What is truth? These are the words from Pontius Pilate in John 18:38 that came after he interrogated Jesus before his crucifixion. The question Pilate presented is one that had philosophers of his day and those of our current postmodern world trying to figure out.
In fact, Time Magazine published an article and promoted it on the cover of its April 2017 issue which was titled “Is truth Dead” which was an attempt to reproduce what it had published in April of 1966, titled “Is God Dead” that promoted an advancement of radical thinking in theological views at the time. This of course caused some uproar within our nation due to the fact that much of the country was professing Christians with conservative views. It was a shocking article at the time when it was originally published in 1966, but the response in our culture today was not the same as it was then. There was at the time in the 1960’s a movement towards skepticism about God’s existence that enabled the growth of postmodernism in the 20th century– a philosophical movement which taught there is no ultimate truth.
The question, "what is truth" is not a question that many truly want the answer to. I say that because just as Pilate had to face the truth in John 18:38 and presented the question as to whether or not truth is objective, everyone will have to face truth. Pilate did not stick around long enough for Jesus to answer him as does anyone else who suppresses the truth. The reason many do not want to know the answer to the question about truth is because they will have to reconcile with God and to be reconciled with God, they are going to have to go through Jesus Christ the Son of God. And by going to Jesus, they will have to face the reality of their sin which they do not want to give up (John 3:19; Hebrews 11:25). Therefore, Paul warns Timothy that the church will one day be facing a time when a large portion of the congregates “will not tolerate sound doctrine” and will then find themselves the teachers who will preach what they want to hear that contradicts the truth of God’s word.
What is interesting is that regardless of whether or not truth is seen as obsolete and rejected, humanity has always expressed an unshakeable thirst for truth. This is often seen best in our desire for the TV shows concerning law and justice. Truth is burned on our hearts and imbued on our brains. People are starving for truth today. They are living in the wreckage of a world that has willfully gouged out its eyes to truth though and confused their minds. God’s word then remains a blur and obscured and the church has to be a truth mechanism for this world.
So, what then is truth–can truth even be defined? The answer is yes, but if we use the rational to try and explain truth there is a flawed perspective as creatures who have turned their backs on God. As a Christian, the answer to truth should be a fairly simple one when we look at the scriptures, but often Christians are not living out lives as it would represent this truth and presents the problems that Paul warms Timothy to avoid in his letters to him.
It’s clear that many today define truth as relative by how they reason morality when we continue to see the lines of moral values progress further and further into depraved thinking. An increasing number of our young adults are growing up in a world that is often referred to as progressive. This progressive movement is pushing to have the lines of morality shaped in such a way that allows for sin or immorality–it not only allows for it, but also applauds such behavior.
For those of us who have lived a few years now and especially the older generations, we can see this change. We have lived through it and know that there is a push towards acceptance of those things that was once viewed as immoral. But even that is not a true statement as I have personally witnessed a generation above my own starting to accept the values of those in the younger generations who try and incorporate moral change away from the truth of God’s word. Or is it now that the older generation has always been progressive and as we have moved away from the teachings of scripture, they have welcomed the acceleration of immoral thinking.
Of course, scripture warns us of such behavior as a group of people, or a nation collectively starts to push towards greater expressions of immoral behavior. This is something Paul addresses in Romans 1:18-32. Paul says starting in verse 20 that no one has any excuse for not knowing the truth of God’s moral laws, because the truth about God is visible to each and every person. Even though “they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…". Paul continues on in this passage to not only address that the truth is exchanged for a lie because of the foolish thinking, he goes on to show us that there are clear indications of a culture that is exchanging lies for the truth.
A culture that is exchanging lies for truth is one that turns pornographic and is “full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, malice…gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil” and turns to disobedience towards parents as the family unit breaks down further, in a “senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful” way. Not only do these things become an issue in society, which we have seen an increase in, there is an increasing number of people who will applaud such behavior (Rom. 1:26-32). Regardless if our beliefs about something is true, if it is contrary to what scripture says, then it is a lie and there are consequences for such actions.
In the postmodern world of thinking, truth is only relative by defining what is true for me is not necessarily going to be true for someone else. This sort of thinking allows for adjustments to be made in the way that truth is viewed in society. As long as there is a point of reference for truth where someone can see the morals of others as much worse than their own, then it is easy to view one’s morality as the true and right way of thinking. In Romans 1:24-25, Paul says this way of thinking leads to death as God delivers such people over to the desires of their own heart as they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. In Genesis 2:17, God makes it clear, as does Paul in Romans 6:23 that the penalty of sin is death. It is God’s word that sets the reality of truth, and that truth is that sin pushes us further and further away from God which results in a death that cannot even compare to the physical death of our bodies.
The issue, or better yet the confusion comes by the object of the truth. Truth is the standard for which reality is measured and cannot be changed based on someone’s feelings, circumstances, or their perspective. The simplest answer to the question to what truth is, cannot be found in any of our ideas or thinking. Truth is not an idea, perspective, or way of thinking. Truth is a person, and not just any person. Truth is Jesus Christ.
In John 14:6 Jesus says that He is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The night Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed for his disciples and asked the Father in John 17:17 to “Sanctify them by the truth" and proclaimed that the Father's word is the truth. We know that Jesus is the Word and that the word became flesh (John 1:14) and that the Word was with God in the beginning of creation and that the Word was with God always. "All things were created through him and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life" (John 1:1-4). This is an amazing statement as these verses clearly are establishing an absolute for truth, which cannot be defined by any other standards other than through who God is. Jesus is the truth, and the Word of God is his revelation to humanity.
The only reason the unbelieving world believes their truth is true, is because they have suppressed the reality of truth in the person and work of Jesus Christ into their own thinking. God gives Jesus to the world as a light as His sacrifice for our sins. All He asks for in His gracious gift is for us to accept that gift by faith. But God is not going to force this truth on us and as Paul points out in Romans 1, God allowed those who continue to reject the truth to fall further into a depraved way of thinking. It is spiritual blindness that makes them unable to see the truth and the reality of the truth becomes more distant and difficult to discern.
Prior to Pilates question about truth in John 18:38, Jesus said that the reason for his incarnation was to testify to the truth in the world. His very being on this planet was a statement of truth about the character of God and the reality that as sinners who have turned away from God and do not seek Him. The reality of sin is that it is a condition in which we cannot rescue ourselves from and we are separated from God in our sin that we desire more than God Himself. The penalty for sin is death and all of humanity is guilty of the punishment (Rom. 6:23). This truth is the reason for God’s deliberate revelation to us through his incarnation as Jesus. The good news that comes in the second half of Romans 6:23 is the truth of God’s mercy and grace extended to all of humanity if we are willing to except his free gift, that through God’s grace and our faith in Jesus Christ, we can live eternally with God forever. This is the truth!