A headline caught my attention yesterday. It read “Perhaps it’s better to admit the truth.” The article, about the Irish dimension to Brexit, actually threw little new light on the problem, but the headline raises a broader issue. Is the word “perhaps” actually needed? Is there any doubt about the benefit of admitting the truth?
In the previous week this very question must have taxed the minds of those in power in Iran. Eventually, and to the surprise of the rest of the world, the Iranian authorities concluded that it would be better to tell the truth. After three days of vehement denials they admitted that the Ukrainian jet was destroyed as the result of a ghastly human error by one of their servicemen. Sadly this tragedy is not unique, but this time the Iranian authorities admitted responsibility rather more quickly than leaders of other countries whose servicemen had made similar blunders.
Admitting the truth can be difficult. Children are often reluctant to own up for fear of parental disapproval, so when they have done something wrong they may devise far-fetched – and often amusing – explanations to conceal their guilt and escape the consequences. If we don’t break this habit before adulthood the situation gets worse. Our wrongs become more complex and the means we use to evade responsibility grow more convoluted. As Walter Scott put it in the poem “Marmion”:
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Lord Marmion’s downfall was a weakness for the ladies. The biblical King David shared this weakness. After his adultery with Bathsheba, David tried various ways to avoid responsibility for her subsequent pregnancy. When all else failed he arranged that Bathsheba’s husband would die in battle. Eventually David was made to face up to his guilt by Nathan the prophet. (You can read the story in 2 Samuel ch. 11 & 12).
Hopefully our shortcomings are rather less serious than those of Marmion or David. But their examples are a reminder of the dangers of deception – especially self-deception. Christianity recognises the reality of these human frailties but at its heart there is a loving God who offers relief from the burden of guilt – provided we admit the truth. St John sums this up neatly:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:8-9)
Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day, 25th Feb) captures this idea. Its name comes from the old word “shrive”, meaning to absolve. Traditionally it was a day for self-examination, admitting past wrongs, receiving absolution and making a fresh start for Lent, which begins the next day. Something to ponder over a pancake or two.
Now here’s something other than pancakes to look forward to in February. Rev Peter Deaves will be installed as our Rector on Thursday 27th February in Sissinghurst Church. Do join us there as we welcome Pete and his family.