -- is a faith claim rooted in Christian beliefs. Her listing of what is true and real include, and go far beyond, the truths that I have named in this series. Her ecological Christology speaks of love and liberation. It holds up the vision of shalom -- of right relationship -- as ultimately true.

Life Abundant opened my eyes to how well those Christian assertions of ultimate truth intersect with the more conditioned and more distressing truths about our daily experience. McFague has helped me see how there is truth both in our faith claims about God and in science-ground descriptions of our damaged world.

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Today is Good Friday. This holy day at the very core of Christian faith always holds together contrasting realities and opposing truths.

The crucifixion of Jesus epitomizes the absence of shalom. The Roman empire and the entrenched religious institutions of Judaism find common purpose in the execution of a genuinely righteous man. Violence and death are the order of the day. Denial and broken relationships run rampant. All of that is true. Christianity does not just concede that truth. The presence of those problems are absolutely essential in our central story.

We call this day “Good Friday” because those realities of violence and death -- while true -- are not ultimately true. Betrayal and crucifixion are not the whole story. We affirm that evil and suffering, exploitation and alienation are absolutely real, and Christianity claims that those great problems are resolved through the events of Holy Week.

Christianity has a whole language -- sin, evil, alienation, hopelessness, grief, suffering, injustice -- that talks about how our current situation is a deviation from what is genuinely true and right. We acknowledge at the very core of our faith that we live in a broken, hurting, damaged world, and we lift up the proclamation that it does not have to be that way.

Indeed, McFague transformed my theological perspective by her assertion that what we claim in faith -- God's love and shalom -- is not just a hopeful idea. God's reality is true and present, and we suffer when we do not live within it.

God's ultimate truth exists not just in our minds and hearts but in the fabric of the universe. It is found in the natural laws that will always shape our world; humanity's damage, depletion and destabilization is occurring because we have not acknowledged those rules. God's truth is seen in the ever-evolving web of relationships that nurture and sustain all life; we get into trouble when we shred that web and pretend that we are not part of it. Ultimate truth is revealed in the sufficiency and solidarity that call us toward our common survival and flourishing; sin is revealed in our excessive and self-centered accumulation and consumption. We create destruction and pain when we do not recognize and conform to God's truth which is present and at work all around us.

The ecological Christianity that McFague affirms holds together two very different kinds of truth. It looks to God and to principles of love, justice, sustainability and shalom as the ultimate truth that is essential for the flourishing of God's creation when it flourishes. It acknowledges the painful and factual truth that God's creation is hurting and damaged because humanity has not conformed to that ultimate truth.

When we speak the truth about God's creation -- both in faith claims about what is ultimately real and in objective descriptions about the flaws that damage and destroy -- then we can discover the hope and joy of turning from our culture's delusions and claiming a way of life that conforms to ultimate truth.

On this holy Easter weekend, and at all times, may we join with Sallie McFague in the joyous realization of "what life is about. It is, quite simply, acknowledging how things are -- living in the truth."


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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