Lesson 6: Truth and Righteousness

Diogenes seeks one honest manAny lengthy discussion of truth probably contains a reference to Diogenes walking around Athens with a lamp to search for one honest man. Chances are that is about as far as it goes. Few realize the Greek thinker was a Cynic who thought truth involves how you live as well as what you say. He believed you discern the truth by living in harmony with nature.

For him that meant ridding oneself of any unnecessary possessions that might divert you from seeing reality. For instance, he once saw a man drink water from his hands and decided to give away his cup. His austerity included residing in a clay wine jar and rejecting any parochial loyalties. His simple lifestyle was his way of living as a citizen of the world, free from the artificial corruptions of civilization.

We modern scientific types tend to think of truth as simply sticking to the facts, seeing no moral dimension. Yet the Bible almost always speaks about truth and righteousness in the same breath. Its version of Diogenes is the prophet Jeremiah, who also illustrated his teachings with outlandish actions and was sent by God to see if one honest person was left. In Jeremiah 5, the writer says, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem… Search its squares and see if you can find one person who acts justly and seeks truth.”

He searches everywhere, finding both poor and rich “foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear, who have stubborn and rebellious hearts that deprive them of good.” Jer 5:21 He reserves special contempt for the rich leaders. “They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain… They acted shamefully… yet they did not know how to blush.”

Jeremiah could also be said to be looking for someone living in sync with nature, but he defines this as living in a proper relationship with the God who designed the creation. And he believes that design is revealed in the moral teachings of the Torah law.

Again, we usually think of the search for truth as discovering cold facts in an indifferent universe, and that works when developing scientific theories. However, we fool ourselves, if we believe necessary everyday decisions are based only on information. Both Diogenes and Jeremiah see the inherent relationship of the True and the Good.

You can appreciate the wisdom of their thought by considering our present debate about climate change. To pretend it is entirely a scientific matter and thereby refusing to act until until we have enough data to prove our pollution has a significant destructive impact on the environment leaves us helpless. To acknowledge the ethical aspect of the discussion opens up the conversation to consider how to proceed when waiting for sufficient evidence might delay addressing the problem until it is too late. Beyond that, however, recognizing the role of values raises the whole discussion to a more realistic level that acknowledges the respect due the environment in which we have our being. On that level, we can confront corporate and our own greed that exploits nature for profit and ignores our responsibility to our children.

The same kind of reasoning is used increasingly to deny care for the poor. The typical argument runs that it is ignorant to spend money on the needy unless there are facts to prove the money really breaks the cycle of poverty and brings economic benefits to society. Jeremiah, at least, regards this as one of the rationalizations always used by human kind to ignore the truth of the moral law. That law reveals a benevolent design deep in creation that we ignore to our self destruction. It proclaims love makes the world go round.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1 Enlightened Reply

Trackback  •  Comments RSS

  1. Fritz Foltz says:

    After posting the lesson, it dawned on me how much it challenges one of our common assumptions. A thread running throughout the entire Bible and much rational thought is that wealth gets in the way of discerning truth. Yet most of us now presume wealth is a sign of knowledge. Indeed the US has just elected a man who claims he is best able to lead us, because he knows how to make money. And he has surrounded himself with other incredibly wealthy people. From one traditional perspective their wealth might make them the least able to lead.


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.