Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who is of the Truth hears My voice.”John 18:37
I heard these words in yesterday morning’s sermon, and it prompted a few thoughts on the complex nature of truth.
In John 18:37, in what Jesus says to Pilate and elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. There is no Truth nor Life apart from Jesus. He alone grants us access to God (Jn 14:6). This is what we Christians believe. Only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ can we abide in the Truth.
For the Law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth were realized through Jesus Christ.John 1:17
I capitalize these words (Way, Truth, Life, Grace) because I distinguish between Truth with a capital T (given to God’s people by means of the special grace of salvation) and the shades of truth (lowercase t) that God’s common grace affords all of humanity in the journey through the wilderness of this life. In other words, I want to talk about Truth, truth and lies.
He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of his power.Heb. 1:2-3; John 1:1-4
I have spoken of Big-T Truth, and now here is little-t truth.
By God’s grace, there is beauty in our world, fallen as it is. There are words so moving they make us weap, songs so joyful they make us dance and sing along, promises so powerful they hold us together. There is sun and rain. There is life. There is hope. There is love. There is kindness. There is healing. There is truth. There is justice.
He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.Matt. 5:45
But there is also the lie, and it is bound up in the father of lies, the Evil One. And its consequence is this:
Whether we are Christian or not,
every word that crosses our lips, every so-called fact we utter,
every statement we make, every question we ask –
none can compare to the Truth that is God Himself.
This is the antithesis, between God and the kingdom of this world, perceived only through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14
What does this mean? It means that both the Christian and the nonChristian occupy a place of tension between the already of this world and the not yet of what awaits us both after death.
Even our most compelling scientific achievements, our most inspired art, our most beautiful music and poetry, our most well thought out decisions, the best and greatest we humans can offer – All are but shades of truth with a lowercase t.
We have only to look to the field of medicine to see that even our most life-saving medical advancements are tainted by greed, by sexism, by racism, not least the exclusion of black bodies and of other minorities from clinical trials. There is none righteous but Jesus, not one (Rom. 3:10). Only through Him can we can be declared righteous before the throne of heaven. Not of ourselves. It is the gift of God.
Perceiving this, I also believe that our reading of and interpretation of the Bible, the Truth, is inevitably flawed. When God saves us, He gives us a new heart and new eyes to see (Ez. 36:26). He gives us saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that increases as our relationship deepens, as He sanctifies us by the power of His Spirit.
This is no purely intellectual exercise. It is Truth, Love and Light. We see! And at times, as we draw closer to the One Who is Truth, our visions of Truth can be more magnificent than we can bear (Job 42:5). But even these are through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12). Our eyes are still covered by the veil of this life, still affected by our old nature, the allegiance to the father of lies that lingers in our flesh.
He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the Truth because there is no Truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.John 8:44
Given our human frailty, how then can we distinguish between Truth, truth and lies? Only by way of drawing close to the One Who is Truth, in reverence for the Word and humility in our reading of it.
But this cannot be done alone, in isolation. Acknowledging our frailty means we must listen to other Christians who likewise are in relationship with the One Who is Truth, especially those believers more mature than we, reading the Bible, learning and growing in our faith in a diverse believing community.
But here is another difficulty. Our brokenness also means that we would do well to listen to and learn from the diverse community outside of the Christian faith. Their common grace knowledge of the little-t truth of this earthly kingdom cannot grant us access to the Kingdom of Heaven. But little-t truth can and does ease humanity’s passage through this life. Through little-t truth we are able to ease physical and other material suffering. At times, the truth of this world even humbles and rebukes us. To our shame, common grace compassion and justice can eclipse our own, reminding us to draw closer to the Truth. We Christians should know better. We should do better. Often we don’t.
What a mystery that it is our limitations which equip us with thankfulness for God’s hand of blessing and restraint over all of His creation! How profound that it is our shared weakness that stirs up love for and appreciation for our neighbour, our fellow image bearer.
For what divides us, but grace? Only grace.
What happens, then, when we overlook this distinction between Truth, truth and lies?
Either we confuse little-t truth with Big-T Truth (e.g. ‘All truth is God’s truth’).
Or else we mistake little-t truth for a lie.
As I see it, both of these inflate our estimation of ourselves and belittle our Maker, in Whom there is no darkness.
And the latter is most apparent in religious fundamentalism.
Take, for example, Christians who declare those brothers and sisters ‘unholy’ who do not share their beliefs regarding ‘Biblical manhood and womanhood.’
According to such confident Christians, the Truth of the Bible is plain for every Christian to see. How to arrive at Truth, in their estimation?
Step 1: You open the Bible.
Step 2: You turn to Ephesians 5 or some other proof text.
Step 3: You see and fully comprehend the plain Truth therein, that women are by nature inferior to men, easily deceived, best suited for work in the home, serving husband and children, requiring the superior direction of male leadership in the home, church and society.
So what is the fundamentalist’s conception of truth? They (consciously or unconsciously) overemphasize the antithesis bewteen Truth and lies, perceiving that:
1. Truth (capital T) on all matters of the Christian faith is 100% accessible to the Christian (especially men). They act as if Truth can be wholly, objectively known.
2. Lies are anything outside of God’s Truth.
3. There is therefore only Truth and Lies.
4. There are therefore Christians who know the Truth and unbelievers who speak Lies (and are associated with the Father of Lies).
So then, if you do not see and comprehend Truth as they specify? You are at best deceived, at worse an unbeliever. This is part of how and why fundamentalists are quick to label things as Satanic and slow to admit their own error.
Note how this puffs up the Christian’s self-perception! It is no wonder that the men I heard uttering these fundamentalist ideas a few days ago had the arrogance to state that all the heavenly hosts are on their side and that those who oppose them are in allegiance to Satan.
Truth, truth and lies require far greater imagination than this. And far greater meekness. Acknowledging the shared little-t truth space that Christians and those outside our faith occupy in the wilderness of this life is a helpful correction leading to a humbler posture towards Truth and lies, between which only God Himself is able to distinguish fully.