When the truth keeps you in isolation
Gradually the T line begins to form, yet again. Another day in self-isolation!
Yes, I have COVID. Not sure how but probably just before leaving Tenerife or even on the flight home. It was always a calculated risk but thankfully we are not confined to quarters 3000 kms from home. As it happens, thanks to the vaccines, no big deal. For me, just like a normal cold. The kind of cold you think you had better take the day off work but if need be you could go in - not that this is allowed, of course, in this COVID era. However, does this mean that I am now effectively protected from catching future strains? Is that it, for life? It depends which expert you listen to – which has been one of the problems during this pandemic: what is the correct information? For the last two years it’s been knowing which truth to trust. On the very basic level it’s the battle between those who follow the scientific method over against the conspiracy theorists. However, wacky their theories these conspiracists seem to have a worryingly big following through social media. Even the wearing of face masks has been politicised, especially in the US. But even within the so-called scientific community there can be conflicting views. You will remember how consultant anaesthetist, Steve James, challenged Health Secretary Sajid Javid on his need for vaccination. The YouTube clip went viral. In fact, only this week I came across a YouTube video of one academic decrying as ill-informed the very expert I had been following. The danger is that anyone who did a course in epidemiology, however outdated, can present themselves as authoritative. Sometimes you don’t know who to believe. You may be aware of the tensions between Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app (which I complete every day) and the UK Health Security Agency. Spector tells us how he is shocked by what he calls “misinformation” in the government’s latest stay-at-home guidance about the symptoms of Covid. All this matters as to how we now live our lives. We need accurate information, for example, about how effective our vaccinations are over time. Truth, objective peer-reviewed data-driven truth, is essential if we are going to get through this pandemic. And this truth is worth any struggle, even against those in power. And yet we live in a postmodern age in which truth has been subjectivised. You have your truth, I have mine. As George Orwell observed: “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” Maybe one of the profound consequences of this pandemic may be the re-emergence of truth not just in public policy but in everyday life. With so much at stake, the falsehood of competing truth-claims need to be exposed if only in order that we may stay alive and healthy. You only have to drink bleach only once to discover that it is a false claim, however sincerely given, that it will protect you from COVID. Jesus, of course, is totally out-of-step with our current culture. He teaches the truth (John 8:45) and that this truth will set us free (John 8:32). Such is the importance of truth that Jesus frequently warned his followers about following false teachers: too much is at stake. “Watch out that no one deceives you!” he warned his disciples (Matthew 24:4). And for us this truth rests on an objective event, his resurrection. It happened or it didn’t. It’s all or nothing. You cannot say that Jesus was raised in your reality but not in mine. We share the same universe, whether you like it or not. As the apostle Paul reflects “And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever.” (1 Corinthians 15:16). But he continues, again using the colourful Message translation: “But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) This explains all the ‘fuss’ about truth in the early church with the ever-present threat of false teaching. I’ve been reading about how Paul clashed with his colleague Peter, by any reckoning his apostolic senior. As he recalls: “Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.” (Galatians 2:11). The issue of stake is whether Jewish Christians could eat with Gentile Christians. This was no matter – as far as Paul was concerned – of a difference between cultures or traditions. The cross of Jesus has destroyed all such categories: there could no longer be Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians. As he concludes: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) So even if it meant making a scene, Paul held his ground. “We did not give in to them for a moment,” he later reflected, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Just as well, for the Gospel could not be confined to a particular tribe or territory. For the record, Paul’s position was later endorsed by the church leadership in Jerusalem, to include Peter who clearly had realised his error. But in all this we need to realise that truth is not simply a set of propositions or an accurate description of reality. It’s a decision on how to live our lives. As C S Lewis contested: “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.” And the amazing fact at the heart of reality is that truth is relational. For Jesus teaches: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:3)