Is there such a thing as real truth? Where can we find it?
The prisoner is violently dragged in and forced to stand before his inquisitor, his judge. A finely clothed man rises from his grand chair and slowly approaches the pitiful person before him. The shackled victim is bedraggled and worn, his hair matted with blood, his eyes betraying tears of pain and sorrow. He stands silently before his accuser. The official in the rich robe cross-examines him, giving the prisoner an opportunity to defend himself. But the prisoner says little, as though he knows it is futile and that his short existence is at an end.
Finally the judge grows angry with the lack of response. He reminds the prisoner that he has power over him, that he can have him executed with the snap of his fingers. His last words to the condemned man are “What is Truth?” The man does not answer and is led away unceremoniously to face his violent execution.
Is there such a thing as truth? Is it flexible, only to be used when it's convenient? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Do we really want to know truth or, are we happy to remain in ignorance or be misled?
Truth and lies affect us, no matter who we are. Human beings rely on truth, on accurate information. This can be true in little things like our food or clothes. For example, if we have an allergy, or we hate a certain ingredient, we need to know the truth about what is in our meals. If we are going to an important event, we need truthful opinions on the clothes we intend to wear, so that we are not humiliated and made to feel ridiculous. In relationships, truth is essential and when it is not there, the effects are extremely destructive to partners and children.
But “Truth” means different things to different people. For some truth is relative, depending on perspective. They may say that it is generally true that killing is wrong. but that, sometimes killing is justified, in self-defence. For others, truth is only required when absolutely necessary. They think it is okay to tell a “White lie” to protect someone or something.
So what then is “Truth?” Is it something tangible, a constant in the universe? Or is it like water, able to change shape and even dissapear?
On a more social level, many play around with the idea of truth. When we were young many of us may have heard the teasing comment “I am a liar, everything I say is a lie.” Yet this statement cannot be true because it is contradictory. If the person always lies, then he is lying about him always lying, so therefore he is telling the truth.
So where does this puzzle leave us? Let us briefly consider what truth is and where it can be found;
According to the dictionary, “truth” is defined as “That which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.” This helps us in our search for truth. But what is “real?” If you have ever listened to politicians speaking, you would have to believe that there is more than one reality. We have all heard the debates where one politician claims that the economy grew by 2.4%. Yet, the opoposing polictical party member will immediately claim that the economy shrunk by 0.3%. What is true? It does not take a great leap of the imagination to see that politics is very susceptible to interpretation and even outright distortion of facts, to suit the aims of the politician trying to gain votes. We would also be painfully aware of the history of deception so closely associated with politics, the misrepresentations and paranoia of tyrannical governments and leaders, the manipulation and rigging of votes in the USA, and the public expenses scandal in Britain. So, it is fair to say that politics is not the area we can find truth.
What about philosophy? Have the world's great thinkers and intellectual minds established what truth is? Philosophers in general dismiss the idea of truth, even though they rely on it in their everyday lives. Many modern philosophers do not accept the existence of truth in an absolute sense. They claim that truth is subjective and can be changed. One such expert once wrote “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” This is a sentiment that is supported by many philosophers and academics. Yet, this statement itself is a contradictory one. The statement “There is no absolute truth”, becomes an absolute truth! Perhaps the pull of the Pullitzer prize, or the prospect of being adored as a mastermind colours their interpretation of our world. No wonder Stephen Hawking was moved to write “Philosophy is dead.” At the other end of the spectrum, the civil rights leader, Ghandi was quoted as saying “In a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.” He obviously believed in an absolute truth which was true even when the majority did not accept it.
Can science provide the answer? It is true that fields such as mathematics and physics contain certain realities which are constant and real. 2 + 2 will always equal 4, and Pi will always measure 3.14. In physics it is established beyond doubt that E=MC2. Yet even in the noble field of science, where logic and facts should govern the objectives and outcomes, we still find misrepresentation and false reporting. Sometimes it is the clamour for prestige that can make someone propose facts that are untested or unsupported by evidence, or other people let commercial interest tamper with results of studies. So, while science itself can demonstrate realities, truths, those that operate in the sciences are not all above reproach. Furthermore, what we know today as science may change tommorrow, just as past discoveries changed the way we now understand the physical universe.
So where else is left to search for the meaning of truth?
For thousands of years, people associated religion with truth. It was widely thought that it was wrong to tell lies and it was right to speak truth, because that is what God commanded. Most religious leaders today would claim to be guardians of truth. Yet, when we look at religion's history, it's track record, what do we find? It is well known to most that religion has been used to justify evil acts, both in the past and the present. Furthermore, many religious organizations have been exposed for hiding scandals, financial corruption, sexual abuse and other crimes. It seems that religion is no guarrantee of truthfulness.
Yet, can we hold the object of worship, God, responsible for those who claim to represent him? Are those religions that habitually deceive the world really representing the God that they claim to? To illustrate, if a drug-dealer made a drug that was dangerous and destructive and managed to get them into circulation, would that make all other drugs fake as well? Of course it wouldn't. It would be the responsibility of the medical authorities to identify the false medications and to warn the public to watch out for them. In a similar way, religious organizations have presented teachings and practices that do not represent the God that they claim to serve. One example of this is the teaching of the Catholic Church which commands it's churchgoers to call their priests “Father”, and to call the Pope “Holy Father.” Yet, what does the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, have to say about this. It is recorded in the gospels that Jesus clearly warned people “Do not call any man on earth your Father, for one is your Father, he who is in Heaven.”
This brings me back to the encounter described at the start of this article. This was an actual historical event. It led to actions that have had a massive impact on the whole world. The two men involved in the trial were the Roman Statesman and Governor of Palestine, Pontius Pilate. The prisoner was Jesus of Nazareth. When Pilate put the question “What is truth?” to Jesus, he was speaking rhetorically, not expecting an answer, because he already believed that truth is a changing thing, depending on who speaks it. He thought that there was no such thing as absolute truth. But what did Jesus himself say about truth? His words are recorded in the Bible;
“For this purpose, I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” On another ocassion Jesus publicly prayed “Your word is truth.” What did Jesus mean by that? The “Word” that Jesus was referring to was the Hebrew scriptures, the “Torah” and the “Prophets.” Jesus claimed that these were absolute truth. Was Jesus right? Do the Hebrew scriptures (the “Old Testament”) contain undeniable truth? Let me examine three aspects of those writings, putting them under the microscope, so to speak. The first is scientific revelation.
In the ancient world, people had not made many of the discoveries in science that we take for granted today. Most people believed for instance that the world was flat and that it was supported by physical objects or creatures. But what did the scriptures say about these things?
The prophet Isiaah wrote (about 750 BCE) that “God dwells above the circle (sphere) of the earth.”
The sciptures also declared that God is “Hanging the earth upon nothing.”
These facts were stated centuries ahead of scientists discovering the real shape of the earth or the fact that the earth stands unsupported in space.
On medical matters the Bible makes statements of fact which have been confirmed by the medical world since. For example, it says “A calm heart means life and health to the body.” Today, medical experts have proven that this is a medical fact, that the level of stress and anxiety placed upon a person's heart has a direct, devastating impact on their mental and physical health and, can lead to premature death.
The Bible also contains many statements about the future, events that actually happened in history after they were written down. For example, in the 6th century BCE the prophet Daniel warned of major world developments to come. He foretold that a king would rise in Greece and would become “Great.” That king would destroy the Medo-Persian empire but that, as soon as the great king had become powerful, he would die and his empire would be passed to four of his generals. History has proven that these events happened just as the prophet said they would. Alexander the Great became the ruler of much of the ancient world but, at the height of his power he died at age 32. His kingdom was divided between four of his generals, and never given to any of his heirs.
Furrther on in the stream of time, Jesus himself predicted his own execution. He warned that his followers would abandon him. He said that the city would be surrounded by wooden stakes, yet he instructed his followers to flee Jerusalem when this happened. He told them that the sacred temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. This was fulfilled when the Romans, after having surrounded Jerusalem with wooden stakes, and brought it to it’s knees, suddenly and inexplicably, retreated. This was the opportunity for Jesus’ followers to flee, as he had commanded them. Had they ignored his command, they would have been killed or captured a few years later when the Roman armies returned and completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. The parts of the Bible that record Jesus’ instructions have been authenticated as having been written before the events that they record.
Finally, the advice, or wisdom recorded in the Bible has proved reliable, timeless and true. For example, the Bible says that “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” Mental Health experts today acknowledge the truthfulness of that statement. They now know that there is a definite connection between giving and personal contentment.
The Bible also warns against striving after riches and fame, calling it “Vanity and striving after the wind.” In fact the Bible says that those who are rich are never content with their wealth and that it invariably brings them dissatisfaction, dissapointment and unhappiness. Once again, experts now confirm that there is a direct correlation between wealth and unhappiness. In fact studies have shown that, once a person passes a certain level of income which is comfortable, any excess is detrimental to their mental and physical well-being.
Jesus knew these things. He believed these things and He lived by these principles. All things that Jesus taught were true, factual and reliable, he never made a false statement in his life. Amd Jesus promised that if anyone would listen to the Bible's teachings, they would understand what is true and it would benefit them greatly and bring them happiness unlike anything else in life. He declared “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Millions of people have found this promise to be true and reliable. In this world, filled with deceptions, divisions and injustices, there does exist real truth. It is constant and powerful, and it changes lives. It is there for all to read and apply. Jesus invited everyone to take advantage of this great truth when he said “Come to me all you who are weary and loaded down, and I will give you refreshment for your souls.” The Bible ends by saying “These words are faithful and true.”
Yes, the truth contained in the Bible is the only real and tested truth in this world, and it is a free gift from God, to all of us.