You Can't Handle the Truth

In the 1992 movie A Few Good Men, Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson's character) is grilled on the witness stand by a young lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise's). An excerpt of their engagement goes as follows:
Jessep: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I think I’m entitled to them.”
Jessep: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: “I want the truth!”
Jessep: “You can’t handle the truth!”

“You can’t handle the truth!” went on to become one of the most memorable and quoted movie lines of the 1990’s. It was most often used in a joking manner when someone was questioned about whether or not they were being truthful. Ironically, there is “Truth” behind the words, “You can’t handle the truth.”

Like Lt. Kaffee we think we are entitled to the truth. From an early age parental and authority figures tell us how important it is to be honest, and to tell the truth. We grow-up expecting and even demanding it from others. However, we are seldom, if ever, taught how to receive and handle the truth, which is the main focus of this article. Maybe we need to ask ourselves if we really “can handle the truth.” First, in order to receive truth we need to understand how difficult it may be for a person to tell the truth. Secondly, we need to prepare ourselves to hear the truth when we ask for it, so that we can respond appropriately. Lastly, once we hear the truth we need to filter it through love and grace. Let me explain.

Truth be told (pun intended), lying, deceiving and betraying others comes naturally to us. Think about it, even very young children will frequently lie when faced with the possibility of unpleasant consequences for their actions. Young children develop this behavior, which they carry into adulthood. Whether we are young or old, the reasons for lying are as varied as the persons themselves. Some lie about trivial matters, such as when being asked their opinion regarding a friend’s new haircut or outfit. Small wonder than that even the most honest of people will lie or attempt to deceive when faced with significant consequences like, legal matters, loss of a friendship/relationship, or job. As we further examine why people lie, it seems these behaviors may be rooted in one or all of the following categories. We feel ashamed of our actions, we are afraid of how others will see us, or judge us, we are afraid of the consequences we could face, we are afraid of how the truth may affect others, or we are afraid of not being liked. What is apparent is that fear is oftentimes the driving force behind the propensity to lie.

Christians, and non-Christians alike, value the truth when it benefits them. However, when the truth hurts we can be far less receptive. This especially holds true when we feel victimized by someone’s actions, such as when areas of trust have been violated. We start questioning someone regarding a matter, and when they tell us the truth we react inappropriately. By that I mean, we may withdraw from them and shun them. We may also become so angry that we lash out, using degrading and disparaging comments towards them (unbridled anger is considered a basic/primitive response and can be provoked by emotional pain). If we begin heaping insults, guilt or shame upon someone when they tell us the truth, our actions will likely not encourage their honesty. We could conceivably shutdown any opportunity for forthcoming information. Consider this, would you want to tell someone the truth if you knew they were going to excommunicate you from their life, insult you or explode in a rage? The bottom line is we can allow our feelings or victimization to get in the way of our hearing the truth. Sadly, our response may not only squelch the truth, but may impede working towards a solution and finding healing as well.

So, where does that leave us? Are we supposed to deny our feelings and sweep them under the rug? Are we not allowed to get angry when we’ve been lied to, or deceived by someone? O contraire, the Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:26 “Be angry, and yet do not sin; don’t let the sun go down on your anger.” It’s perfectly okay to feel hurt and angry when we are lied to or betrayed. It’s part of our God given emotions. However, it is not okay to retaliate through uncontrolled anger and demeaning comments. While the person who told the truth should not expect to escape all consequences or receive a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, they are still entitled to be treated respectfully. If we can learn to filter our hearing of the truth through love and grace, we will be people who encourage truthfulness in all our dealings with others. Jesus solicited the truth from others because of the way he handled their truthfulness. He received it with seemingly an open and non-judgmental mind.

In conclusion, our demeanor when we are told the truth can have a huge impact on whether or not people are truthful with us. As Christians, we will serve our Master well if we receive the truth from others with love and grace. Remember earlier I mentioned how lying is rooted in fear. Well, conversely, perfect love cast out all fear, and the truth can help set people free from shame and guilt. How we receive the truth from someone could not only encourage them to be truthful now, but also in the future. Therefore, let us ask ourselves, am I someone who encourages others to be truthful and “Can I handle the truth?” Then let us ask God to give us the grace to do so.
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