Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —.”
Emily Dickinson


As we enter the Advent season, I’d like to take as our point of departure a poem by Emily Dickinson. Written between 1858 and 1865, the poem “Tell all the truth” reflects on the idea that some truths are too overwhelming to be received “head on” or “all at once.” In eight crisp lines, Dickinson observes that “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind —”.

While Dickinson affirms that “all the” truth must be told, she also holds that the truth is too expansive and brilliant to be taken in all at once. What is she getting at? Is she describing the laws of nature? The scale of the universe? The birds and the bees? The secrets of spiritual enlightenment? Whatever it is, the poet believes that the truth must be arrived at slowly and indirectly—lest it completely overwhelm its audience.

While I don’t know precisely what Dickinson intended, “Tell all the truth” appears to me to be a meditation on the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. When it comes time for God to reveal himself to humankind, God will not “tear open the heavens and come down,” though Isaiah says he wishes that God would do just that (Isaiah 64:1ff). Why not? Because we can’t handle THAT MUCH of God, at least in our present state! As Dickinson puts it, “Too bright for our infirm Delight / The Truth’s superb surprise.” Or as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

When it came time for God to reveal himself in human form, God chose a subtle path, being born into a humble family in a small town in a backwater region, far removed from the movers and shakers of the first century world. He challenged our human love affair with bedazzlement, teaching instead that the last shall be first, that the least shall be the greatest, and that those who lose their lives will find them. He took on the form of a servant, wielded a towel to wash dirty feet, called the poor in spirit truly blessed, and ultimately gave his life as “a ransom for many.”

This Advent season, I’d like for us to pay closer attention to how God reveals the slanted truth of Messiah and Kingdom through the sly subtlety of the Incarnation. I pray that this will help us open our eyes and perk up our ears to God’s gentle ways of coming into our world and into our lives that he might dazzle us gradually with his call to “follow me.”

Andy Wall
Author: Andy Wall