In praise of truth and freedom

by G. Timothy Johnson

During my college and seminary years, my favorite passage of scripture was found in the Gospel of John: You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. These words, of course, refer to “Jesus Truth” but lately I have been thinking about how that scriptural statement really applies as well to all aspects of our earthly life.

Consider a marriage. If spouses can’t trust each other to tell the truth there will be no freedom from the anxiety, the worry, the suspicion, the doubt that what the other person says or does might not be true. In other words, we will constantly worry that the most “significant other” in our life might be cheating in many ways.

Consider child-parent relationships. If neither the child nor parent can trust the other to tell the truth, there can be no freedom from the constant worry that something is going on behind the scenes that could be dangerous, even destructive. For the child, such doubt can be harmful to normal emotional development. For the parent, such anxiety can spark havoc in everyday family life.

Consider workplace relationships. If we cannot trust our co-workers, our bosses, our employees, there can be no freedom from constant suspicion, constant checking, constant worry that we are being taken advantage of financially or even socially in terms of our reputation. False gossip can be enormously destructive.

Consider relationships with our health care providers. If we cannot trust them to know and tell the truth, there can be no freedom from true existential anxiety, the nagging fear that our very life could be in danger. As a retired physician, I consider the patient-doctor relationship to be sacred in terms of truth-telling. Admittedly we sometimes shape the truth to be less traumatic but we should never lie about essential facts that will inevitably cause the loss of trust. And patients should never have to worry that their doctor might be hiding something important from them.

And finally, and especially at this time in our national history, we must consider our politicians, at all levels. If we, the people, cannot trust our politicians to tell the truth, we will never be free from the feeling that they are trying to put their own interests ahead of ours. We will never be free from the anger that they are wasting our money and abusing our trust. And we will cynically come to simply disregard what they are saying and doing which will lead to the great danger that we will actually lose our freedoms, slowly but surely.

My experience as a physician taught me to regard truth-telling as my most important obligation – to my patients but also to everyone else in my life. Of course I haven’t always succeeded – nobody does. But trying to adhere to that standard taught me the great benefit of truth-telling – freedom from gnawing anxiety that can infect our very souls. So here is the deal: if we can know the truth, we can be free in spirit and in relationships! What a gift!