When we rang in the new year on January 1st, no one recognized that ringing as the sound of a trip gong, but apparently that’s what it was. A deafening ”ding!” signifying the start of a cage match that nobody signed up for. At least it feels that way. Like we are all unwilling participants in a no holds barred brawl that is well beyond our weight class. Going toe-to-toe with a hard-to-identify opponent.
Is it the virus? The racial injustices? Politics?
All of these things are certainly on the fight card, and they should absolutely be confronted—but doesn’t it all feel bigger much than them? We’re taking Ali-like swings at everything we see coming against us, but I can’t help but wonder if we’re just shadowboxing. Throwing combination punches at public health crises, social ills, and political controversies, while the main event is happening in another ring entirely.
Before I take this metaphor too far (have I already?) let me come out with it. I believe we are grappling with what to believe. We are fighting for Truth in the age of truthlessness, and 2020 has shined a dingy spotlight on our dilemma. It’s a problem that goes deeper than asking ”What is true?” and demands an answer to the question, ”What is truth?”.
“What Is Truth?”
This question is at the center some of of the most profound moments in Scripture. It was lingering in the air when the serpent lied to Eve. It was the driving force behind Solomon’s extravagant search for meaning. And it was in the room with Jesus’ disciples as they gathered to mourn his death, wondering if it was all a religious hoax.
In perhaps its most explicit appearance, this question plays a central role in Jesus’ encounter with Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
Jesus is brought to Pilate by Jewish leaders who want him put to death. Pilate questions their motives, then brings Jesus into a private room to interrogate him. Is he the King of the Jews? What has he done to deserve execution? Why do his own people want him dead?
Jesus replies by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world,” which prompts Pilate to exclaim, “So, you are a king!” Jesus is seemingly trapped by his own words. But not quite.
He answers, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
This agitates Pilate who quickly retorts, “What is truth?”, and leaves the room before Jesus can answer his mind-bending question. But as it turns out, Jesus had already given the answer before Pilate even asked the question.
”Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Another translation words it, “All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” (NLT)
And another: “Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.” (MSG)
However you want to word it, what is not lost in translation is this: all Truth eventually leads to Jesus, and only Jesus can lead us into all Truth.
He makes it clear that he did not come into the world to build a kingdom here. He is not interested in earthly titles, he is interested in eternal Truth. Something so connected to him that you can’t separate the two.
You can’t have the Truth without Jesus and you can’t have Jesus without the Truth. If you think you have one but you don’t need the other, you are deceived. If you think you have both, but your life hasn’t changed, you likely have neither.
There is a line in the sand, and the truth lies only on one side—the one Jesus is standing on.
This is not a license for self-proclaimed Christians to say ”because we believe it, it’s true.” Many harmful lies have been perpetrated by manipulative people invoking the name of Jesus. Nothing is true simply because a certain person believes it and says everyone else should. That’s what makes real Truth—and thus the message of Jesus—so powerful. It balks at groupthink. It’s true regardless of who believes it.
I am well aware that I am a Christian telling you that Christian things are true, and thus I could be one of those manipulative people spewing harmful lies. The difference is that I don’t want you to believe it because I said so. I would hope for you to follow the example of the Bereans in Acts 17 and do your own work (through prayer, Bible study, and research) to come to these conclusions independent of my or anyone else’s faith in them.
Side note: There is more documented evidence of the resurrection of Jesus than there is for just about any other historical event of its time. I’ve heard it said that if you cannot believe the resurrection based on historical evidence then you cannot believe any other fact of history. But I digress.
No matter what side of the line you’re on, there is no escaping the fact that there is indeed a line. But unfortunately, the line gets blurrier every year.
In January of 2018, Oprah Winfrey gives a speech at the Golden Globes in which she tells the world that “speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” Blur.
That summer, Michiko Kakutani publishes a book titled The Death of Truth; it quickly becomes a New York Times Bestseller. Blur.
A month later, Rudy Guilani is interviewed on Meet the Press where he infamously asserts that “truth isn’t truth”. Blur.
And that’s just three of the more culturally prominent blurs from that year.
If you want something more historical, we can go back to America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which speaks of “self-evident” truths about “inalienable rights” that at the time were only evident for some while alienating the rest.
From popular culture to politics, we have created a society where “truth” is everywhere and yet Truth is not welcome anywhere. We individualize it and compartmentalize it to serve our own purposes. But real Truth is not so malleable. It stands its ground. It strips our hearts and sifts our motives to serve the purposes of God.
Though the Bible is clear that the things warring against us are faceless, we are always in the middle of the perpetual face-off between the three faces of truth: customized truth, cultural truth, and covenant truth.
Many of us approach the world like it’s a philosophical buffet. Walking around looking for something to stimulate our senses and appease our appetites. We pick and choose what seems good to us personally, piling our plates high with food that looks much better than it tastes.
This kind of customized truth promotes indulgence, scoffs at self-control, and always promises more than it can deliver. It’s glittery and glamorous, but it’s fools gold.
It also leaves no room for the wonder and mystery of God that the Bible speaks about (Romans 11:33-34, 1 Timothy 3:16, Colossians 2:1-3). When we seek to define our own truth, we want every question answered. The pressure is on us to put each puzzle piece in place instead of seeing the empty spaces as opportunities to trust the God who holds all the pieces in his hand.
The closest I’ve ever come to “speaking my truth” has been the moments I’ve simply said, “I don’t know”. It’s when I stop seeking to know everything that I realize the beauty of knowing hardly anything at all. Knowing what I do know—the basics of God’s goodness and mercy—helps me to trust him with all the things I don’t.
When we customize the truth to suit our personal preferences, we give ourselves the comfort we desire at the expense of the trust we need.
But even in the age of “click, like, share,” trusting God has yet to go viral.
What culture affirms as truth is constantly changing, creating an environment too unstable to accept an unchanging God. It shifts the puzzle pieces around as much as possible, diverting our attention from the empty spaces, but never offering us a complete picture. When we rely on the waves of culture to define the truth, we’ll always be left wondering, “Where’s the rest of it?”.
Culture keeps secrets, even from itself. That’s the only way it can keep up the facade. Cultural truths are often spiritual lies in masquerade, and they can put on a rather convincing show. But real Truth has a no-mask policy that culture refuses to adhere to.
Even one spiritual lie has the power to destroy a life. But the good news is that spiritual Truth has the power to destroy every lie. Not simply because it opposes culture, but because it’s founded upon a covenant.
The Truth of God as revealed in his character, his word, and his Son, is sealed by a covenant. A literal a blood oath. It cannot be amended. It cannot be erased. It never contradicts itself. And it always tells the whole story.
Covenant Truth asks us to take off our masks, reveal our brokenness, and confess our need for restoration. In exchange, we receive the promises that false truths advertise but never make good on—spiritual freedom, unconditional love and all-surpassing peace.
These are the priceless gifts of Truth that far outweigh the glamour of believing a lie. Gifts that we can only receive when we surrender to the real Truth. The Truth that took the form of a man, died a tortuous death, and demonstrated its power by rising from the grave.
God has made it radically clear that Truth is not a principle, it’s a person. And just as he was in that side room in Pilate’s palace, He remains poised in the face of our questions and derisions. We may turn our backs on him before he can speak another word, but we must still come to terms with the words he has already spoken.
We can shame it all we want to. We can marginalize it, ostracize it, even crucify it. But real Truth will always have the final word. We would do well to resist customized truth and reject cultural truth in favor of the covenant Truth which is yet undefeated.
We may not have picked this fight, but we’re in it now. And there is only one way out—the way of a first-century Jewish rabbi who already fought this fight to the death and won.