Of the many distressing developments in the civil life of our world, the rise of “alternative facts” is one of the most upsetting. It is not, however, as recent a phenomenon as we might think. Indeed, for as long as we have been human, we have found the temptation to remake reality in our own interests very difficult to resist. This particular weakness manifests itself as outright falsehoods, as strategic partial truths, as propaganda, as one-sided histories, as self-serving or self-soothing stories. Whatever the form and whatever the situation, however, the motivation is the same: we lie to avoid the consequences of the truth.
As followers of Jesus, we know better. We know that the consequence of truth is freedom; that God already knows the truth, anyway; that reality does not truly bend to our desires, for we are not God.
As fallible human beings, however, we still fall into temptation. So every year, but perhaps especially this year, we give thanks for Lent because Lent is, at root, a season of unwavering honesty in the face of some uncomfortable truths.
We begin with the imposition of ashes, bearing on our foreheads the first truth of our existence: we are dust and to dust we shall return. This is a hard truth, but a good one to begin with, nonetheless. It insists we acknowledge that our lives are a miracle we cannot even begin to understand. It insists that we acknowledge that we are not immortal; not infallible; not divine. It insists that we acknowledge that we are, each one of us, equally human and beloved in the eyes of God.
Once confronted with this truth, we can undertake the work of self-reflection that makes for a truly holy Lent. We acknowledge our sins—the myriad of ways in which we, as individuals and as communities, fail to love God and our neighbour. We acknowledge the many ways in which we allow ourselves to be distracted, and we take on disciplines of fasting and prayer and generosity in order to realign our hearts and minds and bodies with God’s will. We acknowledge our fear that we have only ourselves to rely on—only our power to manipulate reality and hide from what we know to be true: our desire for a holy life of love and justice and peace is beyond our reach alone. We need God’s steadfast love and forgiveness in the face of our weakness.
And when the work of Lent is done (for this year, at least) and we come before God in penitence and faith and hope—then we are ready to receive the truth that defeats all falsehood, revealed in Jesus’ betrayal, death and astonishing resurrection. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
So this Lent, let us be diligent in naming the lies that threaten the well-being of our souls and our families and our churches and our nations. Let us be unwavering in our honesty, even when it is uncomfortable or seems counter to our interests. Let us be steady in our focus on God’s will for us and for all creation. Let us remember that the truth will set us free.