Raising toddler boys is a blast—but it’s also given me a front-row seat to the art of creative misuse. Their strong imaginations have taught me that anything can be used as anything other than what it’s supposed to be used for. A plate becomes a frisbee. Permanent markers become crayons for walls. Indoor plants become buried treasure to dig up. Anything long and pointy becomes a sword—which makes hikes long because every stick needs to be picked up and examined for its swordsiness. Spoons become quality testing utensils for determining the durability of whatever they hit.
When it comes to creative misuse, we can all become toddler boys with one of God’s greatest gifts: truth. Here are six ways we use (and misuse) truth, some productive and others destructive.
#1 – Avoid truth to escape discomfort.
It’s always a breakthrough when my wife and I spot a toddler doing something—like building an impressive tower out of blocks—with focused attention. Focus is a skill kids usually have to grow into. Yet I’ve been amazed at how early some of our kids have mastered the art of not focusing on what they’re supposed to be focusing on. You know how when a kid is acting up, you’re supposed to get on the kid’s level and lock eyes so they can focus on what you’re about to say? Works well—if they lock eyes. Yet within even their first year of life, I’ve had kids look up, down, all around, any direction except for into my eyes.
We can refuse to lock eyes when it comes to uncomfortable truth. It got so bad that when Jesus was trying to teach truth to unwilling hearts, he exclaimed, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!” (John 8:45). We can be Houdini’s when it comes to evading truth—even when it’s staring us in the face.
#2 – Twist truth to get ahead.
In college, I needed to get the attention of the woman who would later become my wife. But how? When I learned that she was into writing and reading poetry, I decided I needed to dig deep into my past and pull out a dusty, long forgotten fact about me, shine it up, and paint a couple layers of exaggeration over it. “Yeah, I like to write poetry too!” The truth: I had stopped writing poetry in my elementary years, and most of them were as prosaic as a Sudoku puzzle—even if my parents told me how good they were. Got my foot in the door though. Of course, twisting truth is rarely humorous. Sometimes it can even get people killed (e.g., Mark 15:58).
#3 – Learn truth to get smart.
Learning truth to get smart can be good or bad. On the negative side, learning can be a means of pridefully puffing yourself up (1 Cor. 8:1). On the positive side, learning can be a means of growing in wisdom in order to make sensible decisions (Pr. 1:1-6). If you like the idea of growing in wisdom, the book of Proverbs makes it clear that it starts with fearing the Lord (Pr. 1:7).
#4 – Use truth to win arguments.
In order to be persuasive, arguments need at least to appear to be truthful and probably need to have at least some truth in them. One issue that keeps coming up when it comes to logical argumentation is that, even when some truth is used, some truth is probably left out. When making an argument, it’s easy to be selective when it comes to what truth to emphasize.
Salespeople have to eat, so we don’t expect them to tell the whole truth about their product. Politicians have to get elected, so we don’t expect them to tell the whole truth about their platform. Because we have come to expect people to be fragmentary when it comes to truth, it’s not uncommon for people to get cynical about the concept of truth itself. More on that in #5. Let’s close with the two main competing paths for handling truth in this cultural moment.
#5 – Erase truth to redraw reality.
I’ve met some preacher’s kids who turned out pretty rough, but I’ve never met a PK who turned out as unchristian as Friedrich Nietzsche. The son of a Lutheran minister became an atheist who despised Christian morality and eagerly heralded a post-Christian world. Nietzsche had his faults, but inconsistency was not one of them. He reasoned very logically that with the “death of God” came the death of absolute morality and truth.
Eager to hurry on through God’s funeral, Nietzsche excitedly anticipated the newfound ability of dominant humans (Nietzsche’s “overman”) to recreate reality in their own image. It is a matter of erasing the concept of truth and artistically redrawing reality. It’s no wonder that the only line in the New Testament which Nietzsche appreciated was when Pontius Pilate scoffed, “What is truth?”
Although he died insane, Nietzsche’s predictive powers were remarkably incisive. Modern Western culture has become a playground for powerful people to recreate reality to mirror their desires.
Modern Western culture has become a playground for powerful people to recreate reality to mirror their desires.
#6 – Seek truth to find light.
The best way to use truth—in fact, the only way not to misuse it—is to seek truth in order that we might live in it. The Gospel of John pictures living in truth as a matter of bringing our whole selves into the light. Sin thrives in the darkness but withers in the light. Lies mutate and spread in the darkness but evaporate in the light.
Living in the light means more than merely amassing pieces of truth to get smarter or win debates. It’s a matter of welcoming the truth—the whole truth—by becoming disciples of the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). With that in mind, consider your central choice when it comes to what you’re going to do with the truth:
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” (John 3:20-21)