How Truth Heals Us

Truth will set you free, but first it’s going to leave a mark.

“I hear a ‘but’ coming.” Joy and I have said that to each other hundreds of times. We anticipate a “but” when we hear statements like this:

“That is a striking shade of chartreuse.”

“Those peppers certainly did add some zip to the yogurt.”

“Spending vacation with your parents is an idea worth considering.”

The “but” usually announces itself in our tone and a brief pause at the end of the sentence. And even if it didn’t, Joy and I have lived under the same roof for going on forty years. We know each other. Really well.

We’ve had thousands of deep, revealing conversations. Resolved hundreds of conflicts. Muddled together through scores of daunting challenges. We can hear each other’s “but.”

And if you spend enough time with Jesus, you begin to hear his “but,” too. Actually, he frequently spells it out in stark and even startling terms. For instance, he told his friends, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) Then elsewhere he goes on to explain just how costly that sort of freedom will be:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:26-28)

A variety of contemporary writers have added their own slant to what happens when truth starts setting us free:

Truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.

Truth will set you free, but first it will p*#s you off.

Truth will set you free, but not until it’s finished with you.

Jesus came to bring reconciliation into a fractured, aching world. He taught us to forgive. To turn the other cheek. To love our enemies. And he taught us to tell the truth. Jesus actually never suggested that we should overlook injustice, keep our traps shut to avoid conflict, or swallow our pain or humiliation to avoid upsetting other people.

Jesus taught us to seek peace in the only way that genuine peace can be found. By listening, really listening to each other tell hard truths.

Desmond Tutu put it this way, “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are…. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt.”

Jesus spoke the truth, and the Romans crucified him for it. Centuries earlier, the prophet Jeremiah spoke the truth to the rulers of Judah. They threw him in prison, tossed him into an empty cistern, and, according to tradition, eventually stoned him to death. As Jesus teaches us again and again, to get to the empty tomb we have to walk the way of the cross.

Truth will set you free, but first it’s going to leave a mark.

In the United States—and across much of the planet—divisions are deep and tensions are running high. Like-minded people have tribed up and have engaged in verbal and even physical combat with their perceived opposition. Many of us lament our fractiousness and yearn for civility. We want peace.

I suppose that’s why social media is littered with memes and blogposts pleading with us to be nice. We’re frequently reminded that we can still like people who disagree with us. And while I too value respect for different opinions, niceness, and unconditional love, I can recognize cheap grace and shallow peace when I hear it.

Cheap grace and shallow peace are achieved by dismissing wrongs and injuries done to others instead of facing them and doing what we can to make things right. At best they give comfort to some at the expense of injustice for others.

James Baldwin put it this way, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

Bell Hooks points us toward a better way, a holier way: “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”

To follow Jesus, we speak the truth.

We say that separating children from their refugee parents is inhumane, no matter what your views on immigration policy may be.

We say that letting any child go hungry, homeless, and without basic medical care violates Jesus’s law of love and is incomprehensible in this wealthy nation.

We say that white supremacy is a sin, whether you embody it by waving a Confederate flag or by wearing a Brooks Brothers suit in a position of political, corporate, or social power.

Saying these truths can make you the skunk at the garden party. It can set you on the path to Golgotha. To quote Tutu again, “[Telling the truth] could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”

Even though it is likely to leave a mark, telling the truth is the only thing that will set us free. It is the only thing that will heal us.


  1. This is some “Gospel Truth” and makes very good points with respect to the truth – deep truth – being messy.


  2. Right Reverend sir, with the deepest respect and humility, I wanted to add a few thoughts on what you have presented here. I offer these comments with the understanding that one way to arrive at Truth is by the scrutiny of falsehood, through critical reasoning, and by vetting what is presenting itself before you. I believe this is what you are saying in this post, and think that it should likewise be applied to the some of the situations you’ve illustrated, in keeping with the spirit of the article.

    You say that (A) separating children from their refugee parents is inhumane, no matter what your views on immigration policy may be. While this may present as Truth, it is not necessarily whole. Rather, one could say, that separating refugee children from their refugee parents, unnecessarily or without reason, is inhumane, etc. You then say (B) that letting any child go hungry, homeless, and without basic medical care violates Jesus’s law of love and is incomprehensible, etc. To this, referring back to your first premise, I would ask if there could be a case where B violates A? Where separation could be the most humane thing thing to do? To go further, in such cases where there is no documentation or proof that a child is indeed the child of the adult who claims to be their parent, would it not be better to separate children from said adult, in a vetting process, to ensure that the child’s best interests are being considered?

    To go even further in my analysis of your statements, I want to address the premise that white supremacy is a sin regardless of how it manifests itself. Would it not be truer to condemn the belief that any one race is inherently better, superior, more worthy of life, or in any way, by its own nature, more special than any other? Tribalism, a condition under which all races have lived, operates under a form of supremacy, wherein one tribe considers the other to be less-than-human, and, in some cases, where the other tribe was not considered to be human at all. This sort of subjective error is at the root of “white supremacy” and other forms of ethnic nationalism. This goes for any other system that attempts to dehumanize other human beings, or rob them of their humanity in any way, regardless of the racial or tribal affiliations of any party involved. It isn’t a stretch to imagine that in a place where there are no white people, there must surely still be found a practice where other is “less-than” by whomever has the might to make it seem so. So, it follows that the sin is not necessarily the symptom itself, but is instead the root from which it springs.

    Our Savior calls us to abandon the errors of might-makes-right, self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness, perceived supremacy, and systematic exclusion. Of these very human errors, no one human or human society is inherently free from committing the atrocities that are born of them. This is not about pointing and blaming anyone else, but of honestly looking at our own selves and pointing to our own culture, and every culture must do that for themselves through application the Gospel message. It should go without saying that White supremacy exists within the scope of Western culture, but it is important to remember that it is a symptom of a very human disease; an error pointed out in scripture.

    All of that said, no one would argue that to unjustly rip a child from their parent’s arms is the right thing to do in any situation, but it would be hard, for me at least, to justify turning a blind eye to Truth, which may not be what is apparent on first appearances, for the sake of “compassion”, while even just one child was unjustly forced to stay with someone who may be their captors, is far less in line with the compassion taught by Jesus Christ. That being that each one of us is important and loved as individuals, and that we are to be mindful of that very basic element of Truth in our deeds. We can agree that nothing is more fragile and needy than a child who has no advocate in a world full of darkness. Sometimes, advocating for someone doesn’t look like we think it might should look, and that may involve making the decision to make separations, vet the situation, and ensure that the truth is known. That might mean separating parents from their children in order to make sure that the situation is truly what it is presented to be, and when that is that case, it should be done with grace, compassion, and love for the Truth.


    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments and taking the time to reflect and respond. On another note, Liam did an expert job as lector. Please convey to him how impressed I was (but not surprised)


  3. Thank you for taking the time to receive it. How far we are from our medieval brethren in that I can have this discussion with my bishop in a public forum, and enjoy the freedom of conscience every one of us rightly deserve, but many are unjustly denied. I will tell him you send your compliments. I’m proud of him and the path he is taking with the church.


    1. As you should be. He’s a fine young man. And the freedom of the Episcopal Church, though at times hard for some, is one of our defining virtues. I’m glad it feels like home to you.


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