The Belt of Truth
The Whole Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) #1
Lent I; February 18, 2018
Our Lent series this year is from Ephesians 6:10-17, the "whole armor of God." The writer lists six pieces of armor that a Christian should wear in order to be fully protected. Keep in mind every week of this series what we are protecting ourselves against: "the wiles of the devil" (v.11). The devil is wily; all sorts of tricks can be used against those who struggle to follow Jesus in the world. And it's useful, too, to keep in mind that the writer says that "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (v. 12). You can use your imagination to decide what that means; some folks think it means our universe's equivalent to Sauron or Supreme Leader Snoke or Emperor Palpatine – Satan and his minions – and others think it means the White House and the "one percent" who control the land and money in the world. Don't sweat it too much; I'm just going to take it to mean that we need to stay on the alert, because evil is all around us.
We saw evil erupt again in a harsh, brutal way this week in Parkland, Florida. When the weeping began then so did the finger-pointing. I do my share of it, too. Since today the subject is "truth," let's use that event to ask some questions.
Should someone have been able to see that coming? How does one recognize the signs and what can one do about it in a free society? What sort of protections ought to be in place? Are gun-control laws adequate and true to the spirit of the Second Amendment? And are you finding it hard to think because you're getting angry or sad? I wonder how many of us in this room quickly retreat to our bunkers and yell over the wall "Gun nuts!" or "Right to bear arms!" without actually listening to anyone else.
How much of your Twitter feed or your Facebook newsfeed or the radio shows you listen to simply confirm what you already believe? Except possibly for the preacher on Sunday, does anybody ever challenge you to consider a truth that you don't already hold, and do you actually allow yourself to be challenged?
Our time has a terrible sickness where truth is concerned: we're not interested in truth. We don't want facts, carefully weighed evidence, honest reporting of what actually happens. We want support for opinions we already hold; we want truthiness. Stephen Colbert used the word "truthiness" to mean statements that we feel are true, that are considered "true" simply because someone asserts it. When Colbert first used the word "truthiness" on his show (October 17, 2005), he said, "Now I'm sure some of the 'word police,' the 'wordinistas' over at Webster's are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.' Well, anybody who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true. Or what did or didn't happen." Probably as good a description of the sickness of our age as one can imagine: facts are elitist; research is elitist.
Can we have a fair, thorough research project into the appropriateness and usefulness of tighter restrictions on who should have access to what sort of weapons and pay attention to the history of interpretation of the Second Amendment? Can we do that or is it better just to shout at one another? Or stay in our bunkers and insult the people in the other bunker? Can we have a fair inquiry into the activity of the State of Israel in occupied Palestinian territories and the role of the United States in that activity or is it better just to shout at one another from our bunkers, or ignore one another and insult the people in the other bunker?
I am quite certain this is not what the Apostle had in mind when he said that we need to wear the belt of truth, but it needs to be said. Christian people care about truth. Truthiness isn't good enough; we're not going to agree that something is right just because the President who is a member of our party says it or claim that it's a lie just because the President who is not a member of our party says it. The writer of Ephesians was not thinking about Stephen Colbert or CNN or Fox News when writing about the belt of truth, I admit that; but I'm sure the writer would agree that yes, Christian people need to try to ferret out the facts.
There's a deeper understanding of truth, and that's where we need to go before finishing. There is "truth" the way I've been talking about it: an understanding of the facts as best as we can get them, knowing what did happen and is happening rather than just what people are saying about it. But then there is "truth" in the sense of what those facts mean, what makes sense of those facts. And that's why I wish we could actually look into causes and solutions, rather than simply shouting at each other.
But when you and I are told to put on the belt of truth in order to be protected from the wiles of the Devil, the Apostle is thinking of something deeper yet. It isn't enough to be an informed citizen: to know what is really happening. It isn't enough to have a pretty good understanding of what it implies: this is therefore what we ought to do.
To be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil, to struggle against the principalities and powers, we need to wear the truth that tells us Who is behind it all. We are concerned not only with the "What" and the "Why," but also the "Who." Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). We talk a lot about Jesus as the Way and we even talk about Jesus as the Life, but I don't hear much about Jesus as the Truth.
Jesus doesn't say, "My words are the truth." He says, "I am the truth" (Thanks to Miguel de Unamuno for this insight). The implication isn't, "Listen to me; I'm telling you the truth." The implication is, "Know me; I am the truth." I'm going to say all that again: Jesus doesn't say, "My words are the truth." He says, "I am the truth." The implication isn't, "Listen to me; I'm telling you the truth." The implication is, "Know me; I am the truth."
One of the ways I get through my days is to stop and ask, "Where is Jesus in all this?" When the shouting from the bunkers gets too loud I look for Jesus. When the news makes me sad or angry then I look for Jesus. I don't always find him, to be honest, and I don't know whether it's because he's too busy healing the sick to visit me in my bunker or because I'm not doing a very good job of looking, but I figure that if Jesus Christ is the truth then he ought to be around somewhere, whenever people are looking for the truth. If we settle for truthiness, then he may not show. But if we're honestly interested in the truth, we ought to find him.
In a soldier's armor, the belt had two purposes (William Barclay, Daily Study Bible). It drew the tunic tight, so the soldier could move freely. And it held the sword or dagger or whatever weapon the soldier carried. So I think we need to ponder that "truth" is not the weapon, but "truth" carries the weapon. If we're going to be faithful to this picture, then we don't use Jesus as a weapon to beat our opponents into submission. We don't shout at the people in the other bunker, "Jesus is on my side!" and then cover our ears before they can shout back, "No he isn't! He's on our side!" Jesus Christ, the truth, is not the weapon. Jesus Christ is the belt that holds the weapon and that draws the tunic so we can move freely.
So, people of God, here is our challenge this week: to look for Jesus Christ in our circumstances. When tragedy hits, before you form an opinion and start shouting, look for Jesus Christ. Where is Christ in this event? When something wonderful happens, look for Jesus Christ; where is Christ in this event? And on ordinary days, as most of them are, when you are doing your chores and talking with friends and scrolling your newsfeed, look for Jesus Christ. He calls himself the truth, which at least for now I'm taking to mean that he is the One who stands behind and in and with everything that goes on, regardless of who's shouting the loudest.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master