When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus whether he was a king, he answered, "You say that I am a king. For this, I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, was probably annoyed when he asked, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38).
Some 2,000 years later, political leaders are still asking this very question. Ever since Donald Trump's electoral victory on November 8, 2016, many pundits cynically use the word "post-truth" to label this supposedly new era of fiction, lies, half-truths, and "alternative facts". Even the Oxford Dictionaries attested to this newfangled term by declaring it the "Word of the Year". Millions of people across the globe have responded with fear, anxiety, hatred, and hostility toward what they assume will happen. Political commentators are quick to throw out phrases such as "fake news," "alternative facts," and "post-truth". However, they have not declared any truth but cynically dismissed every absolute as relative. Everything is questionable and the truth is little more than majority rule.
Discerning the Fake News
In his gospel, John linked truth with freedom (John 8:32). He then contrasted a slave's role in the Roman Empire versus that of a son. Whereas the son will always belong to the household, the slave will never have a stake of their own (John 8:34-35). In other words, merely going through the motions of the Christian faith will not result in salvation, but ultimately fall short. God wants us to worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), not to be complaining drudges. It is no coincidence that John's gospel features the most definitive verses about truth. He included many notions that contrast truth with fallacy. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for refusing to accept his claim as Messiah, he said their teaching was "fake news":
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).
Rejecting the Fake News
That accusation is harsher than even the accusations of "fake news" in today's paper. While many pundits compare their perceived enemies with Adolf Hitler—whose wickedness goes without question—Jesus went right to the source: Satan. Even the infamous führer of Nazi Germany had a master far eviler than himself. As human beings, we do not have limitless free will; we must choose between devotion to Jesus or slavery to the evil one. This was why he taught us: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
In his first letter, John also wrote, "Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22). He spreads the "fake news" that Jesus never claimed to be God incarnate, or that he never existed.
In Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good (HarperOne, 2015), biblical scholar N. T. Wright discusses how the word "news" is not just about a story. Its very definition implies some kind of change in life as we know it, whether subtle or radical. Even a professional sports victory has the capacity to alter our lives. For example, many Philadelphia Eagles fans defined their entire lives by the 58-year period since the American football team's last championship. However, what was "good news" for Eagles fans was "bad news" for those of the rival New England Patriots. Likewise, Trump's win was "good news" for conservatives, while "bad news"—even "fake news"—for liberals.
Finding the True News
The good news of Jesus does not fit into any of our categories of news. It is neither "good" in the way we might define the word, but neither is it "bad" or "fake". The true news is both restorative and corrective, healing and lethal. This is because Jesus wants to redeem us from our sins, but our salvation requires us to undergo an extremely painful makeover. We must die to our misdeeds, lusts, passions, etc. The good news is that we gain peace and eternal life through this process of suffering—as contrary as that sounds:
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).
In the name of Jesus the Messiah, let us "go into all the world and proclaim the good news" (Mark 16:15).
Bell, Jarrett. "Eagles' Super Bowl Victory Parade Gives Philadelphia Its Long-Awaited Celebration." USA Today. McLean, VA: Gannett, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/columnist/bell/2018/02/08/philadelphia-eagles-super-bowl-victory-parade-photos-jason-kelce/321644002.
New Revised Standard Version. New York: Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1989.
Wang, Amy B. "Post-truth' Named 2016 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries." The Washington Post. Washington, DC: WP Company, 2016.
Wright, N. T. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2015.