What is truth?

truth

Deep down people crave to know the truth. The problem is the truth is hard to get at. Who has the time or energy to investigate every truth claim that is proposed? The problem becomes even more complicated because there is so much noise in the pop culture that distracts people from the truth, and so much bias in the media that tries to manipulate the truth. However, there was one man in human history that was able to cut throw the fog of all the noise and confusion to declare that he was, in fact, truth itself. Truth itself! Every philosopher and thinker in the world has being trying to get at truth, at ultimate reality, since the dawn of mankind. So, if ultimate reality actually came down and manifested itself into the human sphere, this would be highly significant. If that man who declared that he is true, was actually truth itself then people could finally have access to the truth. That would also mean that people could by-pass all that noise of the talking heads in the pop-culture and media and turn it down to mere background music while they focus on the critical message of truth itself. In other words, you wouldn’t need to follow all the competing ideas in the culture, but just zero in on one – and this one idea would also come from the very entity that created you – God.

A lot of people tend to view Jesus as simply a man of peace or a man that projected an emotional appeal. He actually never defined himself like that. First, he defined himself as God. Second, he defined himself as the truth. Indeed, ultimate reality is truth, and ultimate reality would be a slice of the highest entity possible – God. So, it makes sense that if God would have come to us in human form, he would have described himself as the truth.

Now, Jesus is called the prince of peace. But, the peace he is referring to is the peace one has when they know the truth. Once you know the truth, you’re not going to be bothered by the uncertainty of the unknown. For example, suppose you are a Chicago Cubs fan and you couldn’t watch game 7 of the World Series but instead recorded it. Then, in the course of the night social media had told you the Cubs won game 7. As a Cubs fan when you watched the recording of game 7, you’d be at peace during those tense moments when Cleveland took control and it looked like the Cubs were going to lose. You’d be at peace during those pressing emotional moments precisely because you knew the truth – that the Cubs had won. So, you wouldn’t be bothered by the uncertainty of the unknown which you’d have if you watched the game live. Thus, the peace Jesus brings is attached to the truth.

So, to those that think Jesus’ peace is not about the truth and more about “feeling good”or “getting along” Jesus himself indicated this water downed definition of peace is wrong. Shortly after announcing the mission of the twelve, Jesus declared, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come not to bring peace but the sword”(Matthew 10:34). Now, the sword Jesus is referring to is the truth (see Hebrews 4:12, Ephesians 6:17, John 18:37). And, this would make sense because Jesus’ mission was to take down the devil, who is describes “the father of lies” (see John 8:44). Well, if you are the truth, then by definition you have to cut out all the lies and deception so the truth can be seen. So, notice again how peace is associated with truth. Moreover, with the image of the sword, Jesus is proposing that the process of getting at the truth is going to be uncomfortable at first. The reason it’s going to be painful is because when you are seeking what is true, you’re going to have to give up what you want to be true – you’re going to have go beyond you subjective desires and embrace an objective reality – the truth. Also, notice that context when Jesus described himself as a sword in the truth was in the middle of his discourse on causing persecution and division (see Matthew ch. 10). So, he is illuminating the fact that following the truth is going to be a painful process.

jesus-truth

When Jesus told Pontius Pilate he was the truth, Pilate’s cynical response was, “What is truth?” We all ask this question today. What is the truth? To know what truth is we need to flush out what the truth is not. We need to eliminate what is not true – and this is a painful process because we’ll have to dump all the false teachings of this world. Thomas Aquinas said something that struck me. He said that we always have to distinguish between two different questions in life. Those questions are 1. What do I want to be true, and 2. What is true? To know what truth is not is to put aside the idea of what we want to be true. Aquinas’ point was that God wants us to drop the question of what I want to be true and to follow the question what is true. Aquinas tied this simple idea to this passage below:

“I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30).

Picture1

Aquinas also illuminated to me that the answer to one question has no bearing on the answer to the other question. Obviously, what I want to be true has no impact on what is true. If what I wanted to be true became true, I would be a god. Any philosopher will tell us that the subjective question has no correlation to the objective answer. For example, me wanting a million dollars in my bank account does not actually put a million dollars in my bank account. So the fact that I want a statement to be true (Tony is a millionaire) does not make this statement true (I wish it did). Or, the fact that I want the Titans to be the best team in the NFL, does not, in fact, make this desire a reality – because it is a fact the Titans are not the best team in football. If a person thinks their desires from within determine the truth without, this is just old fashion self-worship. To think that you don’t need to seek the truth, and you can make the truth from your own thoughts is self-absorbed pride of the highest level. Most sane people know that they don’t determine the truth. So, truth comes from outside of our wants.

While most people acknowledge they don’t determine the truth most people prefer to chase what they want to be true over and above what is actually true. This question is surfacing during an election year where people are yelling at each other saying, “we are right, and they are wrong,” “listen to us, don’t listen to them.” Everyone is trying to convince everyone that they are right, and the other group is wrong. There is a cacophony of noise and deception in the news because everyone is putting for the ideas in which they want to be true, while the question of what is true gets lost in a fog of uncertainty. But, we can realize that people mainly get so caught up in the news, politics, and religion not because they did all this research and discovered the truth. They get caught up in this arena mainly because a certain ideology fits with what that person wants to be true. In other words, people pick a worldview simply because that worldview fits nicely within their internal bias of what they want to be true. And people come to their pre-suppositions of what they want to be true mainly through clever marketing and emotional appeals by self interested parties. Conversely, people come to the conclusion of what is true through boring, careful research in logic and reason. However, the process of logic and reason isn’t attractive to people because it is devoid from any outside emotional influence – so less people follow the logical method (what is true) and more people follow the emotional method (what I want to be true) of the modern culture. Thus, the question of what we want to be true is answered by flawed feelings – they are influenced by an outside source. Conversely, the question of what is true is answered by rational thinking – which is a view into the mind of God.

What should attract us to Christianity is that it is a journey into what is true; not what we want to be true. And this journey into what is true is naturally going to cut in the opposite directions of our feelings of what we want to be true.

So, now we need to ask where does the truth come from? Given that we can see that most people’s (although people won’t admit this) idea of what they want to be true comes from their internal feelings and desires, we begin to see the problem. As Aquinas points out, feeling is not a way to get a truth. Feeling by definition is a response to the truth. No one uses their feelings to solve a mathematical problem. Feeling is not used as a way to physically cure a disease. Real authentic feelings come to us after one discovers the truth. For example, you hear the factual news that someone has died, and then your feelings of sadness and grief kick in. Feeling does not discover fact. Feeling is a reaction to facts. There is an old Chinese proverb that says fact and feeling are two men walking on top of a wall. As long as fact is in front of feeling everything is okay, and both men keep walking. If feeling jumps ahead of fact, both men will fall off the wall. So, we need truth first and then our real feelings will follow.

If you think about, there is no way following the desires of what we want to be true will ever satisfy a person. When you have hundreds of different people all chasing a hundred different opinions of what they want to be true, you will be pulled in so many directions it is enough to drive a person crazy. I am not concerned with hearing people’s ideas of what they want to be true. I want what is true in order to hang my life on something stable and concrete; not something every changing and coming from all directions. Deep down everyone wants to know the truth. Deep down our emotions crave the truth. Truth is more important than any other positive virtue. To show this, all we have to do is ask why we don’t believe in Santa Clause anymore. When we were young, and we believed in Santa Clause, it brought us two very ideal virtues in life. Believing in Santa Clause made us happy and good. Now, being happy and being good are important attributes a person should want. So, why don’t we believe in Santa Clause anymore? We should because by doing so we receive the virtues of happiness and goodness. We don’t believe in Santa Clause because it is not true. Therefore, truth trumps everything.

We can now understand that the question of what you want to be true was implanted in you by a false source that merely played off your emotions. Conversely, the question of what is true was implanted in you by the very entity that created you – God. Thus, the quest to go after what you want to be true is flawed and the quest to go after what is true is noble. Indeed, the craving for what is truth was embedded in you by God. Like it or not we are all hard wired for God, thus, we are hard wired for the truth. Sadly, if we replace other things with God, and we replace the search for what is true for what we want to be true, we will be in an endless state of dis-satisfaction.

The false entity in the pop culture doesn’t follow what is true, it follow what is new. The question, what is “new” has nothing to do with what is “true.” Because what is new implies that something changes, these two questions cut in the opposite direction. Let’s take a truth statement that 2+2=4. Now, does the truth that 2+2=4 ever change? If a mathematician were to declare that this truth statement just changed and 2+2=5, would this “new” statement line up with the truth? Of course not. So, to get at what is true has nothing to do with the question of what is new.

Jesus talked firmly about the truth. When Pilate famously questioned Jesus and asked him who he was, Jesus could have said many different things such as: “I am God in human form,” or “I am the King of all kings,” or “I am the savior of the entire world.” All of this is correct, but what Jesus said to Pilot was, “I have come into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who hears the truth hears me.” (John 18:37). Then, earlier he said “I am the way and the truth (John 14:6). He also said, “If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8: 31-32 see also John 17:17). When Paul famously quotes the love passage in 1 Corinthians, he said love “rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corin 13:6). In fact, the word “truth” appears over 200 times in the Bible.

Also, as Aquinas shows when people follow what they want to be true of course what they want to be true is not going to be uncomfortable or suggest distress in any way. One thing all of humanity can agree on is that we want to avoid suffering at any cost. Therefore, when we follow what we want to be true, it is merely following a manufactured story in our head so as to avoid suffering. However, when we follow what is true, we will naturally experience agony. After all, this idea fits perfectly with Jesus message as Jesus’ life and teaching was built around suffering. Throughout the Gospels Jesus teaches that when his followers give up their way of thinking for his way of thinking, it will entail much suffering and hardship (see Matthew 16:24-25, 10:38-39, Luke 9:23, 14:27, 17:33, John 12:25). We can understand that giving up what we want to be true will be a difficult and humbling experience. However, by giving up what we want to be true, we will begin to see the hidden beauty of the truth.

I offer the Aquinas approach to ask not what do we want to be true, but to ask what is true. Yes, it is hard to give up what we want to be true. For some, it takes many years to do this. But, when we do as Jesus declares, “the truth will set you free.” Free from what? Free from us. Free from what we want to be true -our desires and feelings. If we are flawed, then we can expect our concept of what we want to be true is flawed as well. And when we finally receive the truth, we’ll be free at peace, and fully content.

feeling

So, true happiness comes from the truth. Truth comes from outside our flawed human feelings. Using our feelings to get to the truth is like using a map of Italy for directions to drive from Chicago to Nashville – it’s a bad guide. While the truth may at first be difficult to accept, the truth is needed precisely because it frees us from our defective human thoughts and desires of what we want to be true. If as Christianity declares our thoughts are messed up, then of course our messed up thoughts will revolt against the medicine of the truth. No sickness likes the solution to remove the sickness. The truth will crush our flawed feelings and give us the real authentic feelings. The truth will give us our real self. The truth will indeed set us free.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s