I suppose we should celebrate the fact that “fake news” is all the rage these days. I say this because saying that something is “fake” implies that there might be something that is authentic. And I suppose arguing from a premise that there actually is such a thing as truth is a step in the right direction.
I want to celebrate that we care about truth again. But I’m not sure that I can, because I don’t actually believe we do celebrate truth. We live in a world of partial truths and half truths. The truth that we care about is not truth as it stands but truth as it benefits us. We don’t care what “is” actually is.
In Proverbs 8 we read that within the words of wisdom there is “nothing is twisted or crooked”. But not us. We like to tell things slant. I borrow that line from an Emily Dickenson poem, but I’m not using it the way she did.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
What Dickinson means is that in order for people to grasp the truth it needs to come at them in doses. You have to come at folks from a different angle rather than head on. We are confused creatures with oft twisted minds and in order to get a hearing we have to tell the truth a little slant. She’s really saying something similar to what Jesus said when he told the disciples that though there was much more he’d like to say to them they aren’t quite ready for it.
There’s a difference between the Proverbs 8 perversion of truth (the perversion that is so prevalent in our day) and the poetic device which Dickenson, and I’d argue Jesus, employed. Knowing that difference is absolutely key in writing and in ministry. I think there can be a real temptation for us to tell just enough truth to fool ourselves into thinking we are being faithful and creative, but in reality we are telling it slant the wrong way.
It’s the difference between bread crumbs and blinders. One way of telling the truth slant is meant to leave little bread crumbs so that if somebody wants to follow them all the way up to the full truth they can get there. But the other way of telling it slant is the way of blinders on a horse. Where you only want your audience to focus on a certain slice of the truth but keep them blind to the others. This is the way often employed in politics, social media, and click-bait articles. They tell half truths.
We don’t “tell it slant” to benefit ourselves or our party. We “tell it slant” to benefit our readers and their relationship with truth. That’s the big difference. Am I trying to creatively tell the truth so that it helps my reader grasp the truth or am I trying to keep them from seeing a certain point. Dickinson was adamant that we must “tell the whole truth”. That is the key.
Christians in our culture need to pick up what Dickinson is saying here. We must learn how to effectively “tell it slant”. A biblical example of this is the prophet Nathan confronting King David in his adultery. Much like the Christian in our culture today, he could not bluntly go up to the king and tell him that he was an adulterer. He had to do it in the form of a story. He had to “tell it slant”. That’s a model for us in cultural engagement.
So, yes, we must tell it slant but not the way of the politicians. Tell it slant in the way of the prophet, the way of Jesus. Who told truth in parts, but parts which were organically connected to the whole truth. Truth in breadcrumbs and not “truth” with blinders.