Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Erick Turner of the Oregon Health and Science University and his research team have published a report in the January 17, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine that should give us all pause.

Turner’s team found that almost a third of the clinical studies done on anti-depressant medications are never published. 74 studies of such medications were begun between 1987 and 2004. Of those, 38 produced positive results and of those 38, all but one were published. On the other hand, of the 36 studies that produced negative or questionable results, only three were published while 11 were reworked to make it appear that the drug had worked.

Such practices are serious. The public may not be getting all the information we need about the medicines that so many of us take. Our health may be at risk.

The Turner team’s findings reveal some serious ethical issues. The team reports that they are unable to determine whether the fault lies with the researchers and their sponsors or with the editors and reviewers associated with the journals. Regardless of where the bias lies, it seems clear that other interests are being put ahead of the health interests of the public.

That is wrong. I hope that this report leads to some serious investigation of the practices of researchers and the journals that publish or don’t publish their reports. When it comes to medications or to other matters related to our health, we need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need it for our own good.

We need the whole truth in other areas of our lives, too, and all too often we don’t seek it or don’t face it.

For example, too many—maybe all—of us Christians don’t want to face the whole truth that is contained in our Scriptures. We tend to be very selective when it comes to deciding which passages to take seriously. It is almost too obvious to bother saying that we are selective in which parts of the Bible we choose to take literally. Such discernment is necessary, though—some parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and some parts are not. To cite a way too overused example, Jesus said he was a door—but he’s not made of wood and he doesn’t have a knob and hinges.

But all the books and all the passages and all the verses—I would go so far as to say that all the words and all the letters—in the Bible are to be taken seriously. If the entire Bible is the record of God’s revelation to us, then we need to take it all seriously.

We don’t do that, though. Some of us emphasize that part of the Bible but never look at those parts; others of us emphasize those parts of the Bible but never look at that part. All of us read right past passages in the Bible that make us uncomfortable or that we don’t understand or that we deem irrelevant or that run counter to our theology. Brothers and sisters, this ought not be!

That is not to say that all the words in the Bible are to be given the same weight, even by Christian readers who look to the Bible as Scripture that guides their spiritual formation and that helps make them into mature citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Some dietary law in Leviticus does not carry the same weight as the Sermon on the Mount, for instance. I am not saying that such discernment is unnecessary; I am simply saying that for our overall spiritual health and in the interest of becoming God’s people, we need to take his entire Book seriously. We still have the hard work of study and interpretation to do, but we should be willing to engage all of Scripture as we journey along.

We need the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the Bible because we need to come to terms with the whole truth about ourselves and about our relationship with God and with other people. We need all the evidence that Scripture offers about us; we need to shy away from none of it.

We don’t have the liberty, as was done with those negative drug research reports, of just not letting those parts of the Bible that trouble us because they don’t fit with our pre-conceived picture of who we are or of what we should be see the light of day. We don’t have the liberty of re-writing them in order to make them more palatable to our prejudices or biases. We have to deal with them as they are and figure out what, in light of the overall biblical witness and especially in light of the ultimate revelation of God in his Son, the living and eternal Word, they mean for us in the here and now.

So let’s avoid none of it. Let’s read it, struggle with it, and study and interpret it. But, with the help of the Spirit and with the lens of Christ Jesus, let’s live it.

We have a much better chance of living whole lives if we let ourselves be confronted by the whole truth of the Bible.

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