Handling the Truth
“You can’t handle the truth!”
These memorable words are bellowed by Col. Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie, A Few Good Men. Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, a rookie military lawyer played by Tom Cruise, represents Marines accused of murdering a colleague, Santiago. Behind the murder lies the truth. Santiago’s murder was not a random act, but was ordered by higher-ups. The highlight of the film comes when Kaffee cross-examines Jessup in a courtroom. Obviously disgusted by the line of questioning, Jessup finally reaches his boiling point.
Kaffee asks directly, “Colonel Jessup, did you order the Code Red?”
The Judge warns Jessup, “You don’t have to answer that question.”
But it’s too late. Jessup, boiling over, yells, “I’ll answer the question. You want answers?”
“I think I’m entitled to them.” Kaffee volleys.
Jessup repeats even louder, “You want answers?!”
“I want the truth!” Kaffee goads him on.
Veins popping, Jessup explodes, “You can’t handle the truth!” This is followed by a forceful speech defending military honor and an eventual proud confession of guilt. As it turns out, Jessup, a confessed murderer, is ultimately handcuffed by his own truth.
Truth is a central element of the Christian faith. Jesus, who calls himself “the truth” prays to the Father, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 NIV) If we don’t have the truth as believers, then what do we have left? Unfortunately, we don’t always seek the truth as we should. It’s all too easy to set the truth aside for convenient lies.
The Bible tells us of one of the kings of Israel unable to handle the truth. He paid dearly for it. The king’s name was Ahab. The truth was the word of the Lord delivered through a brave prophet named Micaiah. But Ahab wouldn’t listen.
This story begins when Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, visits Ahab. It’s rare in those days for Judah and Israel to cooperate. In this case, they have an enemy in common in the king of Aram to the north of Israel. Ahab sees an opportunity to strike Aram and retake the city of Ramoth-Gilead. He invites Jehoshaphat to join him.
Jehoshaphat, eager to team up, says, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” (1 Kings 22:4 NIV) He has only one request before they saddle up. “First seek the counsel of the LORD.” (1 Kings 22:5 NIV)
Ahab assembles four-hundred of his preferred prophets. They are all yes-men. They approve of his plan without reservation. While this is comforting to Ahab, Jehoshaphat needs to hear from the Lord.
He asks Ahab, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here anymore? Let’s ask him.” (1 Kings 22:7 HCSB).
Reluctantly, Ahab calls for Micaiah. Micaiah is not one of Ahab’s preferred prophets. In Ahab’s words, “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad.” (1 Kings 22:8 NIV) We are beginning to catch a glimpse of Ahab’s distaste for the truth.
Micaiah does not disappoint. Summoned to the throne room, he warns, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.” (1 Kings 22:14 NIV)
The messenger warns Micaiah that all of the other prophets unanimously spoke in favor of Ahab’s plan, and that if he knows what is good for him, he should do so, too. And so, when Micaiah appears before the thrones of the two kings, he parrots the company line, “Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.” (1 Kings 22:15 NIV)
Ahab wasn’t born yesterday. He sees right through Micaiah’s bluff. Ahab scolds him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (1 Kings 22:16 NIV)
Micaiah then prophesies the truth Ahab can’t handle, “I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd, and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’” (1 Kings 22:17 NIV) Micaiah predicts that Ahab will not return home from Ramoth-Gilead alive.
For the crime of proclaiming the truth, Micaiah is thrown into prison and put on a bread and water diet until Ahab returns safely. Ahab is killed in battle. His corpse is returned to Samaria. Micaiah’s fate is left untold.
Sometimes the truth is difficult to stomach. We would rather live in the ignorant safety of our own illusions. But when the truth comes calling, be prepared. Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with the proverb, “Time waits for no man.” It can equally be said that truth waits for no man.
The end times, according to Paul, are populated by people who “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:4 NIV) What do we have to gain in the last days by embracing myths? Myths make us feel comfortable. They deflect our attention away from painful realities. They blindfold us to facts that hurt our feelings, like the child who covers her ears and cries out, “la la la la laaa.” If we surround ourselves with prophets who say only what our itching ears want to hear, we find ourselves like Ahab. Confidently clueless.
In days like these, truth is a commodity worth mining. We must plumb the depths of Scripture to find truth for ourselves. We must sidestep easy answers to discover facts. We must brush aside layers of confirmation bias in favor of authenticity. We need to question everything. We live in the information age. Facts are available in constant supply. It’s our responsibility to filter the facts for truth. The truth you can’t handle may be the truth that sets you free.
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Dr. Jack Darida