The Budget: Being Economical with the Truth

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
16th May 2014

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Did Tony Abbott lie? Did Julia Gillard lie? Do all politicians lie? Do they have to lie in order to run the country? Were John Howard’s non-core promises, lies? Was Bob Hawke’s “no Australian child will be living in poverty”, a lie?

Were these national leaders untruthful or unfaithful? What is the connection between truth and faith or between faith and faithful?

This week’s budget is very helpful to Christians as it places our vocabulary back in the public domain. Generally our favoured word ‘faith’ is used to mean ‘superstition’, ‘stupidity’, ‘childish fantasy’, ‘believing something without, or even against, all the evidence’, ‘the opposite of science’. This is never what we mean by the word but it is how our world is using the word and, what they hear us saying when we use the word.

However, this week with the criticisms of the budget, the community has returned to the Biblical meaning of the word, i.e. trust, trustworthy or truth and truthful.

Mr Abbott speaks of it as an honest budget, dealing with the real problems of the Australian finances. I do not know if the plan that the treasurer has outlined will or will not succeed in producing the fairness and restraint necessary to address our financial situation effectively and justly. The issue that has interested me is the question of honesty and integrity, of broken promises and telling lies.

Before elections politicians make promises about what they will and will not do, once elected. These promises are made in the heat of battle. Politicians are desperate to win voters’ support, for they have to win the election to do anything.  They are cajoled and bullied by the journalists and the media to commit themselves to positions on all manner of issues and are scorned when they refuse to answer or wish to reserve their opinion. The opposition tends to make more unrealistic promises than the government as they know what is wrong but haven’t felt the responsibility for all the decisions that those in government have had to make. The populace want concrete plans laid out and assurances that they will be helped and not hindered by voting for this party. All these pressures make truth telling difficult and exaggerated promises easy.

Speaking the truth is the basis upon which somebody can trust you and put faith in your words. Without truth it is impossible (or stupid) to trust. Or to put it in Biblical language – without faithfulness it is impossible (or stupid) to have faith. Trusting the untruthful, putting your faith in the unfaithful is a recipe for disappointment. It will lead to broken relationships, hostility, scepticism and cynicism and the inability to communicate. When nobody believes a word you say, your conversation is a complete waste of time. Failing to keep your promises ultimately destroys the social capital of a community, destroys justice and corrupts all exercise of power. The current ICAC investigations have not occurred in a moral vacuum, but a corrupt parliamentary democracy.

When you first meet somebody you have to trust them and their words in order to have any relationship with them. Those who doubt everything and everybody know nothing and have no friends. Trust is necessary for relationship. However, once trust is broken it cannot easily be restored. One marriage counsellor described regaining trust in an unfaithful marriage as equal to moving the sand of Bondi Beach with a fork. Australians have not lost faith in Tony Abbott, we have lost faith in politicians – with our leaders – with our governments. The rudeness of the journalists’ questioning is an awful expression of this complete cynicism about all who seek to serve the public good.

It is important that when we give promises we have the power and ability to deliver. It can only frustrate people who have relied or had faith in your promises, when you fail to live up to your word. When we are unable to deliver on our promises it is important that we apologise and try to fulfil as much of it as we can – even to, especially to, our own hurt (Psalm 15:4).

In selecting leaders, character and achievements are more important guides than plans, promises and policies. Somebody who will not fulfil their sacred promises to their spouse, cannot be expected to keep their political promises made on the hustings. If they are unfaithful to their beloved, why would we expect them to be faithful to the electorate? This is why the private life of public figures should be made known, for it goes to the heart of the issue of character, faithfulness and trustworthiness. The qualities of those to be appointed as elders in the church are primarily of character and achievements (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1).

The basis of Christian faith is that “God is faithful” (Deuteronomy 7:9, Isaiah 49:7, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 10:13, 2 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, 1 John 1:9). Therefore, it is only reasonable, rational and sensible to trust him, i.e. put our faith in him. He is truthful and speaks the truth and so we believe him and have faith in his words. He makes promises and he keeps his promises. History has demonstrated his promise keeping as each of the things he foretold he would do have come to pass. In Jesus “all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen (“truth”) to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Biblical ‘faith’ is not a religious experience or superstitious irrationality – just the reverse; it is the rational response to truth; it is to rely upon the reliable, to depend upon the dependable, and to trust the trustworthy.

I leave it to you to work out the extent to which you will trust Mr Abbott or any of our politicians, but you can trust completely the Lord who promised “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).