Man walking towards the light from darkness
“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 18:37-38a
Because raising the issue last week of what it means to be human wasn’t difficult enough, I thought I’d turn to the elusive territory of truth this week. Truth has fallen out of favor in our society because it’s believed to be divisive. Given the proliferation of viewpoints, life is said to be far easier if we let everyone think as he or she wishes. Living in this culture, we Christians, too, are inclined to accept these opinions, which is odd if we think about it.
In the passage above, Jesus told Pilate that He came into the world to bear witness to the truth. For us now to disregard truth as a matter of convenience in today’s culture borders on rejection of Jesus Christ Himself. So, most of us are content to accept that what we believe is true, but only for us; we couldn’t possibly say that Christianity is true for everybody else, even if we believe it is. Live and let live. Be tolerant. Don’t push your beliefs on anyone. All of these are standard norms hammered repeatedly in recent generations. Since we are a part of society, we need to get along with people who disagree with us, and we need not to judge differing perspectives. But is that… true? If we hear it and say it often enough and loudly enough, does that make it true?
Pontius Pilate was a man ahead of his time. He would fit well in our century. “What is truth?” In all fairness, Pilate was not a great philosopher pondering the mysteries of the universe. He was the Roman governor appointed to rule over a wart on the backside of the Roman Empire, and there he walked a tightrope between Rome, the Jews, and Herod – the Rome-appointed, Idumean king of Judea. So, when Jesus stood before him, Pilate’s only goal was to keep the peace, because Passover created an environment ripe for uprisings and clashes. That Pilate asked Jesus about the charges indicates the facts given Pilate were so sketchy he was not even sure why Jesus was there, and all he wanted to do was diffuse the situation. “What is truth?”, meaning, “Just get to the point; You’re making this too complicated.” Rather than seek the truth, Pilate chose the expedient way. The issue was too complicated, so he chose not to choose, not to make a decision. Pilate’s attitude fits nicely with contemporary views. The issue of truth is too complicated. We think it’s complicated because we are sophisticated and multicultural, but the fact is, truth was complicated when Pilate faced Jesus, too. Also like Pilate, we think life is simply easier if we avoid discussions of truth. However, moments after speaking with the very Son of God, Pilate washed his hands of the entire “Jesus and the Jews” affair, and two thousand years later, we still are talking about Pilate and still condemning him. Ignoring the truth never works out well for us, in spite of the short-term benefits of ignorance.
What has truth to do with being human? Everything. Popular opinion holds that we get to decide what our humanity is and means, even if we think it means nothing at all. Yet, if we are indeed creatures created by God, we do not have that freedom. The clay does not tell the potter what it shall be. Rather, the Potter designs the clay as He wishes.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, He said He’d come to bear witness to the truth, and if we want to understand what is wrong with human beings, all we have to do is watch what happens next. So much sin… so much darkness… The hatred, cruelty, fear, anger, confusion, and despair that propelled the Son of God to the Cross is a pageant of sin and evil. We may be able to claim we would never reject Jesus Christ or mock Him or send Him to be crucified, but surely, we must admit that far too often we choose the expedient way, ignoring truth instead of shining the light of truth into our dark and fallen world. It is easier not to argue or debate. Just live and let live, an attitude that completely defies the heart and actions of God toward us.
If asked to “define” truth, my broad answer: truth is the accurate depiction of reality, of what really is and the way things really are. Take the origin of the universe, for example. Science offers several sound theories, and over the centuries, debates have been intense. Yet, for all the knowledge we possess and the theories that compete, only one thing or series of events actually happened. We may or may not know what that one thing was, but the universe originated in only one way. That one thing, then, is true. All the other theories and perspectives are false – might sound good, but still, false. Truth is unpopular. In the land of the free, everybody has a right to his/her own views. I do not argue that at all, but just because one has a view or an opinion doesn’t make it true. The tragedy for contemporary culture is it doesn’t actually matter what we think or what we want. The only thing that matters is what is true, what is real.
Some years ago, as tried to decide if I believed Jesus really existed and actually was the Son of God, the decision boiled down to the truth. What was true? If true, then the Christian Gospel is worth everything. If false, it’s worth nothing. For me, the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ was a bit like being pulled through a knothole backward. But a variety of truths was never a choice. If the Gospel is true at all, it must be true for all, and if it is true for all, then it also is true for me. The problem with truth is that it illuminates what is false. We have to decide. Yet, adapting oneself to the truth, no matter how painful that might be in the moment, is infinitely easier than spending one’s life seeking to adapt the truth – reconstructing reality – to what one wishes it to be. Yet, I have witnessed people who cling to unreality regardless of the evidence to the contrary and the consequences involved. We as a society are swimming against the tide. No matter the groundswell for relativism to accommodate pluralism, the truth is inalterable and unchangeable. Truth just is.
If we believe the Scriptures that Jesus Christ came to bear witness to the truth, a statement with vast implications, then we do no one any favors by acquiescing to silence, certainly not ourselves. For if Jesus Christ does not matter for the lives of others, then He really doesn’t make much difference for our own. Christianity becomes nothing more than a security blanket during the unknowns of life and ceases to be the salvation and calling of every human being. We see the fruit of this in our churches today, this diminished and impotent belief that leads ever farther down the road of decline.
What does it mean to be human? That is our question. If we hope to find an answer of any value to us, then surely, that answer must be true. We do not lack for speculation about humanity, but we do lack true knowledge and understanding of the human creature. I invite you to continue along this journey with me. Look within and ask yourself how deeply committed you are to the truth. Only one thing is true. As a flower is not river, and a tree not a kangaroo, human beings are only one thing – as complex as the origin of the universe, to be sure, but still, just one thing. Of all the theories about the meaning of human life, only one thing is true. Don’t you want to know what it is?
In Christ –
© SFCM, 2017