John 18 records the interview between Jesus and Pilate. At the close of that interview, Pilate asks a rhetorical question, one that has often led to his being an object of ridicule. It appears in verse 38, "What is truth?" We are tempted to ridicule Pilate for failing to understand such as critical concept. Pilate lived in a day and age that looked quite different from our own. He lived in the midst of a set reality that governed the lives of the people. Filled with competing deities, the reality posed what to Pilate seemed unanswerable questions. His question expressed his doubt that knowledge of the truth could ever exist in the maddening cacophony of his day.
Pilate's question echoes through the centuries to our own day. Unlike his conundrum, we face the abject denial of the possibility that man can know reality. The question has even seemed irrelevant as "truth" no longer stand alone but needs modifiers to clarify the question. We no longer speak of truth, but subject, objective, or absolute truths. Truth has lost its universal scope in favor of democratized flavors. Your truth is merely what you believe to be the case, unavailable for examination against any other standard than the individual's belief.
This pernicious worldview has even invaded the church. We often are tempted, even in our reviews of competing worldviews to assert that Christianity is the superior belief system. We dare not assert that it is true lest we confuse or offend those outside the sanctuary. Even those within the church appear to ask, "What is truth?"
Let us stop a moment. Try to define truth. How would you answer the question, "What is truth?" Don't tell me things that are true, but define truth. What makes something true instead of false. For most of us, this simple task baffles our vocabulary, and yet we constantly use this word to divide one statement from another, the truth from the false.
In its most basic form, "truth" a description of reality that corresponds to reality. It is an accurate statement of what is, was, or will be. The statement, "The sun rose this morning," is only as true as whether that even actually occurred. Other statements require more careful analysis to determine truth, but in the end, the correspondence to reality, to what is, was, or will be, determines truth.
When we speak of truth as a part of God's nature, we make two assertions about the relationship between God and the truth. First, we understand that God plays a role in the comprehension of truth. When we looked at the issue of sola scriptura, we considered the manner in which God reveals to man making knowledge of reality reliable. Part of that concept we assumed but didn't really delve into, was the idea that the revelation of God was true. God spoke in two ways that ground man's knowledge of reality. He spoke in creation, and He spoke in revelation, both general and special. In creation, we cannot but conclude that He spoke truly. God spoke and formed reality. He spoke and what He spoke became part of creation. To assert that that speaking was anything other than truth is illogical and irrational. (FYI: Illogical truth is nonexistent. As the one fundamental axiom of logic is identity, "A is A," the correspondence of truth rests on this logical axiom. While illogical truth may not exist, inexplicable truth probably does exist. The duality of light as wave and particle provides sufficient evidence to support the proposition that unexplained truth exists. We can speak truly about something without being able to explain it perfectly.)
God also spoke in revelation. This encompasses the sense experience of creation and the special revelation recorded for us in the Bible. Did God speak truly in this revelation? In one sense, the question pointlessly suggests something that we could never verify. How could you prove the truth or falsity of the reality of things limited as we are to sense experiences? In the philosophy of science, many are intrigued by the "anthropic principle." The best way to understand this concept is to first grapple with the multiverse concept. Some posit an infinite number of universes of which ours is only one. The anthropic principle argues that the reason we only perceive the present universe is that life tends to have a self focus. We explain the universe only in a way sentient human life could understand it. Some have said that the universe itself has this carbon prejudice. Critics argue that this theory has no means by which to disprove the theory and must therefore fail. The point works here also. How could man ever verify or falsify the universe presented to him?
We must then fall upon a criteria other than scientific observation to verify the truth of God's revelation. This leads us to relational consideration and the reliability of revelation. We could begin with a pragmatic consideration. Does general revelation work? Can you operate in this world reliably well according to sense experience? Most of us would answer yes. Hallucinatory delusions not withstanding, we are able to rely on our senses to skillfully manage life in this apparent reality. Turning to scripture, the history contained within has been proved to be generally reliable as well. Even the moral precepts have guided humanity for most of recorded history. It follows that God's revelation should be accepted as generally reliable. We fail to identify major gaps in the correspondence between God's revelation and reality as presented.
When considered with the sole rational connection between our minds and reality being found in the being and work of God, we are compelled to consider the probability that truth only rests in the revelation of God. Taken to a logical conclusion, all truth is God's truth. When we say, "The sun rose in the morning," that truth is only a copy of the revealed truth that comes from God. Psalm 19 says the following:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
Notice in this description how the sun is included in its rising and setting as a revelation or declaration of the glory of God. This truth God speaks every day to mankind, to those who have ears to hear it. Whether from general or special revelation, all truth comes from God.
The second consequence of God's truth, and generally more relevant to the text of scripture, is His faithfulness to His promises. You will remember that I said that truth is correspondence with reality, with that which is, was, or will be. That last element has been attacked in recent Christian theology. A movement often characterized as "open theism" asserts that the future is not a proper object of reality. It argues that the future is in flux and not fixed in any way. They make this rationale to enable the so-called freedom of man and God to make meaningful choices. The error with this concept is that it generally makes God's promises and prophesies more aspirational that truthful. It is as if God intends to do what He says He will do, but conditions must eventuate so that they may. He cannot declare definitively what will occur, the way it will occur in the future without violating the ground of "open theism." (Open theism also places God within the rive of time, an idea we have already rejected.)
We reject such a view of the future. God has declared the end from the beginning. (Isa.46:10) He can speak truly of the future, because He knows it as surely as the present as a reality He has established. This is the present value of the truth of God. We can rest in the promises made to God's people that He will not, cannot fail to keep them. They contain the same nature of truth that we see in the statement, "The sun rose this morning."
You may be asking yourself in light of so many connections to our foundational discussion of sola scriptura, why we have considered this in the principle portion of our study. It is an important question. As a foundation, it served to solidify our commitment to applying scripture to our interactions with the unchristian world. As a principle, we learn that we are to pursue truth in those interactions with the world. We are called to be those who tell the truth, who value the truth, and promote the truth wherever it is found.
This often becomes harder than it initially appears. Scripture presents one person as the prime enemy of the truth, Satan. He is called the father of lies. (John 8:44) As the prime enemy of the truth, we ought to learn how that enemy assaults the truth. We have two examples in scripture of the enemy's deception. The first is in the garden against Adam and Eve. (Gen. 3) The second was against the second Adam, Jesus, when He lived in the wilderness for forty days. (Matt.4:1-11; Lu.4:1-13) In both assaults agains the truth, Satan rarely makes a frontal attack, but mixes truth with lies. From this, we learn the serious danger in mixed truth.
When we come to interacting with the unchristian world, we must understand that they are not devoid of truth. The general revelation of God indeed descends upon them, and by common grace, many are able to use that truth to beneficial ends. However, most of the time, that truth they often speak is mixed with lies from the evil one. It will be our job of discernment to extract the truth from the lie.
Some have asserted that due to this mixing of truth and error, Christians should not interact with unbelieving human endeavor. This monastic concept, even if it could be consistently followed, seems contradictory to the Bible's message that the church is to be salt and light in the world and not a retreat from it. Even wicked government has its advantage to the church that it is not anarchy.
We must then speak the truth, find the truth, and promote the truth. As Paul writes in Philippians 4, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." The way we engage in this task will vary according to the specifics we encounter in the world. Nevertheless, we must go into our application of discernment with the conviction that truth is knowable, from God, and worth promoting to others.