Truth, a What and a Who

1 08 2009

I have written on the concept of truth in previous posts (April 2009); however, it is an important topic and I would like to address it from a different direction in today’s post.  As many of you are aware, we live in a postmodern generation where truth is considered to be relative.  In other words, a thing is true if you believe it to be true, but that same idea does not need to be true for me if I don’t want it to be.  Confused yet?  Let me explain further.


Many are most familiar with this concept in the area of morals.  We are often told, “that may be true for you, but not for me” when it comes to a person’s favorite cause or sin (as the Bible would describe certain actions).  This statement is often followed by an admonition to not be intolerant or try to force our beliefs on the other person (a principle that most people consider to be as close to absolute as possible!)  I would like to look at whether this idea is true (objectively) and also whether a person could even live consistently with such a belief.


So, is it true that something could be true for one person but not for another, whether it is a moral truth, a scientific truth, or any other type of truth?  I don’t think so, let me explain.  Could we ever conceive of an instance where murder (the taking of innocent life) could be justified?  How about an issue that has been in the news recently, racism?  I think in both of these cases one would have to say no to both questions, and those are just two of a number of cases in which I am sure we would also give the same answer.  However, I only need to show one case in which a moral value is objective, that is, that it is true whether or not anyone on earth believes it to be true, to make the case that morals are objective in nature.


This week we saw the “Beer Summit” in which a white police officer and a black professor sat down with our President (himself black) and our Vice President (who is white) to discuss a recent incident in which the black professor was arrested by the white officer.  Apparently, the officer was provoked by the professor according to witnesses, some of whom were black, when the professor broke into a tirade after being questioned about breaking into his own house when he apparently forgot his keys.  The President was asked about the incident at a press conference, not knowing all of the facts surrounding the case, and claimed that the police officer “acted stupidly” and the race discussion was set off in the media.


The question is whether it is ever justified to be a racist, no matter what a person’s skin color?  When we say that someone is a racist, I mean that they judge a person solely by the color of their skin, not, as Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped for, by the content of their character.  I submit that it is never justified to judge a person solely by the color of their skin and would challenge anyone who tried to justify such behavior.  However, according to the postmodernist, it is possible that it may be justified for a person to be a racist, or a murderer, or exhibit any number of other behaviors that the average person would call immoral.  We simply cannot say that anyone is really wrong as that would be imposing our beliefs on them.


Now, let’s look at whether a person could consistently live by this belief or philosophy.  Again, I would say that a person could not and have challenged many who espouse this belief.  In fact, I was temporarily suspended from a message board recently when I challenged a poster on this issue.  What is interesting is that he was willing to impose his morality on me when I offended him.  Fortunately, we were able to exchange some messages and have actually begun some good dialog with each other.


The question is whether a postmodern would fly with a postmodern airline pilot who believed that landing in the ocean is the same as landing on the runway.  Or, would a postmodern go to a postmodern surgeon who believed that removing the liver is the same as removing a kidney, or a heart bypass can be done using a piece of the intestine.  Postmoderns obey traffic signals, read labels on medicine bottles to make sure they are taking the right one in the right dosage, and get highly offended when told that they are wrong.  In fact, I heard the story of a postmodern who fired off a terse letter to a reviewer of his book claiming that the reviewer didn’t understand his book! In other words, his words did have objective meaning after all.


So, truth is something.  It is often described as that which corresponds to reality.  If I say rock, you know what I am talking about, even though you may not be picturing the same rock that I am, you know what a rock is.  If I say look up, we all would look in the same general direction.  Words mean things and we usually all understand them to mean the same thing.  Jesus spoke often about truth, telling the woman at the well that we must worship God in spirit and truth.   He often started important statements with “truly, truly” to let us know that these were important statements and that they were true statements.


However, the Bible tells us that truth is not just a what, but it is also a who.  Jesus told Thomas and the disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  Jesus also told us, “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)  I don’t believe that Jesus meant that we must simply understand some ideas or concepts to be free, although we must understand and trust the gospel, but we must also know Jesus, the truth, in order to be set free.


D.A. Carson quotes Dodd in his The Gospel according to John, saying, Because of truth’s intimate connection with Jesus, true disciples ‘must not only hear his words: they must in some sort be united with him who is the truth'” (349).  So, when your friends ask you, as Pilate did to Jesus, “what is truth?” (veritas) (John 18:38) you can tell them that it is a what and a who and it is found in Jesus.

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