“You can’t handle the truth!” I was checking out the TV channels the other night, and there it was again. The movie, A Few Good Men, seems to be on one of the cable networks at least once every month. And I’ll stop to watch it, well, the last part of it anyway. While the whole movie is good, it’s the ending that makes it memorable, thanks to the performance of the great actor, Jack Nicholson.
A Few Good Men is the 1992 military courtroom drama starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore. Cruise, assisted by Moore, is a Navy lawyer, defending two Marines, accused in the hazing murder of Santiago, another Marine. The defense for the accused Marines was that they were ordered to do the hazing, called a Code Red, by their superiors. Nicholson played the Marine colonel in charge. The climax of the movie is a dramatic courtroom scene where Cruise confronts Nicholson on the witness stand as to whether the Marine colonel ordered the Code Red, which led to the death of Santiago. The dialogue from the movie goes as follows:
Col. Jessep (Nicholson): You want answers?
Kaffee (Cruise): I think I’m entitled to.
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!
“You can’t handle the truth!” It may be a line from a movie, but it sticks with you; because of Nicholson’s great acting. But it also sticks because we know that the truth is often hard to handle. Truth demands a response, and sometimes that response is not easy. Therefore, we often choose to ignore, or even listen to, truth.
You’re reluctant to go to the doctor for that checkup, because you know what he is going to say. You know he’s going to say you need to exercise, lose weight and quit eating the junk you’ve been eating. If you don’t, you are heading for some major physical problems. The doctor is going to tell you the truth. If you even go, how will you respond to the truth? Will you ignore the truth, and continue on the path to your physical ruin? Will you question the truth, and rationalize that the doctor is overreacting and that you know what’s best for you? Will you partially accept what the doctor is saying, and start exercising? But giving up those sweets and fried food is too much. Or will you accept the truth from your doctor and start down the path to better health? It’s not an easy path, because, like Col. Jessep said, the truth is often hard to handle.
But what is truth? Concerning that checkup you need, it’s fairly easy (at least most of the time) for the doctor to determine your medical health and needs. Medical science and a physical examination, bloodwork, etc. can determine the truth of your physical health. Then you have to decide how you will respond to that truth. But it has become much more difficult to determine what is truth concerning the rest of our lives.
Growing up here in the Bible Belt, the Bible was the foundation for truth. You know, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” We may not have always understood it, or did what it said, but we knew it was the truth. But over the last fifty years there has been a change. As religion has become less important, and the statistics bear that out, the foundation for truth has become less secure. Truth has become relative. What is truth, what is right and wrong; for me, may not be the same for you. And if there is no absolute truth, how then can a society set standards for right and wrong?
But truth is still present, as it has been since the dawn of creation.
And like Col. Jessep said in A Few Good Men, truth is hard to handle. Correctly responding to truth is often difficult, because many times it involves change. Change we are reluctant to make. So we have chosen to ignore it, reject it or say that it is irrelevant in today’s world. If we choose not to respond correctly to the truth from our doctor, we will suffer physically. But if we choose not to respond correctly to the truth of God, even though at times it might not be easy, we suffer much, much more. And we will also miss out on the benefits of living according to that truth, as a society and as individuals.