In our weekly bible study, we were studying John 18 where it says;
Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world – to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked, “What is truth?”
We ended up asking the very same question Pilate does here; what is truth?
My brain doesn’t necessarily work quickly enough when put “on the spot” to be able to think of the best way to formulate a response, but I thought I would write down some simple thoughts about “truth” now that I can (hopefully) articulate at least one of them.
While there are a few words translated as “truth” in the bible, the most important one — and the one used in this scripture verse — is alētheia (ἀληθής), which literally means “unconcealed” or “not forgotten”. While it means something that is true, real, or genuine, the implication is that something hidden has been revealed.
For me this fits very nicely with what I consider to be at the core of what the gospel is — Jesus came to reveal God.
He came to reveal what God has always been like.
He came to take what had been hidden (since the foundation of the world) and “unconceal” it.
He came to show us that the way of the Kingdom of God is the real, genuine way the cosmos actually works.
He came to demonstrate that self-sacrificial love and that faithfulness to the way of living he shows us, which is found most beautifully described in the sermon on the mount, are the path to true success.
He came to invite us to rethink everything (repent) in light of the fact that the Kingdom of God has burst into the Kingdom of this world and turned everything upside down.
My one concern with any conversation about truth is that we often have a tendency to equate “knowing the truth” with “being right” and the two are miles from the same thing.
A person can be certain they are right and yet still act in a way that is anything but a reflection of what God’s Kingdom is truly like*. In fact, certainty that we know what’s right is one of the quickest ways to ensure we do not act faithfully according to the way of living that is grounded in the truth (as centuries of Church history shows us).
For a Christian, truth can only be found in one place — Jesus himself. He reveals what God is like and his life is an example of what living in the truth looks like. And he said he would send us the Spirit to lead us into that same truth.
In that way, it seems to me that “truth” has less to do with specific actions (although these are often important) and more to do with a way of living. It is a way of acting within the world that is consistent with the character and nature of God himself — however that may work itself out in our daily actions.
At the end of the discussion this week, we were asked if we “really believe that what you believe is really real?”
While I think that is a fair question, I think it needs a little pushback with a second question; are you really interested in being led into “all truth” if you are not willing to question that what you currently believe may not be true?
I would argue that it is essential to hold both belief and doubt at the same time in order to follow Jesus. We need to have the faith to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the life and that he will lead us and show us how to be and act in the world because we believe he is God and that he is King. This is the heart of the gospel.
But, at the same time, we need to doubt what we believe about how the world works and how we have been told God wants us to act in the world. We may need to adjust these beliefs to better align ourselves with the ways of the Kingdom of God. We need to focus on truth rather than “being right” and we need to question the systems of the world which cause us to act in ways that are not loving and just.
This is how we will know the truth and it will set us free.
* If I could speak with the tongues of men and angels and don’t have love …