"What is Truth?"
Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:37-38
This fantastic dialog between Jesus and Pilate during the Master's trial is a perfect example of a classical philosophical debate on the nature of “truth.” What is more impressive is that Pilate gets it, to a degree. He understands that Christ is not talking about a political kingdom, but from Pilate’s perspective, a philosophical one. He does miss it in how he responds to Jesus, turning Him over to the crowd. He didn’t expect them to want to crucify someone who was clearly a religious philosopher. He was wrong, and he missed it because he thought of truth as a subjective concept that was open for debate and discussion. But to the Hebrews, the truth was a Person and expressed objectively in His Torah. Jesus claimed to be Him; that was the rub and the reason they wanted Him dead.
Pilate’s question “what is truth” is still a central issue of our existence today. In fact, much of what we are currently dealing with is even beyond “what is truth” into the more significant question, “what is real?” Deep fake video produces life-like actions which the real person represented has never done. The “fake news” debate of the last election cycle was (and is) an attempt by the spin-doctors on both ends of the political spectrum to shape people's view of reality. Their goal is to define truth – and therefore – reality as what they want it to be. Of course social media falls into this as well, through curated timelines filled with filtered and altered photographs that present a perspective of our lives that is completely incomplete.
Such a view of “truth” is entirely subjective and based on how a person may define it. The terms “my truth” and “your truth” arise for this way of thinking, as we seek to define – and therefore control – our existence. From this flows a subjective morality, as we set ourselves up as the arbiters of what is good and what is evil. The Scriptures speak to this in Isaiah 5:20-21:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
and shrewd in their own sight!
We seek to be the ones who define ourselves, our personal truth, our own (constantly variable and conflicted) moral code. It is quite understandable how so many people are in conflict with one another. Each has their own definition of truth, their own set of moral standards, and their own view of reality. Without alignment to a common understanding of these things, people can't function in any form of relationship. There is nothing common to align ourselves with. We need something objective, something outside of ourselves that sets standards and definitions which can be commonly and communally appropriated. As Michael Polanyi noted, something “is true to the extent to which it reveals an aspect of reality, a reality largely hidden to us, and existing therefore independently of our knowing it.” (Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Toward a Post-Critical Philosophy. Florence: Taylor & Francis, 2007, p.327). Truth/reality is something that must be discovered, something which must be revealed to us. Honestly, it's what we are all looking for, what we all want, indeed, what we all need. And it is not a philosophical construct but rather a Person.
Jesus made this clear to His disciples in John 14:6-7:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
This is the point Jesus was trying to get across to Pilate. The Way is a Person. The Truth is a Person. The Life is a Person. Most of the time, when we read this passage, we limit it by linking it only to human salvation. Of course, it does speak to that – but it is much more. Yes, Jesus is the only way to the Father – but He is also the very embodiment of the Torah of God, with Torah meaning “the way, the instruction.” Jesus is what it looks like for a human being to live in obedient alignment with the Father. The Father defines the Way, the Son embodies the Way, and the Holy Spirit enables us to live the Way.
He is the Truth which sets us free:
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 ESV
“Abiding” in His word is obedient allegiance to the PERSON of Christ and the embrace of His way of life and not just simple mental assent to the propositional truth of Scripture. This is where our freedom lies. Jesus Himself points out that all the Scripture points to HIM (John 5:39). It is in the knowledge of the Person who is the Truth that truth, reality, and life are defined. He is the ultimate definition of all things. The Father defines the Truth, the Son embodies the Truth lived out, and the Holy Spirit enables us to live the Truth each day.
Jesus is the Life, as He is the Resurrection:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:24-26
We believe in a Person, not just believe that Jesus is the Life. The word for “belief” here in this passage is the Greek pisteuō, which means to trust, to fully rely upon. We trust Jesus; we rely upon Him and His resurrection power to bring us to newness of life. It is not a philosophical “knowing.” Rather, it is a knowing through encounter and ongoing relationship. Again, the Father defines our Life, the Resurrected Son embodies the Life forever, and through the Holy Spirit, we receive and live in the Resurrection Life of Jesus.
The person of God the Father, as revealed in and through the Son, and to us by the Holy Spirit, is the One who is the ultimate objective Other. He defines what is good and what is evil, as He Himself is the definition of “good.” He determines what is truth because He is true. He is the source of life, and as such, can lay demands upon us as to how we are to live it out. We hold no rights to define anything but are called to an allegiance of alignment with Him. It is when we come into His Kingdom alignment that love, unity, and harmony in the human community can be realized – heaven on earth:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV