The Last Honest Man
Everything Arden said about other people always turned out to be true so he knew he was not doing wrong. “I’m God’s last honest man,” he liked to tell people. He had a calling, he said, to tell the truth even if it hurt, to get it all out and let the chips fall where they may, to stir the pot and make sure what was below the surface came to the top. He even had a T shirt made up that said, A Honest World Is An Honest To God World, and had a bumper sticker on his Porsche that read, It Ain’t Gossip, It’s God’s Truth.
Many times men and women had come to him and begged him not to speak up about something he knew. It will cause incalculable harm, they told him, it will start a war in our church, in our family, in our city. He always shook his head. “Honesty is the best policy,” he responded. “It’s closest to God’s heart.” When his words brought about the predicted turmoil and hatred and strife he would admit it was rough to watch. “It’s a tough love,” he confessed, “ but the truth is out now and God knows what he’s doing.” He ate well, slept well, was a good husband to his wife and a good father to his children. “An honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind,” he was fond of saying. He did lose friends and gain enemies because of the path he took but he shrugged his shoulders: “That’s what happened to Jesus and the prophets, right? Woe to you when all men speak well of you. But blessed are you when are reviled and persecuted. Great is your reward in heaven.” Without truth, there was no faith, no spirit, no God. So Arden continued to speak up, went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, read his Bible every morning and evening and worshipped God day and night. He lived the good life.
One night as he slept alone in his bed a sound woke him. He sat up and stared into the darkness. "Who is it?" he asked. The room erupted with white light and white flame. His skin felt like it was burning off. He cried out, "Oh my God, oh my God," and put his hands to his face. Words came to him out of the light like physical blows, softly at first, then louder and harder and more rapidly as if stones were crashing onto his head.
Inflicter of pain, he heard. Arrogant one. Heart of flint. Sower of dissension. Spawner of turmoil. Grief giver. Dark gatherer. Smug. Pitiless. Preventer of life. Grace killer. Confuser. He who cloaks in depression. Man of no mercy. Stone thrower. Torturer. Hell nurturer. Hope smotherer. Fosterer of anguish. Breeder of war. Blocker of truth.
"No, no!" he shouted out. "I am a truth teller. Always. I do not lie."
"But you do lie. I am their righteousness and you speak those words to me."
He did not want to open his eyes but he could not help himself. He sensed he was about to see Jesus. Images of a man in a beard riding a donkey and healing the sick and breaking bread flitted across his mind. What he saw instead was a pillar of scorching flame. Eyes blazed out of it. There were feet like lava. A face emerged that was a pitiless desert sun. The voice was a storm of wind and water and rock.
"You accuse your brothers."
"You curse your sisters."
"You spit on your fathers and mothers."
"I only speak what is truth."
"If there is no love there is no truth. If there is no love there is only noise. If there is no love there is only fear."
He was overwhelmed and fell forward on his bed. A dread that made him sick to the core of his being passed over him like a wing.
But God is love, he thought.
No sooner had these words crossed his mind than the feeling of dread vanished. He opened his eyes and sat up. The room was still white with light but the flames danced now and heat no longer burned his face. The voice sounded like a brook moving among the stones, green and bright and speckled with trout.
"Speak the truth. In love. Give all you possess to the poor. Move mountains. Surrender your body to the flames. In love. Exchange fear. With love. Do the greatest thing. Love."
Suddenly the room was empty of white light. He got up, slightly light-headed, went to the window, parted the vertical blinds and peered out at the street.There were stars in the sky but the east was pale. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the glass.
They say he was a different man after that night. He still went about speaking the truth to people. But some who looked on protested that all he really did looked suspiciously like love, no more. You are supposed to tell the truth to these people, they told him, not love them up. Which is easier? he responded. To speak the truth to someone or to say I love you? The truth is, he smiled, that there is no difference.
He infuriated a great many. But he brought truth to a great many more. Families were healed. Friendships restored. Faith replenished. Those who wanted truth that was not truth, because there was no love in it, spent a lifetime among shadows and stones and dry stream beds. For those who wanted more of it, there was more of it, more than a lifetime. And for those who wanted more of the truth that was truth, and all the love that went with it, there was more of that too, as much love as there was God and just as endless.