I wonder what Pilate’s tone of voice was as he asked Jesus that famous question.
Sarcastic? Pensive? Scoffing?
If sarcastic, he probably thought Jesus’ claim to know the truth was worthy of contempt. Afterall, who can really know?
If pensive, he probably asked the question quite sincerely. Where can a truth-seeker go for the answer to such an ultimate enquiry? Maybe he wondered.
If scoffing, he probably couldn’t care less what was true. Truth becomes irrelevant when it is either unknowable or found in many forms – my truth, your truth, or some other truth. Who cares?
I suspect we are not supposed to know how he said it.
Because this world’s attitudes to truth have not changed for millennia and all of them boil down to that same question – the one Pilate asked Jesus in Jerusalem thousands of years ago.
ACL’s motto is “Truth Made Public.”
And ever since we minted it, it has been challenged by everyone from committed Christians to hostile critics.
One argues that, in a world where people believe truth is subjective and variable, to speak about truth is impractical.
Another simply says, “whose truth?”
Others say it’s arrogant to claim a knowledge of truth.
Then there are queries about whether people have an appetite for this thing called “truth.” Some observers believe that many people just don’t care what is true – it’s not important to them.
And of course, it had to happen: someone said, “What is truth?”
It is a bad sign.
Scripture shows that the “stumbling” of truth is a hallmark of a society in trouble.
I wonder if we know just how serious a malady this is.
In our western context, it has been brewing for many years.
The most devastating destroyer of truth in recent decades would have to be the ideological disease now known as “postmodernism.” A way of thinking which could be expertly sown into education curricula, popular culture, universities, and other institutions without much resistance.
That’s mostly because the early onset of postmodern thinking appeared very attractively.
Much like the glossy, tasty, pleasing fruit that Adam and Eve once ogled, death and disaster often look good on the surface.
So, we largely stood back amidst the rise and rise of notions like self-esteem, identity, self-worth, vulnerability, self-love, self-expression… Nobody seemed to bother much about the narrative of “self” until they saw a selfie.
And we stayed sitting down as the psychological sciences attacked negative emotions like “guilt,” alleging they served no purpose, merely preventing people from achieving psychological health and wholeness.
As virtues like compassion, love, kindness, and grace became untethered from objective standards and spoke more to feelings, primarily being understood in terms of affirming people rather than God, we slept through the change.
When education curricula stopped telling kids what was right, preferring to ask them for their responses, feelings, and interpretations, we didn’t suspect a thing.
As churches started avoiding negativity, preferring “positive” messages which focus on the now reimagined ideas of “affirming” love and grace, we thought that was Christianity.
It was a while before anyone realised that the rebellion against authority seen in the 60s and 70s was probably a little overdone when it meant children were no longer disciplined, but left to make choices which were only mildly disapproved of lest we upset them.
Then one day we woke up to a new world.
A world in which god is not dead, because I am god.
A world in which truth is not dead, because I am the truth.
A world in which I am a little creator – I make the rules, I set the standards, I decide reality. Even if it means I make myself a woman.
A world characterised by spectacular confusion, the many deadly symptoms of narcissism, moral decadence, and hatred of the true God.
A world characterised by the total re-engineering of truth. From eternal, changeless truth to truth as I see it.
The modern mindset says there are roughly 7 Billion truths in the world and 25 Million in Australia.
All the seeds of modern thinking say that the measure of all things is my own personal experience of the world. Either that is truth, or the truth is irrelevant to me.
Everything about culture is now screaming at me that right and wrong are mostly up to me. I just need to live in alignment with my true self and I will be doing right. And by the way, the greatest sin is to judge me for that.
In fact, if you love me, then you will affirm me and make me feel good about it.
You see how we ultimately worship the thing we call “truth.”
It sets in motion our behaviour, it calibrates our moral compass, it’s the thing we set our heart on, it’s the thing we preach to others, it’s the standard we cling to, it’s the standard we live by, it’s the standard we pin our life and our hope on.
The postmodernists reinvented truth – and with it, the world – when they said it's you, not God.
And so, we live in a world where people ask, “what is truth?” Because they either don’t know, don’t care, or actively despise it.
But even if “truth has stumbled in the public squares,” and “they abhor him who speaks the truth in the gates” as Isaiah and Amos once said, truth remains the answer.
I searched scripture for references to “truth” to find that justice is only possible where there is truth. Right and wrong can only be known in truth’s light. Peace is only possible when truth is upheld. Grace is fully expressed where truth is fully expressed. Truth purifies and sanctifies. True love rejoices in truth. Salvation is only possible through truth.
Truth is the nemesis of Satan, the father of lies who does not stand in the truth. Where truth is, he cannot be found (and where there is no truth, he is there to kill and destroy).
These all are taken from scripture, but this one is my favourite, from Christ Himself: “the truth shall set you free.”
But all this is only so because “truth” is of God.
Each member of the Trinity is individually referred to in this way, whether the “God of Truth,” the “Spirit of Truth,” or Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
When unshackled from truth, we are finally unshackled from God Himself.
He is the maker of all that is true, and from Him all truth proceeds. Creation itself is governed by His truth, whether laws of motion or gravity, or the calibration of subatomic forces.
But when it comes to the noblest of His creatures – man and woman – He holds His truth up to us and asks us to follow it. He reveals it in His world, His word, His Son, His Spirit, our conscience, and the gospel.
And by calling us into His truth, to know it, to keep it, and to proclaim it, He calls us to justice, righteousness, peace, grace, purity, love, freedom… and ultimately Himself.
Truth is not only real, but it matters.
In a generation that boldly and instinctively says, “What is truth?” I can think of nothing more needful and urgent to boldly proclaim.