Some months ago, I watched the excellent Chernobyl mini-series on television. In the last episode (number five) the protagonist, Legasov, reflects on his experience with the nuclear disaster. Powerful people tried to cover it up and hide the magnitude of the disaster from public view. His comments are timeless, but particularly apt in our day. Here’s a couple of the comments that have been haunting me in this time of extreme partisan politics that carry over even into management of pandemics.
We’re on dangerous ground right now, because of our secrets and our lies! They’re practically what define us. When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can longer remember it is even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.
And then later, he writes of his life as a scientist, apparently in contrast to government bureaucrats and politicians.
To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for truth, we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there, whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn’t care about our needs or wants. It doesn’t care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: What is the cost of lies?
I find it (perhaps naively) surprising and dismaying that so many who claim to follow the one who is the Truth seem more concerned with politics than inconvenient truth. Of course, many have said this, and said it better, before me. But still. Really? The debt will come due.
As Christians, we tend to think of the debt coming due when Jesus’ kingdom comes in its fullness. At that last trumpet, so to speak. That’s not Legasov’s point. Consider all the references to “the land of the living” in scripture. Are these referring to that distant future or to reality in even this fallen world? With all due respect to those scholars who explain “the land of the living” refers to the fullness of new creation, I’m just not using the term here in that way. Legasov is talking about how the truth has a way of making itself known in the face of lies, in this world as we know it today. It doesn’t stay buried in the land of the living.
Some didn’t want the Truth when he came into the land of the living 2000 years ago. He was a danger to their plans – and He remains so. We recently remembered how Jesus was crucified and left dead in the tomb. And then the Truth returned, unbowed, from the grave. That’s the way truth is, I think. You can only hide it away in the grave for so long before the sheer life of it comes back to haunt those who sought to keep it down. That’s because the truth reflects how God is – how Jesus is. You can’t keep him down. The world He created reflects that reality. The truth is out there, and he is jealous.
I long for simple truth in the land of the living – the land I live in now. I think this is the proper attitude for one who follows the Truth.
For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24) The truth is of Him. He is the Truth. What is the cost of lies? It is death, naturally.