Monday, November 3, 2014

What is truth?

an angst filled moment
During the final hours of his life on earth Jesus was shuttled from one Jewish authority to another. Then, from one Roman official to another before finally standing to hear false accusations against him in a mock trial. One of those officials was Pontius Pilate, the governor. The night before Pilate’s wife had experienced a dream concerning Jesus. When she saw Jesus before her husband she went and urged Pilate not to have anything to do with Jesus and informed him that she had suffered in a dream which involved Jesus.

Pilate found himself in a predicament. If he released Jesus Pilate feared that he himself might be falsely accused by the Jews before Caesar of abetting the impostor king, Jesus. It was in this angst filled moment that Pilate, perhaps in a bit of hair-pulling exasperation, fired back this question in response to Jesus’ words:

What is truth?

What Pilate did not realize was that Jesus had just answered Pilate’s question before Pilate asked it.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

a clue for Pilate
Jesus presented Pilate with a contrast to the falsehoods which were made by the Jews against Jesus before Pilate. Truth, unlike falsehoods, demands a diligence to hear and listen if one is to understand the truth. It does not appear at least from the text that Pilate grasped the clues or the meaning of the words spoken by Jesus. If Pilate did not grasp the overt message of Jesus it was not because it was too complex or convoluted. Rather, it was more likely because he allowed himself to be distracted by the falsehoods spoken against Jesus:

Don’t you hear how many things they testify against you?”

Jesus gave Pilate a small but significant clue. Jesus stated that the reason for which he had come into the world was to testify to the truth. This present tense reason why he came into the world was the clue for Pilate. This small clue spoken by Jesus suggests there is something quite substantive about truth. Those words spoken to Pilate are intended just as much for our understanding, too. If we profess truth is relevant and that it is important to us shouldn’t we have an understanding beyond mere platitudes and slogans? How does your understanding of truth impact your decisions and actions in your proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Savior, in your relationships with co-workers, with your significant other, with your husband or wife on involving morality, justice, etc.?

platitudes and slogans
Here are some of those platitudes and slogans parroted as much by theists as by atheists. Truth is subjective. There are many truths. Truth is relative. Truth is objective. Truth is experiential and perhaps, or what some (theists in particular) tout as the trump card of them all; truth is absolute. All these, like so many slogans and catchy phrases make for great sound bites, but they do not reveal or convey an understanding about truth or of the truth.

the truth that frees
Truth is a message which reverberates throughout the gospel of John. It was to the Jews to whom Jesus made this well known declaration:

You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.

But John also relates numerous instances when Jesus defined truth over and over and those who listened, heard it. This is more than the talk of theology and philosophy at the coffee table.

The past: Jesus declared that he came from the Father
As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous; because I don’t seek my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me. (5:30)

the very works that I do, testify about me, that the Father has sent me. (5:36)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (6:38)

I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me. (7:29)

If God were your father, you would love me, for I came out and have come from God. For I haven’t come of myself, but he sent me. (8:42)

The present: Jesus declared why he was in the world
As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous; because I don’t seek my own will, but the will of my Father who sent me. (5:30)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. (6:38)

The future: Jesus declared where he was going
Then what if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (6:62)

Then Jesus said, “I will be with you a little while longer, then I go to him who sent me. (7:33)

Most certainly I tell you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and he will do greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. (14:12)

What emerges from these few passages from the gospel of John is that truth is something more than an objective claim, subjective claim, experiential view or an absolute claim. Jesus did not merely expound a lexicon definition of truth as much as he graphically demonstrated and exemplified truth through his own teaching ministry and his life. Many years ago I used to hear a radio program in the San Francisco Bay area which opened with this statement. Perspective: The relationship of parts to one another and although it was still to wander about in darkness it was a few years later when, by the Spirit, I came to this understanding.

Truth is a perspective
There was one single brief clue which Jesus declared to Pilate, for this reason I have come into the world. It was a clue intended to call Pilate’s attention to the present moment. It is unlikely that Pilate had heard much, if any, of the preaching of Jesus concerning the kingdom of heaven. It does not appear that Jesus intended to expound that message to Pilate at that moment. The only clue was that Jesus had come from a place of origin that was not of this world.

Jesus revealed the reason for his life openly and publicly long before the falsehoods which Pilate heard against Jesus. This single clue on the perspective of truth was the only clue for the unbelieving Pilate. He was not to hear the testimony from Jesus that He had come from the Father (past) or that he was going back to the Father. (future) Even later when Pilate became afraid when heard the Jews declare that Jesus had made himself the Son of God John relates that Pilate asked Jesus, Where are you from? Pilate's anxious inquiry was to learn more fully of that perspective concerning the past of the life of Jesus. But Jesus gave him no answer.

What the above quoted passages reveal is the fullness of the perspective that is truth. This is the perspective, that is, the truth which Jesus revealed through his own life and message. Jesus knew 1) where he came from (past), 2) why he was here (present), and 3) where he was going (future). This is the same perspective which he declared will make free those who know the truth. When a person reconciles those things they did or those things which were done to them in 1) the past, they can live in peace in 2) the present and the expectant hope of 3) the future of tomorrow.

those who listen to the truth
Why is this knowledge of truth that it has such power to make one free? It is that while none of us remember our birth in the past and are alive today, death is appointed to every one of us in the future. It is the power of nothing more than the grace of God by which we are able face the evil we committed in the past or are doing in the present. How we respond and accept that grace will determine either our new found confidence and joy or our continued misery and hopelessness.

Those who listen to the truth and understand the claims of Jesus concerning himself will readily recognize the angst created in their own hearts by these same questions to themselves: where did I come from? why am I here? where am I going?

Jesus declared that truth can make one free. Abundant life breaks the grip of our past, present and future is to make us free. Those who ponder and can relate without fear to the different aspects of their lives from their past, present and future are free.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.”

Peace to all.

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