Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Problem of Truth

I took offense at something someone said to me recently.

Instead of humbly accepting his remark, I let resentment dictate my response. I told him I did not like what he said.

He replied that he meant no offense, but I let him know that his words were indeed offensive.

I thought of him as a man with a gun who, shooting randomly and without aim, hits someone and then apologizes, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to shoot you. That was never my intention."

Whether he intended it or not, he fired and his bullet struck me in a fleshy, weak, too-sensitive part of my being, and I challenged the shot.

Later I was upset, not so much by being hit, but for my making an issue of the pain. Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount kept coming to mind: Offer no resistance...Turn the other cheek...Love your enemies...Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Once again I failed to respond with Gospel values.

Finally in prayer I asked first to forgive and be forgiven, and then to discover the lesson I was to learn from this incident.

God took me at my word. Within hours of my prayer, while I was reading Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, I had to pause over what I take to be God's advice.

In the novel the holy man Father Zossima explains how important it is for people to be honest with themselves, "The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others."

He goes on, "The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than any one. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of molehill --he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offense, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness" (Book II, chapter 2).

I just hate it when God answers prayer.

So then, the lesson of my incident returns me to the problem of truth.

The advice of Polonius to his son Laertes comes to mind, "This above all: to thine ownself be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."

There I have it. Three rather significant witnesses: Jesus, Dostoyevsky, and Shakespeare!

In today's political climate, too many public servants are eager to take offense, or at least make offensive something their opponents have said or done. The culture of political correctness has run amok.

But I must be careful not to become distracted by the sensitivities, vindictiveness, and pleasure of resentment prevalent today in politicians, pundits, and members of the press. The lesson of my incident is a lesson for me.

So Jesus and I are going to have to put our heads together and formulate for me, again, his sage observation of 2000 years ago, "I am the way and the truth and the life."

If the truth will set us free, maybe it will free me from taking offense at the words of even random shooters.

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