It’s time to revisit a topic in the forefront of many people’s minds these days. Pontius Pilate, confronted with what to do with Jesus, whom religious leaders regarded as rabble-rouser at best and outright threat at worst, famously asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Lots of people these days seem to be wondering the same thing.
We tend to treat truth as a negotiable commodity, like going into a grocery store and choosing between brands and flavors of jelly (or jam or preserves), kinds of deli meat, or varieties of cereal. Everyone likes multiple choices, don’t we?
If you’re old enough, you remember having only three TV stations – or if you’re not that old, about a dozen cable channels. Boring, right? (Today we have hundreds of channels from which to choose, and still can’t find anything worth watching!) When cars were invented, Henry Ford said something like, “You can have your Model T in any color you want – as long as it’s black.” Can you conceive of not having dozens of makes, models, sizes and styles of cars, vans, SUVs and trucks, not to mention color schemes or accessory options?
Lots of folks view spirituality the same way. They recoil at the notion that there could be such a thing as absolute spiritual truth. I read this post recently on social media:
“One can believe they have a corner on the truth and God’s will, but that would be true of any number of people from any number of religions.”
In other words, who’s to say that Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and all the other “isms” aren’t equally true? (Despite the fact that even a cursory comparison reveals they differ greatly on many key points, often diametrically opposed and irreconcilable.)
Should we agree that truth is simply a matter of what’s right in the eyes of the beholder? As long as one is sincere – or convinced? Kumbaya, anyone?
Well, drawing cues from everyday life we discover truth isn’t nearly so negotiable. Take, for example, commonplace realities like gravity, blood, or even roadways.
What would you think of someone who said, “I’m jumping off this cliff. My truth says I won’t fall, that instead I’ll soar like an eagle”? Gravity has little interest in what our “truth” tells us. What goes up must come down, like it or not.
If we need a blood transfusion, in most cases a blood type matching our own is required. Tomato juice or red fruit punch won’t do; not even blood from a cow or a camel. No matter what someone decides they want their “truth” about their blood to be, the type of blood they have is the type they will need.
Many roadways are very clearly designated for one way. Especially highways. We don’t want some driver deciding “her truth” says it’s okay to drive south in the northbound lane. We’ve all heard about what happens when one person’s truth collides with someone else’s truth on the interstate.
There’s a tendency to balk when we’re told there’s only one way to achieve a desired objective. But imagine a passenger of the Titanic, struggling to stay afloat in the frigid waters as the fabled ocean liner sinks to the ocean floor. (This is shortly after the ship captain’s “truth” told him the Titanic was unsinkable, and that there couldn’t be an iceberg in the vicinity poised to rip a hole in the ship’s hull.)
A lifeboat comes across the frantic passenger treading water. There’s room for one more person in the lifeboat, and it’s the swimmer’s last chance for survival. Yet he emphatically refuses to climb in, insisting he’ll wait for a larger rescue boat. His own “truth” convinces him this isn’t his one and only option. How long do you think his truth would keep him alive?
For this reason, when we read Jesus make the seemingly audacious statement,“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), we should at least take a moment to consider the magnitude of His claim. Many argue, “Jesus is the only way? No way!” Then they move along pursuing their own way, their “truth.”
But Jesus didn’t make that assertion just once. He made it clear truth was of eminent importance for Him, such as the time He addressed the esteemed Pharisees: “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me…. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!’" (John 8:42-45).
Harsh, tough words, right? Jesus apparently hadn’t read Dale Carnegie’s book about how to win friends and influence people. But sometimes there’s no soft-pedaling, no sugarcoating the truth.
If He were standing among us today, I believe Jesus would say the same thing. As He told Jews who were following Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).