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What is Truth?

Written by: on April 16, 2015

“What is truth?” that was the sharp reply given by Pilate, the highest authority in the city, to the prisoner that stood before him, Jesus. Pilate’s inner dilemma and outward declaration reveals a battleground that continues to this day (John 18:28-19:22). In the words of William Raeper and Linda Edwards in their book, A Brief Guide to Ideas, “Faith is believing that something is true when we cannot be absolutely certain it is true…faith is usually based on some evidence which is convincing to the believer.” (p.30) Therefore, according to Raeper and Edwards to wrestle with questions of faith is to wrestle with the questions of truth. Their historical survey of thinkers, thought and theology provides many entry points with which to identify our own journey. For me that entry point, much like Pilate’s was philosophical. “We may still wish to ask some of the same questions that the Ancient Greeks did or the early Christians did. It is unlikely however that we will accept their reasoning without some interpretation of our own, as our understanding of the world and the way we think about the world have changed.” (p.55) Evidence and context are important factors when pursuing truth, but can truth prevail.

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There are those that say that truth is only the substance of what we see.

Truth is evidential, tangible or demonstrable. In that sense it is a very scientific approach. However as we judge truth only by actions then where does that leave Pilate. The religious leaders were waiting for a justifiable action. Pleasing these very influential teachers of the law, who were leading him to wield his authority, would provide evidence of their version of the truth, but would it be truth?

Within his own mind, he continued to battle. Turning away from Jesus, he went outside to the boisterous crowd that had gathered and tested the truth of his own conclusions: “I find no basis for a charge against him…do you want me to release the king of the Jews?” The venomous shouts that he received back for crucifixion of Jesus may have surprised him at first, but the momentum and intensity of their demands seemed to give no other option.

Truth it would seem is determined by what is socially acceptable at a given time.

Certainly to yield to the popular opinion at this time would protect his position. Pilate then subjected Jesus to more brutal punishment, perhaps in hopes of coaxing some kind of confession of some kind of justifiable crime. With no change in demeanour from the prisoner, Pilate again wrestling against the truth within appeals to the crowds and declares his stance while attempting to resist the increasing pressure of the people.

Truth it would seem is determined by power.

Pilate thought he possessed; Jesus was able to have him reconsider what power really looked like: was power the ability to force the actions of another or was power the capacity to influence the actions of another yet have the ability to relent? The truth was that Pilate was afraid of losing his position and his actions were generated by the political implications of his decisions both from the people and from Caesar.

And yet truth can never be completely hidden.

For in his final interactions with Jesus, Pilate places a statement above the cross upon which Jesus would be crucified: “Jesus of Nazareth: The King of the Jews”. It was clear and it was succinct – translated into the three main languages of the times, so that all would be sure to read and understand. Caught in the swirling opinions of relativity, Pilate chose truth that revealed his own conviction based on the evidence before him, the actions of those around him, the words and posture of the Prisoner, and ultimately of what the combination was doing to his heart/conscience/soul within him.

All versions of truth cannot all be equal.

Every purported truth cannot have the same ultimate value as so many faiths and truth foundations are contradictory both in their compositions and in their implications. “As long ago as 1885 Pope Leo II warned: ‘ The equal toleration of all religions…is the same thing as atheism.’ Postmodernism, pluralism, relativism, humanism, tolerance, accommodation all have limits that must be reconciled for our societies to function. Reconciliation requires an unchanging truth. “How we are taught to think is as important as what we are taught to think. The very way you learn transmits a particular philosophy about you and your world.” (p.364)

The quest for truth is for all of us, however, what our quest often reveals is that we are less interested in truth and more interested in the deep matters of life.

Perhaps, for Pilate, he came to consider the fact that everybody around him had something to say about this Jesus – and although we don’t have all of the dialogue that must have gone on between these two men in this room – Pilate must have come to a place where he thought, if everyone has an opinion on this Jesus, then maybe I should find out for myself. Truth was more than the evidence before him. Truth was greater than the waves of emotion that swirled within him. Perhaps it is in this process that Pilate finally discovered where truth comes from, how truth leads to faith in the unseen and what truth looks like in a world of complex and competing options.

“This is the King of the Jews”

What is Truth? Whether you believe in Jesus or not, every major religious framework and every major philosophical stream has a contention with Him. Perhaps like Pilate, it’s time for you to inquire with Jesus and His Truth directly.

  • In a world of where information is not only accessible but also comes at us at a relentless pace, how do you determine what is truth?
  • Where versions of truth differ, how do you handle those differences?

About the Author

mm

Deve Persad

9 responses to “What is Truth?”

  1. mm John Woodward says:

    Deve, your have written a brilliant post. Your use of Pilate brings some amazing insights into the question of truth. He brings a very particular perspective to truth, doesn’t he? Especially in light of the man that stood before him who claimed to be THE TRUTH. Do you think that really would have made any sense to Pilate? Could he ever see this humble, poor, carpenter’s son as anything but the antithesis of “the truth” when for him, truth (as you mentioned) rests in power? Jesus does a wonderful job of shaking up the world’s ideas of truth, while making truth concrete in his person, yet open and worth seeking (see his parables and teachings). I have to wonder if his approach to telling the truth through his life and through stories was to make sure that truth would not become about domination and control, but always about humility and discover? What do you think? I do love philosophy, because, like your post, it makes me think deeper and longer! Thanks for stirring up some deep thoughts!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      John, thanks for engaging this post with your thoughts. I love this question: “I have to wonder if his approach to telling the truth through his life and through stories was to make sure that truth would not become about domination and control, but always about humility and discover?” There is definitely something to be grasped through Jesus’ ability to deal with the truth. He knew all truth, and embodied all truth, He didn’t need to prove anything. The humility to possess all power and not wield it is also an incredible example. Ultimately, I am always amazed by the way Jesus dealt with those who opposed Him, He was firm in his conviction yet never condescending, even to the end – He always made sure the truth would be appealing to those around Him, even if at first they didn’t believe it. There is so much for us to learn…

  2. Deve…
    There is much in your post that is compelling and thought-provoking. Two “simple” (though not really) sentences stood out to me as I read. The first is “And yet truth can never be completely hidden.” In the second you stated, “All versions of truth cannot all be equal.” There is also the practical means in which you have attributed and alluded to Jesus amazing way of asking questions or when he presented truth in such a way that helped the listener to understand truth more clearly and more deeply. There is something incredibly inviting to reflect on the meaning and implications that truth can never be completely hidden. This is amazingly hopeful and hope-filled. Pilate’s challenge was that he responded out of the truth that he had been presented, cultured in, and operated within. When confronted with another truth could he grasp it, was he asking his question, “What is truth?” because his own truth was being exposed?

    Much to think about in your good work. Thank you!

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Thanks for your comments Carol. The idea that truth is never concealed is important because it takes me away from having to defend or argue on behalf of God – He’s big enough to take care of Himself. One of the lingering ideas I get from this interaction with Jesus is that He knew everything and yet allowed the will of the Father and the free will of Pilate to be exercised…He contended for the truth but in a graceful manner…so humbling to consider…

  3. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Deve
    A thought-provoking blog! As you say towards the end, “Whether you believe in Jesus or not, every major religious framework and every major philosophical stream has a contention with Him.” So true. Everyone has an opinion about Jesus. History only proves that He did live and breathe on this earth. And so we are faced with the challenge: Who do we believe Jesus is? Jesus claimed to be the Truth. We must all choose whether to believe what He claimed, or not. As you say, Truth cannot be concealed in the end. Thank you Deve.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Liz, if the truth of God cannot be concealed, what are the implications of that for followers of Jesus as they relate to those who have yet to enter into a relationship with Him? Or, what does discipleship look like with these thoughts in mind?

  4. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Thoughtful and practical, Deve. I appreciate how you take our readings and transform them into a post that anyone of any background can grapple with.

    I think it takes courage to consider the truth when it seems to be contrary to popular social opinion, and contrary to the current powers that be. Pilate asks Jesus what is the truth. So many things that Jesus could say. At another time He had proclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me.” But not this time. Though Jesus taught the truth, and said that the truth would set us free, this time He had another priority. I think part of the many sorrows of that day is that by Pilate not embracing the truth, succumbing to the popular truth and the power of Rome, he became further enslaved. He could not be free. I wonder what guilt he carried? I wonder if he ever found himself on his face before God, begging for forgiveness – and freedom?

  5. mm Deve Persad says:

    Wow, thanks Julie. Those questions are excellent additions. As I consider the last one in particular, I too, wonder what thoughts were rolling through Pilate’s mind as he very intentionally and specifically wrote out (or gave orders for) the sign that he would post above Jesus. Was this part of contrition or a relegation to the path he had already chosen?

  6. mm Clint Baldwin says:

    Deve, thanks.
    I love the portion of scripture with Pilate’s query. I think that we often give him the short end of the stick too quickly. Here Jesus’ own people are shouting for him to be crucified and Pilate takes the time to ask a query. Phenomenal. He dignifies the opponent with his question.
    For a decade I led a student group titled Quaere Verum — Questioning (or seeking) Truth. We often began by reading the passage you note and end with Pilate’s query. Questioning — even when it is less than fully genuine — holds the seeds of possibility for seeing in new ways.
    Thanks for your thoughtful post!

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