Putting truth ahead of God is a challenging way of saying, “Be truth-seekers before you are position-defenders.” Putting truth-seeking before position-defending is putting God first, because that is the only way to ensure that you are arriving at the true God.
God is creating a freewill covenant, one in which all parties are given the terms of the covenant and introduced to the parties involved. That sets them free to decide “yes” or “no” to the covenant. God does not twist our arms, He sets us free because He wants only willing participants.
The covenant is defined by the two Great Commandments, to love God and our neighbor. Love is a free gift, not coerced or mind-controlled. So the two highest commandments in the universe (love God and neighbor) are about freedom, not compulsion. Logic thus tells us that putting truth ahead of God (or in any decision at all) is necessary to genuine freedom and assent. Truth is the common ground upon which alone any two persons can communicates. All else is smoke, mirrors, and confusion.
God knows that and plans accordingly. In I Kings 18:17 ff., Elijah challenges his own people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” He then proposed an experiment to see who was indeed God. Elijah, at the command of God, was putting the case for God right out in the open to a fair contest. The real God would be the one that showed up to prove His own case.
In other words, Elijah was challenging the people to test to see who was the real God. And he was also putting God on the spot, expecting Him to show up. (Elijah was in deep trouble if God did not.) That is the meaning of putting truth ahead of God. When God tells Isaiah (1:18), “Come, let us reason together…,” He is implying the same thing, that we should, as John says centuries later, “test the spirits to see if they are of God…” (I John, 4:1). But you do not know ahead of time whether the testing you are doing will be of a faithful prophet, a false prophet, or of God Himself.
Job speaks the same language in 13:7 ff., chastising his three friends for “speaking falsely for God”. Job is saying that we insult God if we think Him less than honest in His approach to us, lacking intellectual credibility. God does not want to be defended other than by the truth, come what may, and will chastise those who try to defend Him unworthily (as He does at the end). But that means putting truth ahead of God.
And most important of all, Jesus Himself, His very Incarnation, implies putting truth ahead of all other obligations. The kenosis, the self-emptying (Philippians 2), is what makes the Incarnation meaningful and powerful, and is what creates the level playing field upon which God will meet us.
All this means becoming truth-seekers before position-defenders. That is not because positions are unimportant, but rather because they are so important. Only by being truth-seekers, letting the truth and the Lord of truth speak for themselves can we hope to come to the true position. We have to let go to receive. The way to be truth-seekers is to be honest observers and honestly reasoning from those observations to the truth.
God thus arranges creation as a level playing field upon which He will meet us on equal terms. He does not become less than God, but He humbles Himself to talk with us in honest conversation — precisely that for which Job stoutly and rightly contends. God does not (as pictured by the Muslim view of Allah) stand on His dignity, insisting, “I am God, so just listen to Me!” God holds Himself responsible for making sense in a manner that we can understand. That is the only way that God can set us free to make an honest decision for or against the covenant.
If a person has a false view of God (all fallen persons do), and if therefore that view needs to be corrected, then we must all put truth-seeking ahead of our current image of God. Otherwise we have no hope of ever having our current and false image of God corrected by anyone, not even by God Himself. What else could correct a false image but a true image? And where is the true Image, but in God Himself? Putting truth ahead of God is therefore not demeaning God, it is submitting to the very process which will lead to Him. God Himself draws us through that process to Himself. There is no other way.
There is thus an implied First Commandment, underlying and prior to all other commandments, “Thou shalt be a truth-seeker — at any cost to thyself.” Only if we put truth first before all things have we any hope of arriving at truthful answers to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual problems of the Fall. God knows that, which is why He sets up the cosmos in that manner. One supposes that that commandment is not stated openly in Scripture because, prior to our modern invention of “relative” truth, no one supposed anything else than an objective obligation to truth-seeking. People may have lied, but they would not have defended lies as a good thing. They knew what lies were and that they were wrong.
No religion or philosophy outside of the Bible even comes close to promoting that kind of freedom and intellectual integrity. The standard in both secular and pagan worlds is power struggle. Might, not truth, makes right.
This means that God (not human scholars, philosophers, academicians, etc.) owns the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground — all three. It means that the Kingdom is built on truth or it is not built at all. It means that the Kingdom IS that intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground. The Kingdom is reality at its fullest and deepest. God is inviting His fallen people to come and stand at the center of reality, there on that high ground with Him. So, like clarity, honest truth-testing, which produces clarity, always favors the Kingdom of God.
America, quo vadis?