The Trouble With Truth

What is Truth?

In a court of law, we are expected to swear on the Bible to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. But I wonder if the word truth means the same thing to any two people, and if there is a universal concept of the truth. Why is truth so highly valued by the courts of the land that perjury is considered a serious offense?

If the opposite of truth is error, then any computer user will testify how annoying program errors are. We would prefer the software to have integrity, and for the developer to abide by the rules of the programming language. Is truth then a set of rules that cause havoc if broken? Perhaps. Can I have one set of rules and you have another? There are some who would like to think so when applied to behavior. Do marriages tend to unravel when each spouse is operating from opposing ground rules, based on different family backgrounds and beliefs?

“Wouldn’t it be simpler to have some rules we can all agree on?”
“Oh sure, then we can talk from the same point of reference, but who has the sole claim on truth?”
“I believe there is one source of truth.”
“Are you suggesting absolute truth, because that really sounds 50’s. Get real, haven’t we all learned that what works for me is fine, even if it doesn’t work for you?”
“So you don’t believe in absolute truth?”
“No way, it’s as out-dated as bell-bottoms.”
“Are you really sure?”
“Absolutely!”

Ok, so is there such a thing as black & white, two-sides-of-the-coin, absolute truth? A parent must believe that when disciplining their children. A jury must think so when giving a verdict. A policeman must operate by a truth code when he writes a ticket.

How can I be sure of the truth? When I was a student studying French literature, we were required to read Jean-Paul Sartre, a notable existential atheist in his time. Existentialism can really mess with your mind. I don’t recommend you try it at home. I remember being told that I could not be sure that the chair I was sitting on really existed, that it could be a figment of my imagination. It seemed pretty wacky back then, but hey, the professors were taking J-P seriously, and my marks were going to be judged on how well I had grasped this unsettling concept. Despite the fact that I did not end up on the floor, which seemed pretty good evidence to me that the chair existed, J-P must have had some sound philosophical grounds for his belief system, either that or a weird sense of humor.

Should there always be evidence to determine if something is true? It sounds reasonable, and we Western thinkers like to think we are rational. Science purports to be the knowledge of truth based on empirical or testable evidence, assuming that the testing methods are in themselves based on truth. It does seem that our testing methods change considerably as knowledge reveals new truths, but, be that as it may, as a rational people, we are hungry for discovering truth. We fly to the moon to discover the truth about the earth’s origins. Not content with our own adjacent rock, we send electronic gadgets to Mars to look for water, the basis of alien life. In the micro-world, we analyze nature’s intricacies in a scientific discipline called bio-mimicry to see how we can learn from a spider’s web, a hummingbird, a bee, and imitate their unique properties with technology. The airplane is a prime example of technology successfully imitating nature and demonstrating the truth about aerodynamics. A more debatable science is our attempt to date the earth and the origin of our own species.

If the physical realm is difficult enough to prove or fathom with the best scientific methods, the moral realm is entirely problematic. Without moral standards we all agree on, there is ultimately anarchy, anything goes, laws are redundant and we are left to the mercy of each other’s interpretation of reality. I shudder to think of the consequences of unrestrained primitive instincts. The novel, “Lord of the Flies,” is a sobering tale of boys let loose on an island. Left to their survival instincts, the boys’ behavior towards each other soon becomes frighteningly inhumane. The holocaust is a shocking twentieth century example of man’s inhumanity to man when rigidly following the truth as defined by a single charismatic leader. Tragically, history is littered with cruelty practiced on a massive scale in so-called civilized societies – whether bombs, bullets, machetes, shackles or cannulas are used, conceding to brutality suggests that we have strayed from a moral standard that could have protected us all.

The United States of America was founded on principles defined in the Ten Commandments, designed as a reference point for civilized society. These commandments or laws were simple instructions on how to live peaceably with each other and with God, the Author of the commandments. Our present-day laws are still based on them, although they are being chipped away by intolerant pressure groups. God knows we need a common reference that is not man-made to guide us in our decisions, our behavior and our words. Common sense says that murder is unacceptable, stealing doesn’t pay, and adultery causes emotional havoc to all in its wake. Our conscience tells us what is right or wrong, an innate sensibility that we can choke off and ignore if it is not self-serving. Conscience is a word that can make people squirm, but we all know we have one, if we are relatively sane.

The question is not so much what is truth, or how can I be sure of the truth, but do I really want to face the truth? Let’s be honest, a stranger once quoted the Bible to me when I was turning a blind eye to the truth in my lifestyle: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul.” I was offended, of course, but it stuck with me to this day. It pricked my conscience, it rattled me. I was earning a great wage, successful in my career, but making some poor choices. I knew the truth in my heart. I was brought up in a Christian home and knew the consequences of rebelling against God. The stranger’s words put the fear of God in me and reminded me that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” But it took a flood in my apartment, a broken relationship, the death of my father, and a third-degree burn before my stubborn heart finally submitted to my Maker, and I confessed the wrong things in my life and asked for forgiveness. The beautiful thing about confession is that, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we can check our conscience, if we want to understand the truth about ourselves. It takes courage to face our inner demons, but why waste our lives in self-deception?

Why does Truth matter? Philosophy states that the opposite of truth is error. In moral and spiritual terms, the opposite of truth is a lie. A lie is a deliberate attempt to mask the truth and avoid facing consequences, whether in a court of law to dodge a prison sentence, in a relationship to prevent losing a loved one’s approval, or to run away from facing ourselves. If we lied only once in a while, or just to a few people we didn’t care for, we could perhaps limit the damage that a lie inevitably causes. But the problem with lies is that they are habit-forming and tend to be very destructive. If a whole people group or nation lived under a cloud of propagated lies, what effect would that have on society and the next generation? There is one whose whole purpose is to disseminate lies, to keep us from knowing the truth. He is described in John’s Gospel as the father of lies.

Fortunately, the truth can be discovered. We believe it was revealed by God in His Word, the Bible, to all who would receive Him. God wants us to know the truth and to live by the truth out of His great, unfathomable love for us. He wants us to escape the consequences of choosing lies over truth. If the Ten Commandments are true, if the Bible is true, if God is who He says He is, then we’d better take them seriously, because our future hangs in the balance. If we knew when we would die, and just a moment before our death we could choose between heaven or hell, do you think we wouldn’t choose heaven? It’s not worth the chance that there is no heaven or hell, because hell is a horrific place as depicted in the Bible. Our eternal destination is of utmost importance and the sooner we decide where we’re headed, the better. Our life choices will count for either durable gold and silver, or hay and stubble that is vaporized, depending on our response to God’s Truth, which leads to the next question.

Who is Truth? There is no one more controversial in history than Jesus Christ, perhaps because He claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” An audacious claim, unless He was right. He would have had to be God to be right. He is a lightning rod, a pivotal point in history when the calendar was set to zero, so significant was His entry onto the human stage. Shattering all Jewish expectations of a Messiah-king, whose destiny was to overthrow the Roman oppressors, He was born humbly in a stable, became an itinerant preacher with no place to call home, and allowed Himself to die a horrific death on a cross. Why would someone who claimed to be God choose such a troubled life and agonizing death? Could it be that He was the sacrificial “Lamb” prophesied in the Old Testament, and mysteriously described in the New Testament book of Revelation – the embodiment of all Jewish sacrifices for all time, to take our place so that justice could be served, and our lies or sins be paid for. In Him there was no lie. He was the other side of the coin, the Truth. Why would He pay the price of our failures, our rebellion, our pride? Whereas He is “the Way,” we, on the other hand, have lost our way and are “lost sheep” wandering in the dark, not even sure that truth can be trusted. Whereas He is “the Truth,” we live a life of failures, lies, mistakes or sin, as the Bible calls it. Whereas He is “the Life,” we are decaying to the point of death from the moment we are born, powerless to stop ourselves hurtling into the abyss we hardly dare contemplate. Jesus is all that we are not.

Jesus Christ is good news to mankind, the Way out of this mess, the hope for an eternal life with God for our souls after our bodies decay. What He offers through His death and resurrection is forgiveness, no matter what unspeakable acts we have committed. He promises abundant transforming life, starting here and now at the point we recognize our sinful nature, are truly repentant, and accept Jesus as our Savior. Why would He pay such a high price to rescue such an unworthy, sorry bunch? He was there when the world began, He spoke it into being, He created every star, every flower, every fetus. He knew you when you were in your mother’s womb. He cares deeply for you. You are His unique handiwork. He could have said: “I am Love, I am Grace, I am Humility,” but perhaps that’s for us to recognize and tell Him in gratitude when we realize what He has done for us.

This is not a religion, it’s not a bigoted point of view, it’s the person of Jesus. If you are searching for the Truth, you can find out more by reading John’s Gospel. If you don’t have access to a Bible, check out www.biblegateway.com.