Last week, I was called upon to give testimony in court as a witness to a crime. The crime itself occurred months ago, so I was very nervous, trying to remember the sequence of events, and trying to make sure I didn’t add or leave out important details.
There is a reason the judge asks for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It is very easy to exaggerate, to leave out details that may reflect poorly on us or on those we know, or to add commentary or opinion. Even the way a lawyer asks a question can evoke a certain memory or reaction that is more or less than the original event warrants.
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t tell the entire “truth”–not because I lied or withheld evidence, but because I only witnessed a portion of the crime, and because I don’t have total and perfect recall. No one does. Three witnesses may testify and get certain details “wrong” or mix up the sequence of events, or be confused or hazy months after the event. Even seeing the same event from a different perspective can alter one’s testimony. One person hears a conversation clearly, but cannot see one speaker’s facial expressions or gestures. Another sees the event close up, but cannot see what is happening “behind the scene.” One person’s personal biases may come out in the way they give testimony, even if they are unaware of it. While I hope and believe that I told the truth as I witnessed it, my witness alone is not enough to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence–nor should it be.
The ninth Commandment (in Exodus 20) warns about giving or “bearing” false witness. We usually equate this with lying, but it is more than telling “a whopper.” Bearing false witness includes spreading rumors, “sharing” questionable posts, omitting facts, and even “faking it” until you make it– pretending to be what we are not; hypocrisy, and false appearances.
As a follower of Jesus, I am a full-time witness. This is far more important even than being a witness in a court case. I should always speak and behave as if I am “under oath.” Not just when I know all eyes may be watching; not just when I’m with other “witnesses.” Always. This doesn’t mean that I aggressively volunteer my opinion and beat people over the head with commentary everywhere I go. It doesn’t mean that I smile and say only what I think others want to hear. It means that I speak less than I listen, but when I speak, it is truth–loving, sometimes harsh, spoken with the intent to help, heal, encourage, challenge, and bring justice.
In prayer, it means that I repent of falsehood, pride, envy, anger, and bitterness. It means that I acknowledge God for who He is, and myself for who I am in Him. It means that I ask for wisdom to seek and see truth, and to see through deception and falsehood–even in my own heart and mind. And it means that I thank God for His Truth, which is perfect and victorious. I pray that the Truth will shine in, around, and through my life and my words, and in the lives of others.
Many people will point out when I get it “wrong.” They will point to other Christ-followers, other “witnesses” whose lives may look different from mine, who speak differently, act differently, vote differently, even worship differently than me. And I need to trust that the “whole” truth will come from each of us bearing honest and full witness to what we know and experience of God’s goodness, His power, and His love. I don’t have the “whole” truth– but I am a witness of the one who IS the whole Truth!