What is Truth? Confused and perplexed by the case of Jesus, Pontius Pilate ends his conversation with a great question: “What is Truth?” This question is still being asked today. Philosophers have debated it; religion has made claims about it; and it seems like cultural attitudes about truth are always shifting. The word that Pilate uses is the Greek word Aletheia. It is a word with rich meaning. It does mean truth, but it carries the idea of sincerity, actuality, and reality. It refers to what actually is. Is there something called “truth” that is defined as “that which corresponds to reality,” and if so, what does it mean for you and I? Truth is hard to define, especially now in the postmodern world. Some people think truth is impossible to define or know. Jesus called himself “the Truth” and taught that his enemy was the “father of lies.” This is one of the most essential questions for each of us to settle, because what you believe determines how you behave. Echo HIgh School had a four week conversation exploring the concept of truth, especially the nature of the spiritual truth in the teaching of Jesus.
John 14:15-27 –
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”
23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Of all the gospel writers, John explores the teaching of Jesus on truth most often and most elegantly. Here, Jesus promises to his disciples that the Parakletos will be with them after he is gone. He is an ally, an advocate. He is literally “someone called in,” to help and to heal and to teach. Jesus called Him (or it (pneuma), or her (ruach)) the “Spirit of Truth.” He will guide us into truth, he will continue the process where God’s truth becomes known to humanity, something we call “revelation.” This passage has some pretty cool implications:
- Spiritual Truth can be questioned freely because it is durable. Sometimes people treat “the truth” like it is made of glass. It is very fragile, so you should handle it with care. They limit their exposure to other points of view for this reason. This attitude is what gives Thomas, the questioner in this passage a negative reputation. He has the nickname “doubting Thomas.” I think it is unfair, and more to the point I think it dangerous. Look at how he responded to the cryptic teaching of Jesus in John 14:1-17. There is something remarkable about Thomas – he is not afraid to give a truthful answer: “I don’t understand.” At this moment, Jesus is looking at a lot of confused faces. The other guys have no idea what Jesus is saying either, but they aren’t the type that will risk the question. They care far too much about what other people think. There was one among them who could never say that he understood what he did not understand, and that was Thomas. He expresses his doubt and his failure to understand, and the wonderful thing is the question of an honest man provokes one of the greatest sayings of Jesus ever. He has honest questions and is brave enough to ask them. Never be ashamed of having questions or admitting you do not understand something. God is not afraid of your questions, so Echo will always be a place that is open and honest about your questions. That means we are committed to giving honest answers even when they aren’t simple, and that no question is ever “out of bounds.” We are not afraid of doubt. Doubt is often the invitation to explore an issue more honestly and to understand an issue more thoroughly. Doubt often leads to deeper and more complete truth.
- Spiritual Truth should be held humbly because it is progressive. This is a VERY important passage when it comes to understanding Jesus’ view of truth. John 16:12-15 –12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
Truth is progressive. Jesus had more to reveal, revelation was not over. There is more to learn about God, there is more to know about Christ. This is often misunderstood and the cause of much trouble in faith. Often, people think of Christianity as something that was established once finally and perfectly, and that the only task for the present is to look carefully at what Jesus did and said in the past and that should give us all we need going forward. I am not sure this works. Jesus did not give a perfect and complete revelation about God’s kingdom to the disciples. He could not have. Revelation is progressive, and a person can only be taught what they are able to understand. God has always worked this way: he meets people within the limits of their understanding and sometimes within the shortcomings of their culture. This means that the Christian faith (and theology) must be alive, it cannot be the static and wooden practice of studying the past saying of a long dead teacher. It needs to be more than that. It is not only concerned with what God said and what God revealed in the past, but it must also be concerned with what God is doing and what God is saying and revealing now and even tomorrow. This is SO important for the way we practice our faith. It is a mistake to think of faith only in terms of ancient patters and established “truth.” Our faith needs to be alive; it needs to be able to grow. Our world has fallen victim to the opposite: to a dead and lifeless religion that is solely concerned with the past and pays no attention to the pressing matters of the present and the future. Jesus describes here the possibility of a faith that evolves and grows to face the challenges of new generations and the complications of the advancing human story. How does this happen, since Jesus is no longer with us? The accounts of those that knew him are left behind, but they are done. There are not going to be any new discoveries about Jesus unearthed in a cave somewhere. Jesus gives us the answer: He is gone, but he did not leave his followers alone. He gave his followers the Holy Spirit; the “Spirit of Truth.” The word we use to talk about how the Spirit brings God’s truth to us is called “revelation.” It is like the lights come on. This is a glorious promise if you can understand it and grasp it! This should help us deal with passages from the Bible that trouble us or offend our conscience. There are many times when the Bible seems archaic in its virtues and even inferior in its ethic compared to the modern world. Please understand me, I think that scripture has much to teach our culture about morality and ethics and the heart of God. I think it is the supreme revelation of God’s character and nature. However, there are times where what God revealed to ancient people in the context of their ancient culture seems backwards and inferior compared to what we know today. This is fine if you understand that God cannot take humanity from the start to the finish in one step. God’s goal is to advance us as a culture one step closer to the ideal of His Kingdom, and sometimes a step in the right direction doesn’t seem like it is going far enough if you are already advanced past that position. However, if you were the one on the other side it might truly be as far as your legs could reach. God needs to get people moving in the right direction, even if it is not all the way down the road. God is a patient teacher in this regard. This also means that God is not done yet helping us step toward his ideal. When we look into the ancient truth of scripture, sometimes we need to discern the direction God was having humanity move to know how to continue down the road, especially when applying the text woodenly as it is written will not do. There is progress in terms of redemptive movement. Revelation continues because Jesus is alive and His Spirit continues to work within us guiding us into His truth.
- Spiritual Truth can be known relationally because it is personal. Here is the most important thing to understand when it comes to spiritual truth. You do not relate to spiritual truth like science relates to a bar of iron: as a subject relates to an object. Spiritual truth is not very “objective.” It is subjective, because behind spiritual truth is a person. We should not study God like we study things in a laboratory, reducing him to a list of attributes, axioms, facts, and figures. We study God like we get to know a friend. This is how scripture is to be read. You are reading stories, songs, and personal letters. You are not reading a book full of facts about God. These stories, songs, letters and such invite us to experience God in a similar way that the authors of these works experienced God. We should not read scripture or come to church like a detached physicist listening to a lecture, but like a castaway on deserted island with a letter from his beloved. There is so much talk in defense of “absolute truth” from people making claims about God, but I wonder if they are not missing the point. I understand their fear: they fear that with the loss of the concept of absolute truth comes moral relativism and a lack of spiritual conviction. However, their argument might not be accomplishing their goal. We have to remember that when we are dealing with Spiritual Truth, the ultimate truth is not an objective principle but a person. This person is one of such splendor, power, wonder, beauty, and glory that to know Him is to love Him, worship Him, enjoy Him and seek to please Him with everything. Jesus didn’t reveal to his disciples the nature of propositional truth; he invited them to learn that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Reducing such a person to a list of facts and attributes is missing the truth by a wide margin. You can only really know the truth about God by experiencing Him, the same way you can only really know music once you have heard it. Music, like God, is more than intellectual comprehension; it is also emotional understanding.