In the movie, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character, Colonel Jessup, utters the famous line- “ You can’t handle the truth”. It is a profoundly provocative statement, which accounts for it becoming a sustained part of our American lexicon. Jessup’s words imply that a required ruthlessness is the truth of the matter.
I ponder this famous line as I consider the Bible story about Jesus and his role as the Truth bringer. Seemingly, the timing of Jesus’ earthly advent was profoundly important to God’s plan. Romans 5:6 says ..in due time Christ died for the ungodly. So what was it that made Jesus’ day auspicious? Another way of asking that question would be to say, why could mankind now handle the Truth?
Of course, unless we know what the Truth is, it will be impossible to even consider these questions. In traditional theology the Truth is a set of action steps which each individual must complete in order to return to God’s favor. God’s disfavor has accrued to everyone because back in the Garden Adam was disobedient to an arbitrary divine mandate. The divine displeasure is solely the result of His being offended by man’s exercise of free will in opposition to His own demands. The nature and implications of what God actually warned Adam about is never analyzed or considered in trying to unravel God’s plan and the part Christ played in that plan. Offensive disobedience is the total issue as far as Orthodoxy is concerned. Jesus had to placate God on our behalf, and that was his total mission.
Up until Christ the Jewish people had been operating under the Law of Moses for a thousand years. This law was a litany of rules and requirements which defined those who were good. If we note that the forbidden fruit allowed Adam to know good from evil, we can conclude that the Law of Moses was a perfect outgrowth of eating what God warned against. The Law of Moses was based on mankind’s ability to recognize evil in others and to exact punishments on wrong doers, stoning, banishments, retributions. Operating under the Law of Moses was operating under the Tree of Knowledge. Based on its many requirements for capital punishments, its human administrators could not be the squeamish type. Whatever greater good the Law might have promoted, it meant that human beings had to be ruthless in its pursuit. The Truth of Moses was not for the fainthearted or merciful.
Those outside the Law of Moses were not exempt from the warfare between good and evil either. Mankind as a whole had absorbed the mindset of Adam, endlessly seeking to improve the world by identifying and eliminating evil doers.
In Galatians 3 we read that the Law (of Moses) was a school master to bring us to Christ. This adds an additional element to our consideration of the timing of Jesus’ ministry. That timing was associated with the evolution of Jewish law keeping efforts. Somehow that evolution had reached a point which made the Jews able to handle the Truth of Jesus.
That thought leaves me wondering when the present day church will be able to handle the Truth of Jesus- the Golden Rule for instance and the prohibition of judging others. Their allegiance to the Tree of Knowledge blinds them to much that is true according to Jesus.