To my mind one of the most powerful scenes in the history of films comes from the 1992 Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson classic, A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise’s character, a navy defence lawyer with a reputation for plea bargaining at all costs, finds himself taking on one of the heavy weights of Defence, Jack Nicholson’s character, a full colonel and commander of the Guantanamo Bay Base. Tom Cruise is given the responsibility of defending two young marines, who are charged with manslaughter and conduct unbecoming a marine. Normally he would seek a plea bargain, but provoked by Demi Moore’s character, a fellow defence lawyer, he decides to defend them, suspicious that there is more to the story, and indeed he finds evidence that the commander is the real villain and has hung these young marines out to dry. In a powerful encounter in the court-room he decides to go after the base commander. There is a lot at stake: Jack Nicholson’s character stands to lose everything. But so too does Tom Cruise’s character; he has been warned by the prosecuting lawyer, played by Kevin Bacon, that if he makes accusations in court with no evidence to back them up, then he will be the one facing charges of defamation and be court-marshalled. The stakes are high and in a powerful encounter, full of passion, he challenges the commander, exclaiming, “I want the truth.” Jack Nicholson’s character, who is usually very controlled, but underneath is a sea of raging frustration and self-righteous anger, lets all that anger come out and replies, “You can’t handle the truth!”
For Christians, as indeed for most people, the truth is a valued commodity. But for the Christian the truth is not to be found in statements of fact or in a list of doctrinal assertions, as true as any of these might be. The truth is not to be found in the courtroom, though we might hope for true statements to be made there. The truth, then, is not found in a list of assertions, however true they may be, but in our relationship with God the Holy Trinity. We enter into a relationship with the divine, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is our truth, and everything else is relative to that truth.
In our Gospel reading from Chapel, Jesus prays that his disciples will be one, as he and the Father are one. He prays that his disciples will enter into that unity of love. He prays that the Father’s love will be in them and that he, Christ will be in them. It is a powerful prayer, sometimes called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer,” and is a prayer above all for Christian unity in love.
For the past 5 or 600 years, ever since the Renaissance and the Reformation, human beings have tended to prioritise our individuality over our connection with other people. We have become so fixated on ourselves as individuals, that we have forgotten that we are all connected.
Interestingly, science has not forgotten this. Science has gone in the other direction, emphasising the connection of all things. The ‘Butterfly Effect’ is a powerful reminder of this: that in any system, a change will have consequences, sometimes large consequences, because everything is connected.
Our unity in Christ is the greatest gift we can offer the world. A commitment to Christ is a reminder that we are all connected, one with another. This is where the truth is to be found: in our unity in Christ, held together by the bonds of mutual love.
Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in A Few Good Men. And as Jack and Tom faced off, two giants of the acting world going head-to-head, with no lesser lights than Kevin Bacon, Demi Moore and Kiefer Sutherland looking on, you had to wonder if there would ever be a more powerful court-room scene. As we reflect on the passion of the exchange, the challenge for us is look deep within our hearts, to the presence of God within us, and ask ourselves, “Can we handle the truth?”
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall