Pontius Pilate responded to the assertion of Jesus, that Jesus had come into the world to testify to the truth ,by asking a rhetorical question full of cynicism: “What is truth?” The topic of truth is immense and much touted by all kinds of people and for all kinds of causes.
This raises important questions for Christians. In our daily lives, wouldn’t it be a different world if what we hear all day was the unembellished truth? How do we, as Christians define truth, or how do we sort out what is truth amidst all the truth claims? Generally, we see truth as that which is aligned with reality, based on the authority of the truth-giver, and the standard set by that authority for what is real, correct or accurate.
Our authority and truth standard is Jesus, who said he is the way, truth, and life. We believe that it is God, represented in this case by the incarnated second Person of the Trinity, who sets the standard for truth, who determines and creates what is true. So, our belief in and desire to follow truth is based on our faith in Christ and is affirmed in life in many ways. Christ was the One through whom God the Father created the world, so the reality we know was created by him and reflects him and his nature. His word aligns with reality since he created it, so whatever he says is true to reality; it is truly true. We can know God because he has made himself known to us and he has given us the truth and the minds to understand it. This truth shapes and determines our perspective and behavior in all aspects of life.
This understanding of truth affects us on a very practical, personal level. One aspect of believing in truth is that Christians tell the truth and are generally seen as trustworthy. In Western culture, we have stories that affirm the need for truthfulness. In Aesop’s fables, for example, we have the very familiar story of the shepherd boy who cried ‘wolf’ so often when there was no wolf that he became known as untrustworthy. So when the wolf did come to eat the sheep, no one believed him. Sesame Street’s spin on this story became a program called ‘Telling the Truth.’ The moral of the story is , ‘if you keep on lying, you could become the “wolfie’s” lunch!’
We were told as children that George Washington, who allegedly had cut down a cherry tree, when asked if that was true, said “I cannot tell a lie; I cut down the tree.” He proved to be honest and trustworthy.
Developing trustworthiness has benefits. Knowing truth and putting it into practice in our lives makes us believable and credible, allowing others to believe what we say.When I was in elementary school, I was playing on the playground during recess and I jumped in fun on the back of a 6th grader who thought I wanted to fight, so he threw me down and started throwing punches at me, just as the playground teacher who was supervising recess arrived on the scene. The 6th grader tried to punch the supervisor as well so we both were sent to the Principal’s office. I told the Principal I was playing and what I did. He believed me and I was not punished. The Principal, who previously had been my physical education teacher, knew me well.
While serving in Vietnam, I was posted on guard duty in the middle of the night. While trying to sleep prior to going on duty, I heard gun-fire but did not think much of it. I did my turn as a guard but the next day I was called before my superiors and was asked about some missing ammunition, the implication being that I had stolen it. My First Sergeant, whom I had befriended earlier was doing the questioning, I told him that I did not steal or shoot the rounds, but that I had heard gun-fire earlier. The superiors dismissed me and I was never called back.
On a much broader level, our beliefs, behaviors, and perspectives have an impact on the life of others, much more than we realize. Depending upon our level and extent of influence, these aspects will help mold and shape the next generation of persons who will influence and shape society in the future. Most societies and cultures advocate for truth in order to have a well-functioning society based on truthfulness and trustworthiness—it makes society run smoothly. The Gospel of Mark chapter four says that truth will prevail—this is the basis of Christian hope and optimism. The Great Lie which has been defeated will succumb to the truth, and be forever gone from being able to deceive humanity. Truth will keep growing larger and larger, like a small seed produces a large tree. More than that, truth will last for eternity.
Isabella Bomfree, who became Sojourner Truth, a slave who became an advocate for the abolition of slavery and a Methodist minister, was optimistic that truth would ultimately prevail. She said: “I feel safe even in the midst of my enemies; for the truth is powerful and will prevail.”