Thinking Deeply about Truth 2

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Thinking Deeply about Truth 2

I think the question of truth disturbs me so deeply during the age we are living through because, unlike the majority of the population of the UK & USA, so many of us could see our current reality waiting for us at the end of the road our leaders were so determined to take. I alluded to this with my “illusion based on lies” statement in the previous post.

People who lie about simple things will also lie about issues that matter a great deal. People who act as if nothing is true are telling us a great deal about how they are likely to behave if we follow them. The fact that two former leaders of once respectable countries are hiding behind a “I still believe now that what I believed then” defence is utterly shameful.

The word ‘truth’ can be defined in a number of ways. So, something is true if it can be verified as a fact or if it describes a commonly accepted reality. The first is easy to verify. A certain former President’s recent statement in a court of law that he weighs 215 pounds and is 6’3″ tall can be compared to a previous statement in a different court just four months previously, and we are being asked to believe he has lost 25 pounds and grown an inch. Such facts could be checked, but no one will bother.

So, given that we will never know the actual figures, whether someone accepts either, or both, of these statements to be true will be determined by the second ‘commonly accepted reality’ definition. Which will be different within a group of those who want to believe every word Donald Trump utters and those who don’t, won’t or can no longer do so. Two groups. Two accepted realities.

This may feel like a scary place to be, but we are actually on more familiar ground than it may appear. The possibility that a ‘belief that is accepted as true’ can be declared a ‘truth’ is to enter the same realm religions inhabit. It must be confusing for a non-religious person to see two branches of the Christian church claiming to believe their teacher was teaching ultimate truths, and then disagreeing violently with each other about what that teacher meant. Confusing, but not completely illogical when truth is not being defined as fact, but as story. For those not interested in religion, this makes it possible that something can be ‘true for you’ but not for me. Truth is a slippery fish.

This, I think, is the reason Jesus often refused to answer a direct question. Mostly they were designed to trap him or lure him into debate. Often he would ask another question in reply:

‘One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and scribes, together with the elders, came up to Him. “Tell us,” they said, “by what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”

“I will also ask you a question,” Jesus replied. “Tell Me: John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or from men?”

They deliberated among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will ask, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.”

So they answered that they did not know where it was from.

And Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”’*

There are so many varieties of ‘truth’ on display in this encounter, but the options that are important to Jesus are: what do you see? and what are you going to do about it?

This is the reason Simon and I have been focussing on Flourishing and Living in recent posts. The Christian theology we were brought up with focused on What to believe, as if correct belief was what matters most. Our experience is that the “What’ question produces heat but little light.

Truth matters, but I agree with James that no one can claim something is true if they are not attempting to live it.

 

*Luke 20:1-8

About the Author

About the Author

Craig Millward has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

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