What is Truth? (Frederick Buechner Excerpt)

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I was having a dialogue on Facebook recently with a friend who holds different beliefs from mine. We have a love and respect for one another that transcends any differences between us and we entered into a short exchange of thoughts about the Bible. She genuinely asked me how I can believe it with all its contradictions and questionable translations. I told her how I see it and we had a civil conversation about it that, I hope, left us both better people for having had it.

Not long after, I opened my email inbox which held my daily reading excerpt from Frederick Buechner. I’ve pasted it below and it’s pretty much what I was trying/hoping to say in that Facebook conversation. Hours before this, in another book, I came across another passage mentioning the particular silence written about below.

Since Buechner is a much greater master of words than I could ever hope to be, I wanted to share this because he puts into words what I can only struggle to say…

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“Somebody should write a book someday about the silences in Scripture. Maybe somebody already has. “For God alone my soul waits in silence,” the psalmist says (62:1), which is the silence of waiting. Or “Be not silent, O God of my praise,” which is the silence of the God we wait for (109:1). “And when the Lamb opened the seventh seal,” says the book of Revelation, “there was silence in heaven” (8: I)—the silence of creation itself coming to an end and of a new creation about to begin. But the silence that has always most haunted me is the silence of Jesus before Pilate. Pilate asks his famous question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), and Jesus answers him with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence. In case there should be any question as to what that silence meant, on another occasion Jesus put it into words for his disciple Thomas. “I,” he said, “I am the truth” (14:6).

Jesus did not say that religion was the truth, or that his own teachings were the truth, or that what people taught about him was the truth, or that the Bible was the truth, or the church, or any system of ethics or theological doctrine. There are individual truths in all of them, we hope and believe, but individual truths were not what Pilate was after, or what you and I are after either, unless I miss my guess. Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen, including religious truths. THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about who we are and who God is if there is a God, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after.

It is a truth that can never be put into words because no words can contain it. It is a truth that can never be caught in any doctrine or creed including our own because it will never stay still long enough but is always moving and shifting like air. It is a truth that is always beckoning us in different ways and coming at us from different directions. And I think that is precisely why whenever Jesus tries to put that ultimate and inexpressible truth into words (instead of into silence as he did with Pilate), the form of words he uses is a form that itself moves and shifts and beckons us in different ways and comes at us from different directions. That is to say he tells stories.

Frederick Buechner 
from The Clown in the Belfry & Secrets in the Dark

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Some Inspiration from Frederick Buechner:

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I took my copy of ‘The Magnificent Defeat’ off the shelf yesterday to lend to a friend. Frederick Buechner is one of my all-time favorite writers. His prose is like glittering poetry. His heart seems made out of diamonds to write like he does. I constantly have to put his books down for a moment and stare off, saying, “Wowwww,” then go back and hungrily re-read what I just read.

Suddenly realizing I would be without a book I had not opened in a long time, I felt compelled to go through it to re-read all the parts I had underlined. I felt much like a mother kissing good-bye her high school graduate who is leaving for college, unsure when I would see my child again and knowing there would be a hole in my heart (or on my bookcase) in its absence.

I copied down some of the lines that impacted me today, from lines that had impacted me when I originally read the book about 7 or so years ago.

I hope they will do something for you as well…

“Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we know we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”

“The secret of prayer is persistence. Keep at it, keep speaking into the darkness, and even if nothing comes, speak again and then again. And finally the answer is given.”

“We have heard so much tragic news that when the news is good we cannot hear it. But the proclamation of Easter Day is that all is well.”

“To be wise is to be eternally curious.”

“[Christ] suffers wherever anyone suffers.”

“We need poets or children or lunatics to show us the miracles we do not notice.”

“The storyteller’s claim, I believe, is that life has meaning…The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.”

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