I have always been a cheap date … literally. When Amy and I went on our first date, I did not take her to a fancy restaurant and movie theater. No, our first date was over a bag of Oreos watching a rented copy of the movie “A Few Good Men.” (I’ll stop here for a moment and again thank God that He convinced this woman to marry me). Even if you have never seen the movie, I imagine that most people can at least recite one line from memory. It is the moment when Jack Nicholson screams into the camera “You can’t handle the truth!”
That scene has flashed through my mind again and again in the last 24 hours as I have flipped back and forth between stories of Lance Armstrong’s admission of using steroids after years of denial and stories of Mantai Te’o’s fictitious dead girlfriend. Both of these stories have captured the country’s imagination, and I am left wondering if, in the midst of the media hysteria, someone shouldn’t be screaming in all of our faces “You can’t handle the truth!”
Lance Armstrong was a hero to many, a man who battled cancer and went on to win multiple cycling titles when it seemed a miracle he was even alive. People were so inspired by Armstrong’s story that they gobbled up one “Live Strong” bracelet after another and donated millions to Armstrong’s charity for cancer research.
Te’o was a Heisman Trophy runner-up as a defensive player, an almost unheard of accomplishment. He led Notre Dame on a magical and unexpected perfect run through the regular season and a spot in the national title game. The story of how his grandmother and girlfriend died in the same 24-hour period and brought tears and admiration for a young man who had struggled through such loss.
Now we know that Armstrong cheated and Te’o’s girlfriend not only never died but never existed. A host of other questions follow both of these men and remain unanswered, and a lot of people feel unsatisfied by the truth we now have.
And perhaps that is something we have to admit to as a society as we point fingers of blame and speculation at these two men: sometimes we just can’t handle the truth.
Sometimes the truth is just not as good or as touching a story as the lie. Sometimes the truth is routine. Sometimes the truth is condemning. Sometimes the truth does bring us to tears, and sometimes the truth is (to quote another Hollywood hit) “just the facts, ma’am.” As I have listened to people express disappointment about both these news stories in the last 24 hours, it’s hard to tell if they are disappointed about the lies or disappointed that the truth is not as good a story as the lie.
We look for inspiration and motivation from our leaders, our athletes, our stars, our authors, and our spiritual leaders. Unfortunately, sometimes we are willing to sacrifice the truth along the way. That is why it is so interesting to read the Old Testament prophets. These guys would never have had television ministries or best-selling books. As a matter of fact, these now well-known preachers would probably have pastored the smallest congregations in town. They were not concerned with style or popularity. As a matter of fact, they were consistently “successful failures” in terms of drawing people to repentance or changing the worship life of Israel. Most people didn’t want to listen to them. All they did was speak the truth, and often it was truth that Israel found less satisfying than the lies they were chasing after. Ultimately, though, it was the truth the prophets proclaimed that was remembered and passed on for generations down the line. Today, we read the prophets’ words and say, “If only they had listened.” But are we any more receptive to truth today, especially truth that confronts us with our own failings and sins?
Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). God has a greater purpose in our world than entertainment or motivation; He wants to set creation free from the evil and sin that holds it in the bondage of darkness. Even though truth can be hard and can sometimes hurt, it always sets us free to receive God’s grace, accept God’s salvation, and share God’s love.
In the last 24 hours, we have seen that sometimes the lies make a great story, but they ultimately will become the chains that bind us and demean us and lessen us. There is no better time to remember that it is truth that produces lasting change in history, in society, and in the hearts of mankind.
“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.