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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.”

perspective: a clue for Pilate

Jesus presented Pilate with a contrast to the falsehoods against Jesus which were made by the Jews to Pilate. Truth, unlike falsehoods, is to be heard and listened to if one is to know the truth. It does not appear, at least from the text, that Pilate grasped the clues or 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:

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

Jesus gave Pilate a small but significant clue when he referred to the reason for which he had come into the world, namely, that truth is a perspective. How, you may ask is truth a perspective? 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 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 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 not mere philosophic coffee table talk.

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 sample passages from the gospel of John is that truth is not so much objective, subjective, experiential or absolute as much as it is a perspective. 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.

The single, brief clue which Jesus declared to Pilate, for this reason I have come into the world, was to call Pilate’s attention to the past from where Jesus claimed as his place of origin. His place of origin was not this world. The purpose, or reason, for the life of Jesus was revealed and lived out openly and publicly long before the falsehoods which Pilate heard against Jesus. It was that, I should testify to the truth in this present life, in this present world. These two clues on the perspective of truth were to suffice for the unbelieving Pilate. He was not to hear the testimony from Jesus that He had come from the Father 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?” But Jesus gave him no answer.

those who listen to the truth

What is this truth which Jesus declared makes free those who know? It is when one can look at their past, present and future with the full acknowledgment and acceptance of their deeds, both good and bad, and cease to be enslavement to those things any longer. Why is that such knowledge of truth has such power to make one free? It is because while none of us remember our birth in the past and are alive today; death is the appointment every one of has in the future. It is nothing more than our response to the evil we committed in the past or are doing in the present which is cause either for our confidence and joy or our misery and hopelessness.

Those who listen to the truth and understand the claims of Jesus concerning himself will whether in a moment of angst pose the same question to themselves: where did I come from? why am I here? where am I going?


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. Jesus declared that truth can make one free. Life without the strangulating grip of our past, present and future is to be free. Those who ponder and can relate without fear to all the parts 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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