Reframing reality

We all need someone to help us see beyond the morass of the present to a hopeful reality for the future.

By Amy Butler

Even though we’re already several weeks away, one of the passages read commonly during Holy Week is still ringing in my ears. You’ll recall the exchange between Pilate and Jesus in John, chapter 18, where Jesus mentions those who “belong to the truth.” Pilate answers with a question: “What is truth?”

I imagine that, had he not had other pressing matters on his mind, Jesus would have sighed with frustration at Pilate’s question. Jesus was no stranger to the understanding that as human life shifts and changes we often look to religious leaders to give us static answers we can hang onto.

(At least in my limited experience, this can be frustrating on any number of levels, including but not limited to the fact that the truth is sometimes inconvenient and very often offensive.)

But Jesus knew it’s usually the case that when people ask for a definitive statement of the truth they are usually not asking for information. Most of the time, folks know the truth.

What we’re really looking for when we ask our leaders questions like Pilate’s is a reframing of reality, a different way to see the world from the vantage point in which we find ourselves.

I imagine that I’m not the only pastor who has had congregation members come to the church office asking for definitive answers to any number of questions. These questions spring from life circumstances, growing (or shrinking) spiritual awareness, personal pain or intellectual curiosity. In our post-Enlightenment view of the world we seek out proof, facts to support any kind of decision we make or action we take. Why not ask the pastor?

But grasping for unassailable facts is a flawed way to approach crisis in our lives, because faith animates our lives far less by cold, hard facts and far more by the mystery of love. And love is a force that insistently recreates reality, over and over and over again, showing us there is always possibility even in the darkest factual circumstances.

We already know the truth; it’s stamped on our DNA. We know that love heals us; that treating each other with kindness and compassion is the only way to live; that showing mercy makes us softer; that wide and expansive welcome instead of grasping, limited exclusion is always the way to go; that gospel living can change everything.

We know all of that.

Pilate knew it, too. What he really wanted — what we really want — is someone to help us see beyond the morass of the present to a hopeful reality for the future. We need new frameworks for living out old truths, invitations to new expressions of what we know deep in our souls, even when the present reality casts a deep shadow of doubt over the truth we know.

I’m grieving at a loss, and I can’t see a way forward. The church is dying. I’m confused about a big decision ahead. Everything I find familiar about the world is changing. For all these painful realities and more, the truth we know always offers us hope. The frameworks by which we confine our perspectives might not.

As we make our way together in the life of faith it seems to me that perhaps one of the best gifts we can offer each other, whether we’re leaders or not, is the gift of new perspective, of reframing a present reality to help us gather the courage to step into the truth we already know.

I’ve always been kind of curious to know how Pilate felt after the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection unfolded. I’d like to think he realized the truth all around him and began to see life in a different way. I’d like to think I can do that, too.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.