Speaking Truth To Power

March 4, 2018

Who was this man?

Pontius Pilate stared at him. Dressed in the attire of the common poor, he was brought to him bound, disheveled, freshly bruised from some recent beating. He wasn’t much to look at, to be sure. And yet, he’d been accused of insurrection against Rome. And so, as Rome’s authority in the region, it was up to Pilate to question him.

“Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews.”

“So, you are a king?”

He answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”*

For Pilate, in the seat of Rome’s supreme power, there would be no answer. In perhaps the peak of all of history’s dramatic irony, there was no need to answer—because truth was staring him right in the face. But he couldn’t see it. And so goes the story of truth’s relationship to power.

Most modern journalists define their mission as “speaking truth to power.” That is to say, they’re charged with holding those in power accountable by bringing the truth about all their dealings into the light of day. This mission has also been championed by many minorities and those fighting for civil rights. The objective of speaking the truth is to keep power in check. To stop or at least minimize the potential for tyranny over others.

But the desire for power holds sway over far more than just our politicians or corporate monopolies. It really affects all of us and permeates every pore of society and the human consciousness.

Consider just a few headlines of the day. The current debate concerning school violence and gun control, for example. Isn’t this a debate about power? The power to keep society at-large safe versus the power to retain personal freedoms and self-protection. The “#MeToo” movement—this is about standing up against the abuse of power through sexual harassment and assault. Within most of today’s headlines, you’ll discover at the center this constant struggle for power.

The blockbuster movies of recent years all seem to focus on comic book superheroes who fight evil with their super powers. Much of the obsession with popular sports from football to basketball to the UFC celebrate the pursuit of overpowering of an opponent. We cling daily to news of the stock market and the economy—will we remained empowered to live the quality of life we deserve?

And, of course, back to politics. We’re obsessed with who’s in power—most often, at the national level. And too many of us have become either sycophants or mockers, depending on who’s in power at any given time. Party has become more important than platform, and the truths we say we care so deeply about are too often compromised in the name of holding onto, or regaining, power.

Our desire for power is so pervasive that many in our culture side with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in saying that, throughout history, there’s never been any universal truth at all, but only creeds designed to overpower, fabricated by those in places of power. Sadly, this has too often been the case when it comes to many human claims of truth. But does that mean there’s no truth to be found in the divine?

“What is truth?”

Asking that question may have been Pilate’s most truthful moment. As someone in a place of power, his chief objective wasn’t truth, it was not losing the power he currently had. Here he was, face to face with perhaps the most powerless-looking man he’d ever known, who would soon experience the height of powerlessness through a brutal torture and death. But again, within this powerless man, divine truth was there for anyone with eyes to see.

The recently departed Billy Graham was once traveling in a golf cart through a football stadium with a newly-elected mayor. There were tens of thousands of fans cheering for Mr. Graham, and this new politician did what all politicians do in smiling and waving back to the crowds. The mayor made a comment to the evangelist about this wonderful reception, but Graham responded: “I’m embarrassed. This is not about me.”

Billy Graham understood the truth when he saw it. He was often quoted as saying, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” He had no taste for the power of his world-renowned reputation. He gave all credit to the Son of Man, who didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

What is the truth? We love to hold others to account, but can we speak truth to our own power? The instinct is understandable. We deeply crave control over our lives. We want to be happy, to keep ourselves safe, we want the freedom to live as we wish. And certainly, we want to stand up to those who would overpower us for their own gain.

But, what is the truth? The truth is that, in our desire to pursue, to retain, to defend our own power, we’re chasing a mirage that always promises, but never delivers. Power is indeed the key to living a life of fulfillment, but it is not the power within we need, but power from on high. And as the life and death of Jesus so evidently demonstrates, power from on high is only received through the embrace of powerlessness—through the person who surrenders control of their life to God.

You should never stop speaking truth to the powers-that-be when they become corrupt. And you should never stop standing up to those who would abuse you, especially if you’ve been affected by injustice, racial prejudice, sexual assault, or even death.

But while you seek to overcome such tyrannies, make sure you speak your truths at the foot of the cross, where weakness discovers strength, where the humble are exalted, where the poor in spirit rest in heaven’s kingdom. Lose your life within the empowered powerlessness of Christ, lay down your life for those still held captive by their own power, and you’ll find a life beyond imagining.

Where, like Jesus standing resolutely before Pilate, even the power of death can hold no sway over your heart and mind.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired…He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might he increases power. Youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.**

For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.***

* A modest paraphrase of John 18:33-38
** Isaiah 40:28-31
*** Matthew 6:13

About John Michalak

Writer and speaker, John Michalak

An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

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