The recent discussions with Marcus highlight an interesting challenge for Christians. How do we discuss the things Jesus said about truth when talking to folks who have a fundamentally different understanding of what truth is?
Folks like Markus don’t believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth and even if there was, there is really no way we could ever know it anyway. Because Christians belong to another school of thought that says that truth is absolute, fixed and can be known, we can come off appearing intolerant, judgmental, and even bigoted.
Now some of those labels have definitely been earned by some folks on our side of the discussion. But the question remains how do we have meaningful discussions when we don’t even agree on the terms we are discussing?
Many folks seem to think that this shift by many away from the idea of absolute truth is something new because it is part of postmodern philosophy. But differing understandings of truth have been around at least since Jesus’ day.
There is an interesting exchange recorded in the Bible between Pilate and Jesus during his trial. Take a look.
Pilate said, â€œSo you are a king?â€
Jesus responded, â€œYou say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.â€
â€œWhat is truth?â€ Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, â€œHe is not guilty of any crime.
Pilate asks Jesus what truth is. But it doesn’t appear to be a sincere question. He certainly doesn’t put any effort into getting it answered. It is almost dismissive, like Pilate is saying, “Look, Bub. All this blah, blah, blah you keep spouting about truth is a waste of time. We all know truth not something fixed that we can actually know. Besides truth isn’t important here anyway.”
Jesus took a different view of truth. In the four gospel accounts, Jesus is recorded saying the word “truth” over 100 times. Most often he says it in the phrase, “I tell you the truth” when he prefaced some particularly important point, for example when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.”
Jesus also said, â€œYou are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.â€
To him the subject of truth was fundamentally important to those who would follow after him. He said that not only was truth knowable, but when we found it, truth would be the very source of freedom for us.
And here’s the kicker. Jesus said that truth wasn’t some abstract set of thoughts or ideas that we had to hunt for and try to assemble. He rocks our understanding of the whole concept of truth by claiming that he himself is that truth. Jesus said of himself, â€œI am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Philosophers go around hunting for truth as though it is a collection of ideas, when in actuality the thing they are looking for is a person. Is it any wonder so many miss it?
When you read through the gospel accounts with an understanding that when Jesus speaks of the truth he is really speaking of himself, statements like the one he made to Pilate above take on a whole different level of meaning.
And that also may explain why folks like Marcus may be offended when we quote scriptures such as the one I mentioned in The Source of Wisdom, which says, “Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.”
From the perspective that truth is relative and unknowable, than any statement that claims to state truth in absolute terms must be offensive.
But that still doesn’t answer the question of how to have a meaningful dialogue with someone whose understanding of truth is fundamentally different from our own. Is it even possible?
It doesn’t appear Jesus made too much headway with Pilate. Should we even try?
Or should we simply state the truth, allow others to take it or leave it, and move on?
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