What is Truth?

By Brooke Stacia Demott

truth“… 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,” said Jesus.

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out … (John 18:37-40)

Relativism is a popular notion today, extending an invitation for each of us to create our own truth. That may sound fun, but there’s a catch: In a world of infinite “truths,” we have no choice but to deny the existence of lies, because without truth, there can’t be lies; without right, there is no wrong; and if nothing is objectively good, then nothing can be bad, either.

If right and wrong are a matter of personal interpretation, then the robber is equally validated in his claim to his neighbor’s property as his neighbor is. Justice ceases to exist, because we have no base line with which to correct error.

This is the epicenter of society’s problems. The lines between personal preference and objective truth are hopelessly blurred.

Since truth is no longer recognized as unbiased fact, it’s wrongly identified as a unit of measure on the barometer of personal happiness. “The happier it makes me, the truer it must be!”

Unfortunately, truth doesn’t answer to feelings. Gravity pulls objects to the earth regardless of our approval. Gender is written into our DNA as an objective reality, no matter how many body parts we amputate or contrary hormones we pump into our systems.

Truth draws a definitive line in the sand as deep as the universe, and no matter how many feelings we kick over it to smudge it out, it always manages to stay disconcertingly visible.

Pilate asked Jesus the most important question in history: “What is truth?” and didn’t even bother to stick around for the answer.

Pilate clearly believed that truth was unknowable, and ironically, he walked out on the only man in history who could’ve ever made it known.

The Pilates of today still cast that question into the air with hands up-thrown, though it’s less a question than a statement. We shrug it off and relinquish ourselves to pragmatism, doing whatever gets us through the day. We call it progressive; but really, we’ve stopped caring. What keeps us from caring?

— Laziness: Let’s be honest; it takes a lot of work to navigate millions of contradictory voices all assuring us that they have the answer. It’s just easier not to try.

— Validation: We want to do what we want to do. If the truth challenges our desires, then we might have to rethink our behavior; and often, we aren’t prepared to do that.

— Fear: Everyone wants to be liked, and if the truth isn’t popular, then we run a serious risk of losing relationships if we affirm it.

— Jesus, universally recognized as the most influential religious leader in history, tells us that he came into the world predominately to testify to the truth.

Just what is the truth?

What are some of Jesus’ truth claims?

“If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.” (Sin is really serious.)

“If a man even looks at a woman with lust in his heart, he is guilty of adultery.” (Even if we never act on it, sin is present in all of us.)

“How difficult it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Wealth can be a curse.)

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.” (God’s approval is way more important than anyone else’s.)

“Jerusalem, who kills the prophets … how I have longed to gather you into my arms … but you were not willing.” (God is saddened by our rebellion.)

“No one comes to the Father but by me.” (Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God.)

Everyone likes the humanitarian Jesus, but when we stop there, we miss purpose of his ministry. His astonishing, supernatural feats were intended to validate his teaching, which had one chief end: to help us understand the truth.

With his words, Jesus exposes the nature of the human condition. A prostitute, a homosexual, and a loving, married father who daydreams about a Hollywood bombshell are all sexual sinners. The faithful churchgoer and the thieving tax collector alike fall equally short of God’s incomprehensible goodness.  His aim isn’t to incentivize us to scrub out our sins even harder with the same dirty rags, but to demonstrate that even our best efforts can’t come close to making us holy enough for God.

That doesn’t sound very affirming. As a matter of fact, it sounds pretty hopeless — unless, of course, the most important truth turns out to be some pretty good news.

The proclamation Jesus made to the world with his dying breath is by far the most wonderful truth of all: “It is finished.”

His self-sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world, and the cross lays a bridge between this fallen creation and God’s perfect, eternal kingdom.

Jesus demonstrates that love isn’t opposed to truth; it’s saturated in it.

Truth is his greatest expression of love.

• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at brooketo@aol.com.