the truth will set you free (after it hurts like hell)

They say the truth will set you free.

But not before first causing much in the way of pain.

Truth is a mirror. We are faced with a vision of how things really are, and we must respond.

We can choose to turn away: “I don’t want to see.” We can choose apathy: “I don’t care.”

We can also choose to stare deeply into the mirror, accepting how ugly things really are: “This is not how I want to be…”

By facing up to the way things are we will be liberated, but not before experiencing all the pain that comes with this confrontation.

Like an AA participant, I must acknowledge what I really am, and what I really am not, before I can be set free.

Jesus told us that he was the Truth. He is a friend, yes, but he is an honest friend. He calls us to repent, to acknowledge what is true and  to change.

He is a friend who loves enough take the cross upon his shoulders. But he is a friend who calls us to follow him in taking up our crosses. The truth, my friends, in painful. It also liberates.

In our culture of instant gratification we hate pain, and so we hate truth. But Oscar Wilde, whose life of unrestrained pleasure-seeking is well known, had this to say while in prison near the end of his life:

I used to live entirely for pleasure. I shunned suffering and sorrow of every kind. I hated both. I resolved to ignore them as far as possible: to treat them, that is to say, as modes of imperfection. They were not part of my scheme of life. They had no place in my philosophy. My mother, who knew life as a whole, used often to quote to me Goethe’s lines – written by Carlyle in a book he had given her years ago, and translated by him, I fancy, also:

‘Who never ate his bread in sorrow, Who never spent the midnight hours Weeping and waiting for the morrow, – He knows you not, ye heavenly powers.’

They were the lines which that noble Queen of Prussia, whom Napoleon treated with such coarse brutality, used to quote in her humiliation and exile; they were the lines my mother often quoted in the troubles of her later life. I absolutely declined to accept or admit the enormous truth hidden in them. I could not understand it. I remember quite well how I used to tell her that I did not want to eat my bread in sorrow, or to pass any night weeping and watching for a more bitter dawn.

I had no idea that it was one of the special things that the Fates had in store for me: that for a whole year of my life, indeed, I was to do little else. But so has my portion been meted out to me; and during the last few months I have, after terrible difficulties and struggles, been able to comprehend some of the lessons hidden in the heart of pain. Clergymen and people who use phrases without wisdom sometimes talk of suffering as a mystery. It is really a revelation. One discerns things one never discerned before. One approaches the whole of history from a different standpoint. What one had felt dimly, through instinct, about art, is intellectually and emotionally realised with perfect clearness of vision and absolute intensity of apprehension. (De Profundis)

We are taught, implicitly mind you, that freedom is the unbinding from restraints to pleasure. But in this we will always be captive, forever the fugitive from the inevitable onset of suffering. Suffering is guaranteed, whether by calamity or simply through debt to pleasure.

It is only when we face the mirror and look darkness in the eye that we will find true freedom – we will begin to come through darkness and out the other side, but not before being reformed by it. In the words of Bruce Cockburn:

Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend

Truth is a mirror. We are faced with a vision of how things really are, and we must respond.


Posted on August 6, 2012, in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. You find the most interesting quotes/references.

    How happy would the ‘younger’ Wilde have been in today’s world of instant gratification? And how easy is to ‘forget’ how to grow and to be aware these days?

    And how unpleasant is it when those around us are hurting…

    Thank you for sharing these gems with us.

  2. My poetic inspiration on this topic comes from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, which apparently was in turn inspired by a Buddhist parable.

    “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”

    I have understood and experienced this to signify that we see things most clearly for what they truly are when they are broken. How much more do we learn about ourselves and the world in times of pain and failure?

    It would be nice if it didn’t have to be that way, of course…

    • Great one, Amoeba! It’s a profound line, that one from Cohen. It also reminds me of Bruce Cockburn:

      But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight,
      Got to kick at the darkness til it bleeds daylight



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