I wanted to share the words of Arthur O. Roberts, our esteemed professor at large, who delivered a powerful commencement address on truth and love “Working as a Team.”
Congratulations, 2011 graduates of George Fox University! My message to you today is simply this: Keep truth and love linked together and working as a team.
Truth takes many forms: facts, theories, deductions, principles, doctrines, metaphors, insights, intuitions. Truth is possible because the created order is reliable. Math works. So does science, artistry, and governance. Love also takes many forms: filial and conjugal affection, friendship, kindness, compassion, mercy, civility, justice. Love, too, is made possible by God’s created order– and redemptive actions. In its multiple forms love enables community. When love and truth split apart bad things happen to others– and to self.
When folks try to follow truth without love, truth gets skewed into elitism and bigotry. In the name of truth heretics are hanged, apostates slaughtered, dissidents silenced. Racism and sexism mar the social landscape, scientific discoveries and inventions enrich a few but impoverish many—or they ruin rather than enhance life. Without love competition turns cutthroat, governance becomes corrupt, reputations get tarnished, the oppressed are driven to despair, or to violence. Atheistic dogmatism is bad enough, with its cynical sneering at religious faith while basking in a society blessed by its moral legacy. Religious zealotry is worse! Sanctimonious folks who blast others with harsh judgment only bring reproach upon the name of the one who told us to love neighbor as oneself. Jesus also said, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-32). Christians rightly proclaim that redemption liberates from sin. How subtlety the mind can get snared into self-deception! Let me illustrate. With other old timers across the street at Friendsview, I play billiards (pool). Now, the cue ball is white; the idea is to strike the cue ball with a cue stick against a striped or solid color ball and drive it into a side pocket. Every now and then one of us starts to use another ball instead of the white one. The alternate is so strategically placed the mind pretends it’s white! “Oops” we say. Together we laugh at this stupid mistake. Sadly, more significant self-deceptions occur in the real world, often with costly results: cheating not promptly challenged, trust funds squandered, marriages ruined by infidelity, research skewed, products flawed. Probe your memory! Do you know what I’m talking about? I think so. Humbly let us acknowledge that we perceive truth within finite limits, and that sin subtly can warp our perception of it.
When folks try to love outside parameters of truth, love degenerates into a tangle of private preferences. Egos tussle over turf; culture sinks into a swamp of conflicting labors to stroke self-esteem. Love degenerates into lust— not just seduction or manipulation of other persons’ bodies– but also their minds. Our current post-rational culture abounds with such seductions. Advertisers bypass reason to trigger assent. Promoters and propagandists would seize our ears and eyes, using sophisticated technology. TV ads display images and sounds marked by absurdity, stupidity, and violence. Music is corrupted into background patter to monopolize attention. When I was your age legalism was a problem—too many petty things dubbed wrong, like movie-going. Currently permissiveness is a problem—many moral standards treated as personal preferences. As Augustine said, rightly, the senses are God’s messengers. Let them be so! I urge you, young friends, cherish times of silence, to reduce sensory overload, to sweep away the fog of self-deception, to clear your mind from clutter, to let the Spirit guide your perceptions and choices. Heed what the apostle Paul wrote, I Corinthians 13, “love rejoices in the truth.”
What happens when love and truth work together as a team? The common good becomes a shared goal. Governance is of the people, by the people, for the people. Commerce serves citizens well when truth and love work together. Our banking system was started in the eighteenth century by the Lloyd and Barclay families, because Quakers could be trusted to be fair and honest stewards of entrusted funds. Quakers also urged marketing at stated price, so, as one said, “a child can buy as well as an adult.” No price gouging. Calvin’s work ethic and Luther’s insistence that all honest work is vocation—a calling of God— set the stage for social systems enjoyed in this and other countries. When love and truth work together freedom is maximized, and truth prospers amidst diversity.
Science and faith are once again becoming partners in truth, not antagonists, thanks to folks like Francis Collins, the scientist who headed the genome-mapping project. Impressed by the wonders of creation, and by the logic of morality, Collins moved from atheism to a vital Christian experience. All truth is ultimately revealed. The Bible is God’s word written; nature is God’s word through creation. When truth and love team up science serves, the arts flourish, social snobbery subsides. The Christian commitment to love neighbor as oneself continues to leaven human community. Missionaries, including George Fox alumni, bring the liberating Gospel to people world-wide, in word and deed. They initiate projects such as bee- keeping, tree-planting, fuel-efficient stoves, sand filters for clean water. They bring improved medical and educational systems and facilities. They lift up the oppressed. In countries around the world churches bring penitent sinners into God’s kingdom. Their worship bridges cultural and ethnic differences. They gather followers of Jesus into fellowships, institutions, and programs that increase their knowledge of truth in its multiple forms, and their capacity to demonstrate love in its multiple forms— interpersonally and corporately.
Everywhere youth call for justice and social equity. I commend you graduates for your compassionate concerns, your community and mission service stints, your witness against human trafficking and other social evils, your global perspectives. I am impressed by your disciplined acceptance of high personal moral standards. I have no doubt your career goals include concern for others, not just for self-fulfillment. Your joyous affirmation of the Christian faith warms my heart.
There’s lots of bad news in the world; so I conclude with a good news item, from Christianity Today, Direct Newslettter, March 7, 2011.
Two weeks after President Mubarak left office, tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in the now-famous Tahrir Square for what they called a “Friday of Cleansing and Protecting the Revolution.” Right in the center of the demonstrations, Muslim Sheikh Reda Ragab and Coptic priest Father Khazman walked hand-in-hand through the square, welcomed by warm applause and cheering from protesters chanting “Muslim and Christian, we are all one.” Sheikh Ragab addressed the massive crowd, saying, “We came here today to show the world that there is no sectarian strife … ” And the crowd chanted in response, “The time of strife has passed.”
Yes, my friends, the time for strife has passed. Keep truth and love linked together and working as a team. Graduates of George Fox University: Keep truth and love linked together and working as a team! Yes! Oh yes!