Jesus is dragged before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. Jewish leaders accuse Him of committing treason against Rome by proclaiming Himself a king.
Pilate says to Jesus, “Are You a king then?”
Jesus answers, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”
Pilate replies, “What is truth?” (John 18:28-38).
“What is truth?” Pilate may have said this sarcastically. He may have been stating a rhetorical question, since he and Jesus were engaged in a somewhat philosophical discussion. Or it may have been a weary comment from a disillusioned man who had become hopeless and cynical. No matter, this question is vital to anyone who wishes to find reason and purpose to life.
“What is truth?” We live in a society in which truth is seen as relative. A common argument is, “What might be ‘true’ for you may not be ‘true’ for me. After all, ‘truth’ is based on personal feelings and to deny the validity of feelings is to be narrow-minded and bigoted.”
Increasingly, in our society if someone doesn’t accept the “truth” of the subjective, personal experience of the homosexual as virtuous then he is “homophobic,” a word implying mental illness. It wasn’t that long ago that homosexual behavior was viewed by most Christians as unnatural and immoral.
Truth has become synonymous with tolerance. Many today deny the biblical truth that sexual experimentation before marriage is biologically and emotionally unhealthy. They claim that the biblical view is, at best, Victorian and, at worst, trying to suppress nature itself. The biblical teaching that human sexuality is to be reserved for marriage is looked down upon as intolerant.
But is subjective experience the only determinate of reality? If a person truly believes he can stop a runaway train with his bare hands does his belief create reality, or does he jump on the tracks and get run over by the train?
“What is truth?”
Revolutionary ideas of truth
Many of the concepts of truth found in the postmodern world are rooted in three revolutionary ideas of the 19th century.
The first powerful concept is evolution—the theory that all life, including humankind, is the outcome of a natural, mindless progression from lower to more complicated forms of life. Evolution removes the need for a Creator and makes science the arbiter of truth.
A second philosophy that has shaped the thinking of many Europeans, and more people in the United States than most would like to admit, is communism. The effects of the teachings of Karl Marx on Western society are greater than many realize, especially in our institutions of higher learning. The political system called communism appears to have failed in Eastern Europe, but many of its philosophies are alive and well.
Marx once said, “Society is not based on the law… Rather, law must be based on society… Any attempted assertion of the eternal validity of laws continually clashes with present needs.”
This concept sees rules and boundaries as only the means to an end. There is no absolute truth, only the shifting sand of moral relativism with the agenda of the state being the ultimate good.
Marx also referred to religion as the opium of the people. He wrote, “The basis of irreligious criticism is this: man makes religion; religion does not make man. Religion is indeed man’s self-consciousness and self-awareness so long as he has not found himself or has lost himself again… The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo… It is the task of history, therefore, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.”
A third powerful influence is psychoanalysis. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t good therapists helping people deal with emotional problems and mental illness, but it is difficult to underestimate the antibiblical impact some in this field have perpetrated on our society. Many popular psychological theories promote premises that see human beings only in biological terms. They ignore the biblical revelation that many human emotional problems are rooted in spiritual sickness.
Christianity has also been influenced by these philosophical trends; and in some cases, Christians have been leading the way. It’s not unusual for religious leaders in today’s world to see the Bible as anachronistic, at best; others see it as downright oppressive. Christian churches once claimed to be the beacons of biblical truth. What happened?
True Christianity is based on the belief that there is absolute truth. When we look at the Bible, we discover a number of principles about truth:
1. Truth is absolute by the will of God.
God not only reveals Himself as the one true God, but also as the God who determines what is true and false. Jesus says in John 4:23, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” If we really want to discover truth, we must be willing to believe that it is the Creator who determines truth from falsehood—not our own emotions or intellectual theories.
2. Evil, or sin, is the enemy of truth.
The biblical definition of sin outlines what is false and hurtful to human beings. Truth is an understanding of reality that ultimately determines thoughts, morality and actions.
3. Truth is revealed by God in the life of Christ and in the word of Scripture.
In John 17:17 Christ prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.”
Moral truth is contained, then, in moral teachings, or law, given by God. Some of these laws are discovered, lost and rediscovered in various cultures from generation to generation. Since these laws define the reality of life as ordained by the Creator, they exist whether we acknowledge them or not. The consequences of sin are just as inescapable whether committed knowingly or in ignorance.
The foundation of the law is God Himself. By trusting in Him and acting according to what He has commanded, we don’t have to experience the painful effects of sin.
Jesus said, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).
This simple teaching by Jesus Christ forms the basis of all truth. There is a choice between simply going on the way you have been and turning towards God. It’s up to you.