“Honesty” by Billy Joel – Who loves us enough to be honest with us?


“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is

a revolutionary act.” George Orwell 

Most of us have probably seen them on shows like “American Idol.” They are persons that did not have enough talent to sing at a birthday party, let alone sing before millions on national television. Often these unfortunate souls are devastated and humiliated when their “talent” is sometimes met with cruel derision for their arrogant self-conceit, or sometimes a more fortunate pity for their remarkable self-ignorance.

Either way, one must wonder how they came to this point of tragic consequence? Did none of their family or friends ever offer an honest appraisal of their talent? Did they ever ask for an appraisal? If they did were they given honest answers? Or was there an attempt at truth that was short circuited by one party or the other? The conclusion of the matter must be that for one or both there was a nearly complete indifference to the prudence of honesty and truthfulness, and the tragic consequence is not a joyous occasion.

Do we want honesty and the truth? Do we care enough about others to be honest and tell the truth? Obviously the task of “not bearing false witness” is even older than the commandment against it, but what has caused it to occur within families and friendships in which “love’ is usually a given? Has modern man merely gone mad in an Orwellian “time of universal deceit?” I don’t know if I have the whole answer or even the largest part of it. But I suspect that in relation to the type of familial or friendly dis-honesty I am discussing, that we see what G.K. Chesterton called one of the old Christian virtues gone wild.

“The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far to good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone bad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.” (“Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton, chapter 3, paragraph 2)

The problem is the isolation of the virtue of love from the virtue of honesty. The “loving” parent or friend is reluctant to give their honest appraisal to their “talented” would-be performer. But we can see as I narrated above, that this is not really the loving thing to do. I admit though, that “speaking the truth in love” is anything but easy in our culture. It seems that we overvalue self-worth to the point that most any intention of someone to be lovingly honest is seen as a threat to self. This defensive posture causes a reluctance on the person that would like to be honest, because they sense that they will be perceived as unloving or immodest. It is a sort of vicious cycle feeding on these virtues run amok. Chesterton pinpoints the impetus for this in a faulty conception of the relation of modesty to truth for modern (and now post-modern) man.

“But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting abut the truth; this has been exactly reversed.Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert, himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.” (Orthodoxy, paragraph 4)

I believe that these shifts Chesterton perceived over 100 years ago, have contributed much to the aversion toward “the Divine Reason” since that time. What he means by “the Divine Reason” is the God that is truth. It is fairly evident in the “American Idol” scenario I narrated above that within human relationships there is an aversion to the reception of truth. I believe that God himself receives no better treatment from us today. We generally do not want God to be honest with us and tell us the truth. We judge the character of God and decide what He “should be like” in relation to our own estimation of ourselves. We have created a non-critical God whose “chief end” is to affirm us in every way because we meet our own standards.

That the God that speaks the truth to man has difficulties with man’s contrariety is of course nothing new. As mentioned above, man has had trouble with truth from before the law was written in stone. Much of the Bible narrates the difficulties God has had in getting man to believe the truth about himself. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to jump into the middle and see that the true prophets (spokesman) of God told Israel the truth about themselves, while the false prophets merely flattered Israel and told them what they wanted to hear.

13-15 “Everyone’s after the dishonest dollar,
little people and big people alike.
Prophets and priests and everyone in between
twist words and doctor truth.
My people are broken—shattered!—
and they put on Band-Aids,
Saying, ‘It’s not so bad. You’ll be just fine.’
But things are not ‘just fine’!
Do you suppose they are embarrassed
over this outrage?
No, they have no shame.
They don’t even know how to blush.
There’s no hope for them. They’ve hit bottom
and there’s no getting up.
As far as I’m concerned,
they’re finished.”
God has spoken. 

(Jeremiah 6:13-15; The Message)

There have been periods in history when openness or resistance to truth are more prevalent, although in some measure the problem of “truthfulness” is always present. In Jeremiah’s day, and in our day it seems we are on the down side. It seems, as shown in the picture for this post, that we need to “exit” the wide road travelled by the masses to travel the narrow road and find a strange new town called “Truth.”

God is unlike the “supportive” people that were reluctant to be honest with their relatives or friends that were honing their “talent” for the American Idol stage. God gives us his honest truth regarding us and what we are doing, because he sees the consequence as assured unless the truth is revealed, believed, and acted upon. One instance, again from the story of Israel, demonstrates the scenario:

12-14 Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
“Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

(Isaiah 30:12-14; The Message)

Whenever God gives this type of warning his purpose is not to judge the people, but to warn them regarding the inevitable consequence of the path they have chosen to follow, so that they may change their way and avoid the consequence.

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7-8; ESV)

We never need to fear the honest truthfulness of God, because his intention is not to “pluck up, break down and destroy” but to “build and plant.” God “speaks the truth in love” because that his way and the foundation that his new society is built upon (see Ephesians 4:15). Therefore, in accordance with God’s way, if we are to follow him we must,

“…put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25)

We do need to be careful though, with all that has been said, that we do not think of God as merely a good advisor. Good advice is not the main thing that we need. C.S. Lewis said,

“There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.”

One reason we are not open toward God’s honesty is because we fear that his truth may devastate us. Actually, it will! But we have a serious problem God wants us to know about that is generically called “sin” or “idolatry.” But God also has a serious solution called redemption through Jesus Christ, and a vital relationship with him, and God only devastates that he may renovate:

“The anomalous thing is this then, not the outer tragedy of fate but the inner tragedy of guilt, and man’s chief end is to be forgiven and redeemed.” P. T. Forsyth

This honesty of God is revolutionary, because it is rare in a world of shallow self-justification. Reflect once more on the statement of George Orwell, knowing that God is the ultimate revolutionary:

“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

But we need to remember the “holy ground” that we are upon when we consider God speaking as in a “burning bush.” God speaking is not revolutionary because it is some superlative speech. It is revolutionary because it is God speaking according to who he is. Speech is the expression of essence, for man and for God. We need to also remember that God is the Creator of the entire cosmos, and his word is thus always creative. Why are we afraid to hear God speak to us one truth about ourselves, when this truth he speaks will multiply and open wider vistas of life in fellowship with the Creator?

One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard (Psalm 62:11)

In order to conclude this post I have added the 1978 song “Honesty” by Billy Joel which shows the need we have for honesty and truth. Our task of honesty and truthfulness only mirrors that which exists first in God’s nature, for he speaks “the truth in love.”


If you search for tenderness
it isn’t hard to find.
You can have the love you need to live.
But if you look for truthfulness
You might just as well be blind.
It always seems to be so hard to give.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

I can always find someone
to say they sympathize.
If I wear my heart out on my sleeve.
But I don’t want some pretty face
to tell me pretty lies.
All I want is someone to believe.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

I can find a lover.
I can find a friend.
I can have security until the bitter end.
Anyone can comfort me
with promises again.
I know, I know.

When I’m deep inside of me
don’t be too concerned.
I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone.
But when I want sincerity
tell me where else can I turn.
Because you’re the one I depend upon.

Honesty is such a lonely word.
Everyone is so untrue.
Honesty is hardly ever heard.
And mostly what I need from you.

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

To the reader:

I try to keep these posts as short as possible, while knowing that their content has probably provoked some thoughts, questions, implications, or critiques. Therefore, any of these from the reader are greatly appreciated in order to “fill out” these posts. Many thanks in advance!

So, what say ye…? 

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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