It was suggested to me that we do a mini-series at our church on Jesus being the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We divided it among three speakers and I was assigned to talk about truth. I was excited about the idea, but the more I studied it, the more overwhelming it became. So here is what I decided on at the end and I hope you find this helpful.
Now, just a word of warning, if you are a philosopher you would probably want to argue or go more in depth here but in my defense I am simply setting the stage to the best of my understanding without majoring on minors, you can leave a comment below or click the social media hyperlinks on the top right of this page if you would like to discuss Greek philosophy in greater detail. The following will be a very simple and brief reference to what I perceive to be the key ideas.
I found a neat and helpful brief summary here and I’ll share the key points below.
"Truth" lays in an abstract "Ideal". We can apply the fundamental principles of mathematical proofs (logic) to locate the True form of these transcendent truths or Ideals.
The natural world we perceive through our senses (see, hear, touch, smell, etc.) reveals only a fallen, shadow, incomplete versions of this Ideal Truth.
The true "Forms" of natural things or of concepts exist in the way that mathematical truths or forms exist.Thus attempting to understand the Truth of things by examining the natural world is not only folly, but likely dangerously misleading.
Therefore philosophical contemplation (thinking logically) -- rather than observation -- is the road toward Truth.
All the other arts, including poetry and argumentation, only confuse us more, tricking us into believing false visions of Truth (example: we mistake what we see on the television for reality; a cunning lawyer can trick a stupid jury into believing the guilty innocent).
In a nutshell: Plato's mystical Idealism will be adopted by subsequent generations of Christians to explain the nature of God.
Along with other Neo-Platonists, Augustine will translate and transmit Plato's concept of Truth and its relationship to the natural world into Christian terms: this world is a shadow, fallen version of God's eternal Truths, and the pursuit of knowledge has damned humanity (see Genesis 3). (Similarly, other Jewish and Muslim scholars will transmit Platonic Idealism into Judaism and Islam, both before and after Augustine).(source)
So think about Jesus’ audience as having been strongly influenced by the idea that truth can only be accessed in the mind by thinking logically and mathematically and the observation of the physical world could never lead you to it.
I once watched an interesting documentary by the BBC entitled Dangerous Knowledge. The film begins with Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. Interestingly, he believed he was God's messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity. He tried to prove Mathematically that God existed.
Next the documentary tells the story of Ludwig Boltzmann's struggle to prove the existence of atoms and probability eventually drove him to suicide.
Kurt Gödel, the introverted confidant of Einstein, was featured next. Godel actually proved that there would always be problems which were outside human logic. Tragically his life ended in a sanatorium where he starved himself to death.
The documentary concludes with the story of Alan Turing, the great Bletchley Park code breaker, father of computer science, died trying to prove that some things are fundamentally unprovable. (source)
Apparently, though mathematics hints at the existence of God, it is impossible to fully grasp God through mathematics alone. (possible further reading in this topic here) What I take away from this is that a strictly intellectual pursuit of God will not satisfy your soul. Also, your mind might not be able to handle your pursuit.
I would like to classify what I have described above so far as a classical approach to truth. Thought the math part also has modern aspects to it. Now I would like to transition to what I would like to classify as a modern approach to truth.
Modernism (or Enlightenment Humanism)
Reason and science provide accurate, objective, reliable foundation of “knowledge”
Science is the paradigm of all true knowledge.
We can learn and eventually solve all our problems as we evolve.
My understanding of modernism is that with the advances in science and medicine and technology and industrial revolution we stopped searching for God and looked to ourselves and the physical world to find the ultimate truth and all the answers. We became our own saviors, and in the process we killed God.
My parent’s generation had a largely modern approach to God and religion. Not that they denied God but they were sure they could find the truth and they studied and debated and fought and searched for the truth. The truth was attractive, it had value, it mattered! Truth was within our grasp in the modern world. I grew up with this view in my home and in my church. We studied the Bible to find the truth and we shared the truth with others. Well, many wanted to prove to others we had the truth! And many Christians still have this approach today.
However, my generation has rejected the modern worldview and has embraced, or at least been strongly influenced by the postmodern approach to truth.
Why would my generation abandon the solid ground of objective truth? Why would we turn from scientific proof and absolute truths? Because science and religion have failed them. All that assurance of being right and having the truth did not save us. With all the advances in medicine we feel like we are sicker today then our grandparents were when they were our age. With all the machines and factories and transportation people still go hungry around the world. With all the truth we have available, horrible things still happen.
Think about this with me.
During World War 1 and 2, it was clear who the enemy was, it was clear who the good guys were. At least that generation was sure of it, there was a problem and a clear solution. A stronger and more powerful army was able to end wars and stabilize power.
Who is the enemy today? Where is the enemy? What is the best way to combat the enemy?
Do you trust your doctor to have your best interest at heart? Do you trust the church as an institution? Do you trust your government?
Do you trust what you see on the news? Do you trust what you read?
Is marriage worth it?
How can you be sure anyone actually knows anything about God?
Post-modernism has paralyzed a generation. It is hard to commit to something when I have so many questions. My generation is less interested in marriage than previous generations. Why? Many reasons, one big one is not being sure it is a good idea, or that it would work for them. My generation is seeking their truth, but we are realizing we don’t have the means by which to find it so we tippy toe around trying different truths hoping to find one that feels right, but always afraid of fully committing to something, to anything. My generation quits and moves and struggles to settle down. Every attractive truth becomes difficult at one point and we leave in search for another truth.
It is also noticeable that worldviews are changing at a faster pace. It is very difficult to set dates to these worldviews but they would last hundreds of years, and now some are already saying the worldview my children will experience might already be post-postmodern. (The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond)
Now that I might have completely confused or bored you, what role does Jesus have in all this?
I would argue that the ultimate truth, or God, or what is good, right, beautiful, cannot be grasped by pure logic, or abstract or theoretical thinking. Similarly all that can be known of God cannot be found in a test-tube. Science and logic have not been able to grasp God, nor have science and reason been able to completely disprove God. Yet the search for God has not gone away. Though we see the challenges with our search for truth, running away from it has not solved our problems either, but rather it has led to new problems.
Depression is on the rise in the United States, according to researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. From 2005 to 2015, depression rose significantly among Americans age 12 and older with the most rapid increases seen in young people. The findings appear online in the journal Psychological Medicine.
When we are feeling down. When everything seems to be going wrong. When you are experiencing pain. When you don’t know whether to go all in or jump ship. You need a source of truth. You can deny it, you can argue against it, you can stomp your feet and throw a tantrum. But in the end you know you need truth.
When you realize your spouse is less the perfect, do you jump ship? What if the love died?
What about when your character is being tested, and cheating seems like a great idea?
What about when you’re so busy you just don’t have time for God, family, and health?
How do you orient your life? You need truth. Undeniable, beyond a shadow of doubt truth. Where do you find this truth?
Does it even exist?
Truth is alive and just as powerful as ever.
As a matter of fact the truth will not only give you direction, it will challenge you and push you, and drive you, and rescue you and transform every area of your life.
How do I know?
Because I have experienced it. Because I have studied it. I have tested it and I have witnessed it all over the world. I may not know much, but I do know this.
Jesus is the truth.
And if that is not enough, Jesus loves you, He died for you and He is coming again so that He can be with you forever.
That is as true as anything can be in all of reality.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
- John 14:1-6 NKJV
Let’s address a few important things regarding the truth.
In John 17 we find Jesus praying. As Jesus prays for His disciples He asks the father to “Sanctify them by the truth;” Then Jesus adds “your word is truth.” (John 17:17) It is interesting that according to John 1 Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. So the word of God is the truth and necessary for our sanctification. This means the truth is not something you simply understand of accept but rather something you need to be exposed to daily. You need a personal relationship with Jesus and your regular interactions with Him slowly and continually set you apart unto Him according to His purpose for your life. So a personal relationship with Jesus, with the Word of God, changes who we are, shaping our character and every aspect of our life.
One thing we really value in America is freedom. Jesus says that the truth sets us free.
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
- John 8:31-32 NKJV
According to Jesus the truth will set you free. But in order to know the truth you need to be a true disciple, and only those who abide, continue, remain, hold on to, live out, His word. Jesus sets you free, but you must have a personal ongoing relationship. I am not talking about brunch once a week or a call or quick message when trouble comes, but an ongoing healthy relationship. If you have a hard time thinking about having a relationship with truth, then think about having a relationship with Jesus, who loves you and wants to save you and bless you and develop you and use you in a mighty way. Stop thinking about truth as a purely intellectual venture. It must be a relational, living experience.
Many are anxious about the future. The truth can help you with that as well. Jesus said:
However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
- John 16:14 NKJV
There are things Jesus wants us to know, but we are not ready for it. However, the Holy Spirit is able to guide us into those things, He will guide us into all truth. All truth was revealed in Jesus but we are not able to grasp all of it on our own. We need the help of the Holy Spirit, and as He reveals to us a clearer understanding of who Jesus is, we will also understand what is about to happen. Our anxiety will melt away as we see the future in Jesus’ hands and how everything will be okay in the end.
Truth in action
John writes to us saying
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
- 1 John 3:18 NKJV
The truth should also shape our lives. Our walk with Jesus should not be about just spouting theological truths or religious dogma, but rather a practical approach to life. It is easy to talk love, but it is important to live it, to live out truth. If you wonder what that looks like it means we are called to live our lives as Jesus lived His.
Finally, Truth/Jesus, is an integral part of worship.
God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
- John 4:24 NKJV
Sometimes we may be tempted to yield truth as a sword and attack others and I hope that realizing that Jesus is the embodiment of truth and being familiar with His example and how He lived His life will help us realize what worship ought to look like. I believe that keeping Jesus at the core of our worship, and being full of the Holy Spirit will allow us to experience true worship.