Feel the Falseness (An Appeal To Faith Leaders)


Feel the Falseness
Brian Zahnd

“The first precondition of being called a spiritual leader is to perceive and feel the falsehood that is prevailing in society, and then to dedicate one’s life to a struggle against that falsehood. If one tolerates the falsehood and resigns oneself to it, one can never become a prophet. If one cannot rise above material life, one cannot even become a citizen in the Kingdom of the Spirit, far less a leader of others.” –Vladimir Solovyov in his eulogy of Fyodor Dostoevsky

Can you feel it?

It’s all around you. But can you feel it? The falseness — the falseness that prevails in society. Most are so sedated they never even suspect it. Some sense it, but cannot name it. It takes a prophet to name it. Dostoevsky in his day was well aware of it, which is why he was so much more than a novelist. Dostoevsky wrote his dark, brooding stories because he felt the falseness. What we take for truth, for reality, for the way things are and the way we assume things must be is almost entirely false. The world as it’s arranged is built upon a foundation of falsehood. The prevailing falseness memorialized in marble and robed in glory can appear indisputable, but as Dylan says, “all the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.”

And now I will appeal to someone more authoritative then Dostoevsky or Dylan.


The Galilean prophet had been hauled before Pontius Pilate by the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas, the high priest, accused Jesus of claiming to be a king — a seditious act punishable by crucifixion. Jesus was now to be tried before the Roman governor. The trial was held in Pilate’s praetorium. The marble-adorned palace, the governor’s stately attire, the presence of the imperial seal all produced an atmosphere of authority and grandeur. Jesus was on trial before the Roman Empire. Which is to say Jesus was on trial before the world in all its glory. Jesus had refused that world during the wilderness temptation and now the spurned world was striking back.

Pilate, a man of action, immediately moved to the heart of the matter, asking Jesus the only question that mattered to Rome: “Are you a king?” Jesus answered Pilate, “You say that I am.” But then Jesus added this:

“For this purpose I came into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

Jesus tells the Roman governor that the purpose of his life is to bear witness to the truth. Jesus knows that the world as it’s arranged (and most gloriously represented in the splendor and majesty of the Roman Empire) is built upon an enormous falsehood. Jesus then says that those who can feel the falseness will be inclined to listen to what he has to say. (“Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”) Jesus claims not only to be a king, but to possess the ultimate truth that exposes the lie that the world has become.

Pilate’s cynical reply is legendary: “What is truth?”

After Jesus is flogged, mocked, and crowned with thorns, Pilate renews his interrogation. But Jesus now remains silent. In frustration the Roman governor shouts, “You won’t speak to me? Don’t you know I have power to release you and power to crucify you?”

There it is.

Pilate has answered his own question. What is truth? Truth is the power to kill. According to Pilate, the truth is that the world is run by those who have power. Military power. Economic power. Religious power. The world is run by people like Governor Pilate, King Herod, and the high priest, Caiaphas. And most of all the world is run by the Emperor. Caesar is Truth. Because it all comes down to power. Power trumps everything.

Caiaphas admits this when he tells Pilate, “we have no king but Caesar.” In this stunning betrayal of all that the Law and the Prophets stood for, Caiaphas takes off his religious mask and says, “Look, Governor, we all play games, and my game is religion. But I know the truth; it’s all about power. So I have no king but Caesar. I admit it. Now, I’m going to put my religious mask back on and go back to pretending that God is king, but you and I both know that the only truth in the world is power.”

That’s the lie.

That’s the falseness that prevails in society.

That’s the deception of the material life.

The great lie is that life is about the acquisition of money and the other forms of power. The lie is that to live well you must be closely aligned with power — especially the power to kill. For Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, the truth is that the good life is acquired and maintained by the will to power and the means of lethal violence. This is why the governor, the client king, and even the high priest all confess, “we have no king but Caesar.”

But can’t you feel the falseness of it all?

Don’t you know it’s all a lie?

Resist it! Don’t tolerate it! Rise above it!

The meaning of life is not power, the meaning of life is love. God is not Nietzsche’s totalized Will to Power; God is Love. It’s not proximity to power that is the goal of life; the goal of life is love. When we see faith leaders fawning over proximity to political power, don’t we feel the falseness of their faith? Don’t we know they too are confessing, “we have no king but Caesar”?

I feel the falseness. And I’m determined to resist it, to struggle against it.

Jesus is the world’s true king. Right now. Jesus is not going to be king some day, Jesus is King of Kings right now! He was crowned as king on the cross and God vindicated Christ as the world’s true king by raising him from the dead. I believe this. I confess this. I seek to live this.

I have no king but Jesus. And my king has nothing to do with violent power. My king has no use for nuclear weapons. Why? Because you can’t love with hydrogen bombs. My king said his kingdom does not come from the world of war, which is why his servants do not fight. (See John 18:36)

In the kingdom of the Prince of Peace we study war no more; we turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks; we turn tanks into tractors and missile silos into grain silos. Our task is not to turn the world into the battlefield; our task is to turn the world into a garden. Our goal is not Armageddon; our goal is New Jerusalem. We’re marching to Zion; the beautiful city of God.

Of course Governor Pilate doesn’t believe this. And neither does billionaire Herod. The faith leader Caiaphas will give some lip service to this, because it’s in the Bible, but the faith leader will kick the can down the road saying, “All that peace stuff is for when the king comes, but for now it’s all about power; for now we have no king but Caesar; for now proximity to power trumps everything.”

They can’t feel the falseness. They are the falseness.

But if you can feel the falseness, that’s good. It means you still have a heart for the truth. So if you feel the falseness, keep listening to the truth that Jesus speaks. Keep believing in the truth that Jesus is. Let Jesus lead you out of the falseness — the falseness of a world built around power. Follow Jesus into his kingdom of love.

The meaning of life is not power. That’s the prevailing falsehood. The meaning of life is love. That’s the eternal truth. Caesar is not the truth. Christ is the truth.

May we have courage to live the truth.


(The artwork is What is Truth? Christ and Pilate by Nikolai Ge, 1890)

P.S. Here’s my Feel the Falseness playlist.