The phrase, “You can’t handle the truth!” has spread widely from its appearance in the movie, A Few Good Men. Most of us don’t believe that this line applies to us, though. We search for the latest news, rumors, or even gossip, just to feel superior in our knowledge. We collect facts, fiction, and trivia, whether to impress friends over lunch, or to know some purported failing in a famous person (making us somehow feel better about ourselves).
In reality, we know that there are many who can’t handle unfiltered truth. Children are given knowledge about the adult world in bits and pieces over time, as they grow up. Trauma survivors may need weeks or months before they are ready to hear the details of a specific situation that initially overwhelmed them. Intelligence agents need to have their identities protected, lest they fall under the attack of a hostile party.
This doesn’t mean that we should ever lie to anyone. However, we can share information as the recipient is able to understand it, and process it. For instance, I’m a firm believer in telling children the truth, but sometimes that means phrasing it in age-appropriate language. Sometimes that means honestly telling a child that we’re not going to answer a question right away. Similarly, it might be true that we know where to find alcohol or chemicals, but telling a recovering addict how to easily relapse isn’t appropriate; it’s just mean.
When humankind was first created, God gave Adam a warning about what not to do.
But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden— except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
Genesis 2:16-17 NLT
It was a pretty simple command. There was no reason that Adam would have to eat from that tree, when so many other trees offered acceptable fruit. While the excluded fruit did look good (see Genesis 3:6), I expect that many other trees in the garden offered similarly tasty-looking food. To me, it seems that the primary reason for the first man and woman to eat from the restricted tree was because they wanted to know more.
That was the biggest lie of the deceiver: That we would know more when we understood both good and evil. Yes, the serpent appealed to human pride and tried to get Eve to second-guess God, but ultimately, I suspect that the desire to not be left in ignorance was the bait on the hook.
This same sickness eats at us today. We read news feeds (paper or virtual), watch news (online or on TV), study books on conspiracy theories (well, some people do), and listen for the latest “information” about others (which often drifts into rumors and gossip). Social media fans this flame into an outright addiction for those who are susceptible (which is a lot of us!), making the acquisition of information a craving that can never be fully satisfied.
However, the reality is that we can’t handle the knowledge of evil. In our desire to be like God, despite our already being created in His image1, we find that we are too weak to know about evil without giving in to it.
Every one of us went from being an innocent child, to eventually choosing evil. Maybe we were led astray by someone taking us down the wrong path, or maybe (like Adam and Eve) our own pride caused us to disobey. In either case, we are culpable for our decision, and it is clear that, given a choice, each of us (except Jesus Christ) has chosen the wrong path at least once (or, as it seems in my case, daily).
On the other hand, God knows about evil, but His nature prevents Him from engaging in it. I would say that He is the only one strong enough to make the right choice every time; however, in His holiness, I suspect that He doesn’t even contemplate those choices. So, while He is all-powerful, I don’t think that He fights against temptation, because He is inherently good. (That’s probably a theological debate for someone else, though.)
So, the next time that you wish that God would give you the answers, or you wonder whether or not those practicing evil are having more fun than you, just remember the results of Adam’s and Eve’s lack of trust in God. When they didn’t make decisions that reflected confidence in God having a better plan in mind for them, their selfish choice resulted in sin, death, and the fall of humankind. Even today, the results of taking a path that is separate from God will be exactly as God says they will be, despite our doubts and second-guessing.
Instead, may we take the truth (what God has allowed us to know), and make the best use of it. We can call upon the Holy Spirit for strength to not follow the paths of evil that we have learned. We can take steps to fill our lives with God’s good things, so that there is less space remaining for sin. We can stand with others, so that together we can shoulder the burden of knowing so many ways to rebel against God, while also knowing the consequences of doing so.
Eventually, may we all take the truth that we know – whether we can handle it or not – and use it for the growth of God’s Kingdom, according to His will:
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 NLT
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.