what is truth?

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This was originally published April 5, 2010 on Facebook as a Note. But I publish it here, to help tell about my faith journey.

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i find the question ‘what is truth?’ to be the biggest question anyone could ask. and the question is probably most famously attached to pontius pilate found in the gospel of john (18.38). as i was watching gibson’s the passion of the christ i was drawn by pontius pilate and claudia and their dialogue about truth:

Pontius Pilate: What is truth, Claudia? Do you hear it, recognize it when it is spoken?
Claudia Procles: Yes, I do. Don’t you?
Pontius Pilate: How? Can you tell me?
Claudia Procles: If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you.
Pontius Pilate: Truth… do you want to know what my truth is, Claudia? I’ve been putting down rebellions in this rotten outpost for eleven years. If I don’t condemn this man I know Caiphas will start a rebellion. If I do condemn him, then his followers may. Either way, there will be bloodshed. Caeser has warned me, Claudia. Warned me twice. He swore that the next time the blood would be mine. That is my truth!

everything beyond the inclusion of the question: ‘what is truth?’ seems an artful interpretation of what might have happened; that aside, i found their dialogue imbued with a profound and perplexed inquiry for truth. please don’t side-track the discussion with ‘possible’ motives of pilate’s question (whether influenced by his position, his belief structure, or his pressure point of trying to figure out what was happening with jesus, or any other possibility). i simply want to ponder the depth of this thematic interaction:

Pontius Pilate: What is truth, Claudia? Do you hear it, recognize it when it is spoken?
Claudia Procles: Yes, I do. Don’t you?
Pontius Pilate: How? Can you tell me?
Claudia Procles: If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you.

i will return later and offer my thoughts on the question ‘what is truth?’ but for now what are your thoughts…

[over several days, people posted their comments]

[On April 8, 2010, I posted this comment:]
Before I address/answer any posts, allow me to revisit my note. As I revisit the note, I will not violate my own request of “please don’t side-track the discussion with ‘possible’ motives for pilate’s question…” but I will discuss the dialogue between Pilate and Claudia.

“What is truth?” is a question that has perplexed many throughout time. Let us consider Pilate for a moment. He did ask the ultimate question “What is truth?” but the dialogue with Claudia, as shown in the movie, is of great interest.

I am going to rephrase the question Pilate asked Claudia “Claudia, do you hear truth? Do you recognize truth when truth is spoken?” She answered that she both heard and recognized truth when truth was spoken. Pilate then asked her “How? Can you tell me?” Her answer is striking, “Pilate, if you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you [the truth, any truth].”

According to the movie dialogue, Claudia recognized Pilate’s problem, Pilate himself would not hear or recognize truth because he was unwilling to listen to truth. So even if someone presented the truth, the information that Pilate really needed, then he still would not recognize it. According to Claudia, Pilate was his own problem.

But there is another issue about Pilate that is interesting. Pilate had painted for himself a truth. The truth that he had painted for himself was about how no matter his decision there would be bloodshed, this seems to be a proper conclusion based on the evidence of the trial. Pilate also concluded that if there was bloodshed, his own blood would be shed. However, this is not necessarily a given truth. Consider stepping into a street with a bus coming at you, the outcome: either the bus hits you or it will not. Is that true? Whether Pilate or our Bus question, death seems to be the supposed outcome. Is that true? According to what we call the truth of God’s word death does not have to be true. People were raised from the dead many times. So death, while death, was not death at all.

According to the Scriptures, Matthew 27.19, Pilate’s wife suffered a dream and informed Pilate to leave the innocent alone. Interesting dialogue from Pilate’s wife to Pilate. The Gospels reveal that Pilate washed his hands of the moment, but one could argue that in doing so he did not truly leave the innocent alone, at a minimum, he had the innocent flogged. So we are back to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?”

Life sometimes places us in a catch twenty-two and there appears to be no way out. In fairness to Pilate, this seems to be his situation. So what is truth?

To answer the question, “What is truth?” truth must be something that can stand against all kinds of barrages. And after what is claimed to be truth has withstood everything from flaming fire to weapons fire, and still remain intact and sound, then it must be true. If the ultimate first source of truth can be determined, the all truth flows from that fountain, regardless if it is existential truth or scientific truth.

What is truth? To begin answering that question I like to point to Ravi Zacharias’ astute observation that truth has to consistently and coherently address four main concerns: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

Origin – Where did I come from?
Meaning – What am I to do? What is my purpose?
Morality – How am I to behave?
Destiny – Where am I going?

To his four fantastic categories, I would like to add one more: Identity – Who am I?

While stating “God’s Word is truth” is accurate, the question one must answer is why? Second question that must be asked: if one accepts God’s Word as truth, then why so many different interpretations and applications? To glibly reply, “it is the work of the adversary” is not a sufficient answer, because it belies the reality that you, or I, or both of us could be mistaken about the truth, God’s Word.

Why accept God’s Word as truth? Foregoing all the apologetics for the Bible surviving time and history, and the Bible offering evidences of scientific truth, the Bible consistently and coherently addresses all five categories: origin, meaning, morality, destiny, and identity. These categories deal with existential reality. The meaning of “me”. The meaning of “you”.

What philosophy or way of life, other than the Scriptures, says that:
human origin is deliberate and special?
human destiny is a knowable reward or knowable punishment?
human morality is knowable, identifiable, and prudent?
human meaning is purposeful, intended, and not an accident of atomic collision?
human identity is knowable and viable, you are not alone or a lone voice?

For those who have accepted the Scriptures as the truth, then why do we argue about certain aspects, split because of differences and then condemn others to hell because of their interpretation? Simply, there are those that seem to not be doing the very things that God has told his people to do. Question is: if you are a believer and you have condemned others for their actions, do you yourself obey God in every respect? That answer has to be a sobering, no. Hence the very poignant “judge not” and “mercy triumphs over judgment”.

So what is truth?

Scripture speaks of and addresses moral reality. What God’s people are to do. What God’s people are not to do. By the way, those who have not chosen to walk according to God’s instructions, while technically “sinners”, simply are not going to be held to the same standard, even within the world. When a person choices to walk according to God’s morality, they have chosen a hard path to walk.

Scripture speaks of the reality of origins, but does not go into specific or scientific detail as to how. Whether all humanity agrees on origins is not the point. Those who believe in the Bible as God’s Word have accepted by faith, by trust, that God laid the foundation of the world. If someone does not believe in the Bible or that there can be an all-powerful creator is not the point. Do I, you, as believers, trust that God created the world and people. For those who are skeptics about the Bible and God Himself, one can still argue that the Bible offers the best answer for the origins of human existence.

Scripture speaks of and addresses the reality of destiny. This perhaps is the most difficult because it begs the question about hell. While there are various portions within all of my answer that could demand their own section, this one surely does. Let’s just address one issue, if you or I are believers in God then we had better be mindful of Who He Is, and What He Expects otherwise our individual soul is in jeopardy; forget about the destiny of other fella, let us make sure our own destiny is not jeopardized.

Scripture speaks of and addresses meaning. There are plenty of ways to find meaning in life, what you do defines you, it is what gives you meaning. Living according to the Scriptures allows a painter to find meaning, the engineer to find meaning, the janitor to find meaning, the housewife, the husband, the father, the mother, and the child. Meaning is the fulfillment and actualization of the innerperson, the soul and the spirit. While it can be argued that meaning can be found outside of the God of the Bible, the other categories must still remain intact. If meaning is found by sacrificing others, then that is inconsistent and incoherent, senseless as in without proper reasoning.

Scripture speaks of and addresses identity. Who are you? What you do? Maybe. But that does not seem to be how the Apostle Paul identified himself. He admits that he was called to be an apostle and was an apostle that was born out of season, but he identified himself as a slave to Christ. What is your identity? How does God, through his word, identify you, and allow you to identify yourself?

What is truth?

Truth is complex. Truth is not simple. While the Bible’s message is simple, the Bible is in no way simplistic and neither is God.

The Scriptures reveal that God works both in the natural and in the supernatural. If I as a believer believe that God is supernatural, can use his supernaturalness, but has chosen to refrain from using his supernaturalness, then I have, intellectually, been incoherent and inconsistent with Scripture that testify that God’s essence is the same because He changes not.

The question is what do we do when the truths of the Bible go against what we want, or what we prefer? Perhaps another question (aimed at self-reflection) is while God’s Word is true, has it been misunderstood by me, you, us? I close with Claudia’s statement, “If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you.”