19 Dec Living the Truth
Humans are creatures who do not like to leave things in the lurch; we want closure, we want to know what happens in the end, we want to keep things known to us. I remember watching the movie, American Psycho and by the end of the movie, I felt an involuntary urge to almost throw up, not because of the ghastly nature of the movie but because I could not process the ending of the movie; there was no closure and I don’t know what happened by the end of the movie. It was not a simple open-ended movie. It was because it just did not make sense, at least, to me. The question in my mind was: which side of the story should I lean toward? Which is true and which is not?
Every time, the question of truth is brought up in a discussion, the first among many examples that is immediately brought out on the table is the story of the elephant and the blind men. It’s all about perspective, they say. The elephant is the tail or the tusk or the limbs or the trunk… Whether the fan rotates clockwise or anticlockwise depends on which side of the fan you are on. So, as the discussion progresses, any lingering question or debate about the nature of truth boils down to one of the two responses: (i) you cannot know what is true, or (ii) who cares about what is true anymore; just believe what you want to and act accordingly.
Most discussions on the nature of truth, at least for Christians, begins at the memorable scene between Jesus and Pilate in John 18 when Jesus was arrested and brought for trial. Jesus, responding to Pilate’s question whether he was the king, responded in the affirmative and added on, “. . . the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me,” at which Pilate retorted, “Truth? What is truth?” Whether Pilate was responding to the immediate answer that Jesus gave or contemplating on the philosophical nature of truth as was his education, we never know. However, we do know that the question at hand is: “what is truth?”
In John 8, we encounter a situation that is not very different from our own today, on the question of what is true. The Pharisees were after Jesus trying to trap him in whatever he said, debating with him and questioning all the claims he was making. Jesus, at this point, was revealing himself to the world about who he is but the Pharisees were not able to comprehend his words. At one point Jesus turned to the Jews and said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Then a whole bunch of debate and furore arose regarding who he was and for his blasphemous claims.
For as long as human history existed, truth has always been held in contest, never in balance. Leaders in societies place more interest in truth-claiming rather than truth-telling as a means of control. But what does Jesus mean when he says that the truth shall set us free? How can truth affect our lives? Everybody likes the truth so long as it does not have a moral/ethical bearing upon their lives. Science devotes itself to discovering the truth about the universe. Medical scientists devote their time and energy to discover the true nature of illnesses and find cures for them. We, as patients, like to go to the doctor to know the truth about our illnesses but once the doctor reveals to us what is wrong with our bodies and the necessary changes that we need to make with regards to diet, sleep or work, we develop a resistance to that truth and would most gladly throw it out of the window.
Can we pick and choose our own version of truth?
There are truths we can know by experimentation and verification but there are some truths we cannot know. Verifiable truths may largely belong in the physical world and unverifiable truths may belong in the metaphysical world. That does not mean we cannot know metaphysical truths at all. Truths pertaining to qualities or attributes, for example, beauty, may not have a definite answer. We understand beauty based on our perception and experience, so different people may have different ways of understanding or describing the idea of beauty. But how about the ideas of love, justice, fairness, etc.? Do they have definite definitions or are they up for grabs? Socrates has a way of dealing with people who have simple definitions or who have not thought through certain aspects of life by entering into dialogue with them and channeling their thoughts, distilling them and presenting to them a more refined way of thinking about the same idea.
University campuses are spaces where bombardment of ideologies happen every single day. It is a space where the previously uninformed can become hardcore endorsers of ideologies. It is also a space where people force themselves to fit into certain categories because they do not want to be the odd ones out. The university is like a potter’s wheel, where the mould of clay over time hardens and takes a certain shape, and every single minute on the potter’s wheel is an irreversible change unless the whole mould is broken and started over. How then do Christian students present themselves in the university where people are not bothered about truth; the truth has either been replaced by: (i) feelings – what feels good to me is the truth, (ii) nonchalance – I don’t care about the truth. I will do what I want, (iii) half-truths – take some truth from here, some from there, and I have my own version of truth.
It does get frustrating for the Christian student who has been taught that the only truth is the Bible and what God has spoken. So, the university spaces can be trying and confusing at the same time because no one is ready to listen to you or no one really cares. I would like to share a few words of encouragement and consolation to those who may have been going through similar situations:
(i) Jesus Christ alone is Truth (John 14:6). It means that we are NOT the truth, nor are we custodians of the truth. We are simply agents who point toward the truth, i.e., Jesus Christ. We are simply ambassadors. Our task is to simply point others to Christ. Do not be angry or frustrated if people reject what you say or present. We must also be humble to realise that we do not know everything. We do the planting, Christ does the watering and the growing.
(ii) St. Francis of Assisi most eloquently put these words, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Entering into a dialogue does not necessarily have to be a debate, a seminar, a presentation, or a session on apologetics. For the most part of our lives, people will see what we do, not what we speak. We engage in a dialogue by living our lives differently based on the truth that we know and have impacted our lives. We may not even have to speak a single word in defence when we are living out the gospel in our lives. Let people be attracted to the beauty of our lives and they most certainly will approach us and ask us about the same.
Can we present the Bible as the absolute truth?
Take out all the words in the Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, that God (YHWH) himself spoke (OT) and Jesus spoke (NT), and examine whether they make any sense in isolation? Truth statements in philosophy are usually abstract and isolated from the speaker, up for debate and further examination.
Truth statements in the Bible (especially those that are spoken by God himself) cannot be separated from the speaker. “I am the Alpha and the Omega” does not make any sense without the speaker (Jesus). “I am the way, the truth and the life” does not make sense in isolation.
Sometimes, enthusiastic and well-meaning Christians can get lost in debates and arguments over the veracity of the Bible with others who may not see them eye to eye. Yes, we need to defend our faith, speak up for our faith and present our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ as faithfully as we can wherever we are. The only difference we must develop with others while presenting the God of the Bible is to walk with them and do life together. When Jesus was about to tell his disciples one of the most crucial things about his death and resurrection, he did not prepare notes and give them a 10-point argument or presentation; instead he gave them a meal. Do we have friends who are difficult and who are ever ready to argue with us? Can we find time to speak to them, eat with them, share stories with them and do life together?
So, can we present the Bible as absolute truth? Certainly! By living out the Bible in our daily lives and the bearing it has upon our individual selves, our families, our relationships, our towns and cities, our countries and the world. We cannot present the Bible with arguments, we must live it out as faithfully as it calls us to live. Perhaps there are some “truths” that we may not be able to comprehend with our limited minds, but we are confident that the One who is “Truth”, and who has called us by our names will reveal to us in the end and make everything known. Until then, even if we lie in the lurch we are confident because of the One who writes our future. Let us be truth-seekers and truth-speakers, but more so, let us be truth-livers.
Ungshungmi teaches in the junior school section of St. Columba’s School in Delhi. He believes in building foundations with the right values from childhood. He has been part of the UESI family for the past many years and has actively involved himself in different capacities.