I swear that the evidence that I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
If you watch legal dramas or reality court shows, you are familiar with the official court oath everyone who testifies must state before settling in the witness chair. But, have you ever thought about the words?
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I wonder, can you give the whole truth? Truth, sure. But the whole truth?
The Whole Truth
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. ~Rene Descartes, French philosopher
I’d never given the oath above much thought until watching a television show one night when one of the characters, an expert in his field, told the judge that he couldn’t possibly speak the whole truth because he didn’t know it. His point was that while he could testify to what he saw and could deduce certain likelihoods from that, much about the situation was outside of his knowledge.
And my mind started churning.
Is he right? To broaden the question even further, can I know the whole truth about anything?
A Breeze through History
Think about what you know. How much of it is taken at least on a little bit of faith rather than experience? For example, everything we know about history — whether you think about your personal family before you were born, the history of your state or country, your culture — it all takes a measure of trust in historians and eyewitnesses.
Sure, the preponderance of evidence in many events or historical people suggests a high level of trust, but even then we don’t know everything. For example, three of the dominate mysteries that may never be solved include:
- How did Joan of Arc convince Prince Charles to allow her, an unknown peasant maiden, to lead the French into battle? Why did he trust her when so many of his advisors did not? [Read more: History.com]
- Where is Cleopatra buried? As famous as she was, I’d think we’d know this. But apparently we don’t. [Read more: Wikipedia.com]
- Did the pirate Captain Kidd leave buried treasure on Oak Island? Or perhaps, did he even possess any treasure to hide? [Read more: Biography.com]
A little closer to home.
Okay, while it may be fun to think about some of the greatest mysteries of all time, I want to make this a little more practical for those of us who didn’t know Joan of Arc was a mystery or don’t care where Cleopatra is buried.
Think about the last time a friend got her feelings hurt.
If you know this friend fairly well, you may have some good guesses. You might know about an incident from her childhood that makes her sensitive to particular issues or words. Or the trauma from five years ago that colored her perspective and made her hesitant to trust.
But what about all that you don’t know? Even if you’ve been friends for decades, you weren’t always together. And you were never inside each other’s heads, hearing the thoughts or experiencing the feelings.
And consider this: what about all that she doesn’t know? Perhaps issues she hasn’t yet dealt with, or past hurts that she doesn’t yet realize she needs to work through?
We learn in partial truths.
If you think about your school days, we learned in bits and pieces. A little here, a little there. Many of the pieces built on other parts, gradually moving us into more complex learning. Humans simply do not have the capacity to take in everything at once.
Even as I think more personally, I must admit that I learn more about myself every year. I process about past events in new ways as I come across new information. I make fresh connections between events and feelings and reasons behind my thoughts or behaviors.
Which means I sometimes do or say something, and I don’t even know why I did or said it. At least, not until I take it to God and allow Him to dissect it with me, giving Him the chance to shine light and speak truth.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. ~Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright
We make judgments about people and assumptions about motives based on what we see, believing that we are right because we know what we saw. Even if what we witnessed is accurate and our memory is perfect, much lies underneath the surface of motives and reasonings.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to be tolerant of misbehavior or permissive about poor boundaries. But we do need to offer grace, understanding that only God knows the whole truth.
Amber thinks she knows her family, but she’s been gone for ten years. She thinks she’s better off alone, but what if she’s wrong? What if God is trying to show her something different?
For years, Amber traipsed around the Northwest avoiding the skeletons in her closet. Job-hopping every few weeks, she refused to let anyone get close to her as she slowly made her way east. As winter plants itself firmly across the Rockies, she decides to take a chance on a job at a logging company with a family different from any she’s ever known before.
Watching the family interact creates more questions than answers for Amber. Feeling like she’s entered the happily-ever-after written at the end of fairytales, she watches for cracks in the facade. Surely as the days pass, the play-acting will cease and the real family will emerge. Or could she be wrong? Could they truly be genuine?
Could this family really hold the key to what she’s seeking?