You need to do what is right for you. How many times have we heard this? This core cultural value has become a mantra, ever repeating the notion that truth changes from person to person, nation to nation, and even era to era. Many people have have come to believe that they do in fact have their own truth to live by. We might even find ourselves beginning potentially controversial statements with the words "for me" to signal the version of truth that we are holding to. A quick, "you do you," can be added to assure others who hold a differing viewpoint that they are free to claim their own version of the truth. In so many ways we have been conditioned not to question this. In both subtle and direct ways we are pressured to accept that two contrary ideas can simultaneously be true, and that to call someone else’s truth into question is a form of intolerance.
The idea that truth changes depending on the person or the circumstance (relative truth) forms the foundation of a philosophy known as postmodernism. Yet, this idea can hardly be considered modern. The reality is that questions about the nature of Truth have presented a stumbling block for humanity from the very beginning. The serpent called the truth (and God’s truthfulness) into question in the Garden of Eden when he tempted Eve by asking the question, "Did God really say..?" The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, also called the concept of ultimate truth into question in his encounter with Jesus in John 18:
Pilate…summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. -JOHN 18:33-38 ESV
In a twist of irony, this encounter revealed that Pilate was ultimately the one being interrogated–not Jesus. I don't believe that Pilate’s final retort to Jesus was a genuine question. I don't think he really wanted to discover and uphold the truth so much as he wanted to put the dilemma of what to do about Jesus to rest quickly. I think the question was more likely a refusal to trouble himself with any sort of truth that did not advance his goals. Pilate did not have time to be inconvenienced with truth if it proved to be a speed bump or a stop sign in route to getting what he wanted.
Simply put, Pilate stumbled over the nature of truth. But, if we are being honest, don't we frequently stumble for the same reasons? Though Pilate wasn't genuinely interested in getting to the truth, let’s take the opportunity to address his question, “What is truth?” by making 6 observations about the nature of truth:
6 TRUTHS ABOUT TRUTH
TRUTH #1 Truth exists--but not inside you.
Despite the popular notions of Eastern and tribal religions, Truth is not ultimately found within any of us. Even at our best we are prone to err and make mistakes on matters big and small. Worse yet, humans have a tendency to be self-deceived when emotions get tangled up in the decision making process. Imagine for a moment if a group of contractors were constructing a building or a bridge by searching their inner selves. In much the same way blueprints are essential for validating the accuracy of their work, we need an objective source of truth that we can use in making decisions.
Thankfully, God the Author of all Truth, has made truth to be known through science and the Scriptures. Truth can be discovered using science because observable laws (truth) govern the universe. If this was not the case, there would be little point in researching anything. But God has also given us the Scriptures to reveal further truth about the physical and the spiritual realms. Using science and the Scriptures we can discover objective truth that we could never find within. Like the blueprints used by contractors, these truth sources can be used to validate that we are on the right track. These sources can keep us from falling to errors and self-deception.
TRUTH #2 Truth follows the rules.
Truth is logical. It does not violate the law of non-contradiction. That is to say that two contrary ideas about what is true cannot be true at the same time in the same way. The result of a single coin toss can be heads or tails, but not both. The sum of 2+2 is 4, and not some other number. If this were not the case, truth would be incoherent and meaningless. But truth has both coherence and meaning because it is consistent with reality, with what is real. The relationship between truth and reality has been summed up in what is known as correspondence theory.
Somehow we have gotten quite comfortable with departing from common sense reality when it comes to determining what is moral. How often do we hear, and sometimes even believe, the idea that two people can hold completely opposite sides of a moral argument and both be right? This sounds something like, "Well, you have your truth and I have mine." It sounds so charitable, so affirming, so kind hearted. Despite such appearances, this is a leap into incoherence. It is a violation of the law of non-contradiction. While two people holding opposite moral views could both be wrong, they cannot both be right at the same time, and in the same way. Insisting otherwise is to leave reality in the rearview mirror.
TRUTH #3 Truth doesn’t care how you feel.
Because truth is consistent with what is real, our feelings have no final say about what is true and what is not. Feelings may work great when deciding our preferences. Unfortunately, they are not much help in establishing truth. I'll agree that in so many cases we may wish truth were something other than what it is. This is especially the case when it comes to many of God's moral commands found in Scripture--let's take the 10 Commandments for example. These moral commands can be challenging, inconvenient, difficult to live up to, and even seem outdated. But wishing that they were not given by God, or that they were not standards to which he would hold us accountable to does not make them less true. Our preferences and opinions don't change the truth in the slightest bit.
Though we are all inclined to want to change the standards of truth when it is to our advantage, we need to acknowledge that in the end, nobody consistently lives as if truth was so flexible. We instinctively assume and insist that truth is unchanging (absolute) when it matters to us most. We are rightly angered when people lie to us. But why should we be angry if truth is different for everyone? We are rightly outraged at evil, but cries for justice simply would not make sense if truth was constantly changing. The universal desire for fairness is but one evidence of this. Author C.S. Lewis drives home this very point:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
TRUTH #4 Truth is a person you need to know.
The scripture is clear that Jesus is, himself, the personification of truth. This is implied in his dialogue with Pilate: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. Jesus makes this even more clear when he proclaims flat out that, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” By contrast, Satan is known as The Deceiver and The Father of Lies. He holds people captive by blinding them to truth and binding them in error. Thinking about the contrasts of these two persons, it's no wonder that Jesus said,
"If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:31-32 ESV
While it may at first seem odd to think of Truth being personified, it is entirely logical that the Author and Giver of all life embodies truth and is the standard for what is true. That the source of all truth is found in a person--Jesus--means that the discovery of truth is not merely an emotionless academic pursuit, but ultimately meant to impact us relationally, at the core of who we are as we are drawn to the living God. How amazing to realize that to find the fullness of truth is to find and to know God, Himself.
TRUTH #5 Truth builds community.
This point is simple, but so important. We cannot build and maintain healthy relationships without trust. Though not many people would dispute this point, it's amazing that we so often hold such casual ideas about lying and deceiving others. Trust cannot be built upon lies. We need to realize that the decision to play fast and loose with the truth directly hinders our ability to enjoy healthy relationships with each other. This breakdown impacts family, community, and ultimately society. We can choose to compromise on truth, but this always comes at a cost.
TRUTH #6 Truth is a call to worship.
This means that truth not only informs us of what is right, but it also makes daily demands on how we should live. We are so often tempted to stop at knowing truth, but not on doing truth. It is so easy to limit truth to an idea that has no meaningful connection to the way we live. Acting on the truth we believe puts wings on the faith we claim to believe. When we actively choose to live out the truth we profess, resisting the pull to live according to what's right in our own eyes, we uphold the truth. Upholding the truth--preferring God's ways to our own--is ultimately worship.
This call to worship by living out truth infringes upon our lives. It's inconvenient. The call to live truth is restrictive. It exposes us by revealing what is most important to us. For this reason, many will refuse to yield their decisions and actions to the standard of truth outlined in the Scripture, attempting to camouflage their defiance in the process. Living according to what's right in our own eyes is perhaps the simplest definition of what the Bible calls sin. The Apostle Paul makes clear that God will ultimately bring judgment on all who exchange the truth about God for a lie. Similarly, John asserts that,
"This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil." -John 3:19 ESV
While Scripture is direct and clear about God's judgment, it also offers amazing hope to all who have exchanged the truth about God for a lie:
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." -1 John 1:5-10 ESV
What this means.
The truth about truth is reason to rejoice. How disillusioned we should be if truth did not exist. But it does exist. It is knowable. The truth about truth is also a call to walk in the truth. Followers of Christ are called not only to know truth, but also to live truth. At the most basic level, Christians are called to live lives of worship as they resist the temptations to lie and to bend truth. This is also a call to be quick to confess to one another when we do lie or compromise the truth. This is a difficult calling, but it is also liberating. Will we trust God to believe that walking in the truth will set us free? Freedom and joy go hand in hand. But the blessings that come from walking in the truth are not meant just for us individually. As God's people make the tough decisions to live the truth--no matter the cost--they take part in building genuine community and become an amazing witness to the watching world. This is in keeping with Jesus calling his followers to be salt and light. Living the truth is being a light to those who are walking in darkness around us.
Heavenly Father, we rejoice that you are Truth, that you cannot lie, that you are light, and in you no darkness is found. Forgive us for the ways in which we lie or make allowances for compromising the truth. Give us a heart that not only rejoices in truth, but a heart to walk in the truth. Give us the strength to resist the temptations to lie and to deceive. Help us to become people who will hold to the truth, even when it costs us to do so. This is not the heart of the world around us, but we recognize that you have called us out of this world and have charged us to walk in the light. May your Holy Spirit equip us for this task for your glory, amen.
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
-3 John 4 ESV