The Passion’s Pilate

“What is truth?”

I knew on one level the question was meant simply to mock.  But on another level, I knew that there was something deep inside her that really wanted an answer to that question.  Christine (not her real name) was a student of the same grade in my high school art class.  Opinionated and open about her bi-sexuality, she had a distinct contempt for religion, Christianity in particular.

In the open-forum atmosphere of our art class, contention on the subject of truth and spirituality was inevitable, and erupted at least once a month.  I watched as Christian students came and went, having their arguments with her and not seeing any progress.  Most of the time, she simply dismissed it as the “indoctrinations of organized religion” and refused to truly engage in thoughtful discussion.

I knew Christine had been hurt.  I didn’t really know her background, as I was new to the school as a freshman and had not grown up with these students.  But I could see it in her eyes.  Her openness about sexuality, beyond the surface, stemmed from a desire in her life for real love and acceptance.  Yet a very thick, hardened exterior had been fashioned in her emotional life to deal with pain; and with every try I watched on the part of Christians, it seemed to fail, fall on deaf ears.  Perhaps she had endured so much rejection and pain from the unloving response of Christians that her contempt for their faith was an attempt to prevent the opening of old wounds.

From time to time, I would somehow end up in some discussions in the open forum, but only in a general manner.  The Lord seemed to impress that, should I attempt to confront, I would cut myself off from ever reaching her with His love.

I spent all four years of my high school experience in that art class, as did she.  From time to time we would talk and debate, but never did we have a personal argument; and as a result, over that time I sensed a respect from her develop that seemed unique to this one Christian.  I often invited her to the Bible club I led on campus, but it wasn’t until one week during my senior year that she and a friend finally gave in and came.

The meeting could not have been timelier or divinely orchestrated.  An activity that had not originally been scheduled was used in place of another that had fallen through.  Its concept was simple: get in groups of about 6-8, take out a sheet of paper, write the name of the person to your left on the top, and write an encouraging comment to them.  Then pass that sheet to your right and have the others in the group write comments as well, while you write a comment on someone else’s sheet.  By the time it gets back around to that person, it is filled with compliments and positive comments.

I think Christine and her friend had expected to be confronted with Bible-thumping.  Instead, they were confronted with a portrait of God’s love and with positive reinforcement by Christian peers.  To my knowledge Christine had never received anything like that in her life before, had never before been presented with such a tangible expression of love and appreciation.

“What is truth?”

Pilate asked the question, and it has rung through the ages, and is still ringing through our generation in particular.  There is a search ensuing.  Some have given up: “There is no truth.”  Some have redefined it: “Truth is whatever you want it to be.”  Some have fashioned it after themselves: “Truth is inside of you.”  Some have diluted it: “Truth is everywhere and in everything.”

But what is truth?  Pilate was asking a deeper question, the question that anyone in the search of truth is truly asking: “Is there anything about myself and beyond myself that I can know for sure?  If that truth exists, what is it?”

Some have questioned the Gospel accounts of Pilate’s reaction to Christ, and some critics of The Passion have accused Gibson of wrongly portraying Pilate as sympathetic toward Christ.  Yet this is only a problem if one is talking about any other man except Christ.  Is it so impossible that Pilate—though cruel and tyrannical as historical records paint him to be—should actually be human, and desire answers to the deepest questions and longings of the human heart, just as anyone else?  If it were any other man, of course it would be ridiculous for Pilate to ask that question.  But Christ’s divinity often had a strange effect on even the hardest of hearts.  Is it really so strange that Pilate—among many others in Jesus’ time—would ask The Truth about the nature of truth?

Pilate, however, washed his hands of the Christ, just as so many do with the truth.  Pilate gave Christ over to the desires others, just as many do with their understanding of truth.  Pilate stood in the midst of truth and yet did not see it, as many still do today.  But what he could not deny was that there was something about This Truth—His love, His insight, His inherent power—that could not be faulted.  Such is the nature of truth—that even those who reject it cannot but in some way be unchanged by it.  The truth is found in the self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ, “who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20).  This is the truth that Pilate encountered; it is the truth that Christine encountered; it is the truth we all encounter in Christ.

I don’t know where Christine is today, or what the status of her spiritual life is—we lost contact after graduation.  She had not become a Christian before we parted ways, nor, from what I knew, had she drastically changed her lifestyle.  But this I do know: I never again heard her speak in contempt of the Christian faith around me.  She still had her disagreements and still held out on God, even though I and others had shared the Gospel with her in a loving manner.  I pray that she has found the healing and restoration that can only come from Christ, and that God will place people in her life that will demonstrate what that means to her.

But I know that something in her changed the day she was confronted with the truth that is truly about each of us and yet beyond us.  Not an impersonal, uncaring truth—but the truth that she is—and we each are—truly and dearly loved, especially by the One whose affection matters most.  It sounds so simple, and it is: the love of God is the truth Christ came to testify of (John 3:11-21).  It is this love that changes even the hardest of hearts, and has come into this world to “make all things new.”

Maxim of the Moment

A bad husband cannot be a good man.