A much copied biblical phrase elevates knowledge in the pantheon of virtues. In fact, these words of Jesus (John 8: 32) are carved over many public library doors across the land. It says, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
The implication is that if we apply ourselves to increasing our knowledge, we will gain the tools to be “set free.” Such noble words appeal to our highest instincts—especially when truth is joined with freedom. It conjures up visions of righteousness and justice, of overcoming ignorance and bondage, suggesting that mankind, by dint of disciplined study and the pursuit of truth, can defeat the oppressor. That must be why the pen is mightier than the sword.
You and I are responsible for ourselves. No graduation ceremony would be complete without the reminder that “you are the captain of your ship, the master of your destiny.” In other words, you can, indeed, be your own guide, your own teacher, yes—even your own savior!
Well, now. Look again at the inscription over the library door: Yep, it’s all up to you. But let’s take a couple minutes to check it out in the Bible—just to be sure the library board had it right … Hmm, yes, there it is. But it’s right in the middle of Jesus’ complete statement to the religious leaders … We’d better get the entire quote; back up to include verse 31. Aha! Jesus’ complete statement was, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Whoa! He included a couple of qualifiers in there: 1) if you hold to my teaching, and 2) becoming his disciples. “Thenyou will know the truth …” Frankly, I liked it better without those conditions but I don’t have to think more than ten nanoseconds to recall one, three, eight, lebenteen examples when I tried to run my life
independent of God. No, you don’t want the details; you’ve got enough of your own.
So. This oft-quoted phrase leaves God clear out of the equation. I guess there’s really no biblical support for living the free life without God. Now, I’m not downplaying the worth of education and disciplining yourself to learn more about what you need to know, but to be set free? I guess that’s a horse of a different color, as my mother used to say. BTW, that brings up a few questions:
- What does it mean to be “set free”?
- Free from what? Who is the oppressor?
- What is truth? That, my friends, was the desperate question that Pilate asked Jesus.
- Can one be the captain of his soul, operating his life without God?
Now, the startling truth about this entire scenario is that these words of Jesus, by themselves, tell us that we don’t need Jesus. Which, dear hearts, I believe to be a pernicious lie. We do need Jesus. Even the founders of our country, in the brave and mighty Declaration of Independence, did not promise freedom. They included liberty among the inalienable rights but freedom/liberty is no more than that—a right.
We’ll look at those four questions and more, next time—hopefully, your thoughts, too—on how to secure this freedom—a freedom based on truth.