How do we determine truth in a pluralistic society in which everyone is encouraged to create their own reality? In a world steeped in relativism, there are many mixed signals. What is true? More importantly, how can truth ameliorate the devastating impacts of people crafting their own versions of reality?
Plurality may be the context we face today, but I believe absolute truth will make a comeback. Think about it. Unless truth becomes objectively defined, we are lost to the seas of our own subjectivity, drifting further from reality until we are consumed by unreason and lunacy.
In today’s culture, the truth that black lives matter is upheld, yet the biblical truth that humans are loved and have intrinsic value to God is often regarded as narrow-minded. Environmentalism is touted as truth, while worshipping the Creator and following the biblical mandate to be environmental stewards is rejected. We often hold people accountable to our cultural truths while denying universal truths.
Have you noticed that many claims on the left are just mirror images of those on the right? Each side believes absolutely in its version of the truth, but emphasizing one truth over another results in cultural conflict and seemingly endless division. Perhaps the only way to resolve relative truths in this post-truth culture is to fully embrace the ultimate truth about truth itself—that all truth is God’s truth. While singular in our pursuit, we should recognize that there are different sides to following truth. Truth is muti-dimensional. Like a magnificently cut diamond with many facets, you can’t understand truth from just one single view. We need a shared experience or reality for understanding ultimate truth. Many many find that the leaf of truth they clasp connects them to the tree of absolute truth—the foundation and center of everything, the touchstone of reality.
Everyone believes in absolute ideals, though some deny the reality of absolute truth. Ironically, everyone admits that some perceptions of truth are false, and ideally, we all remain open to evidence and the rational process of persuasion. Our perspectives and versions of truth may change, but one reality applies to all of us. For example, slavery is wrong no matter how many people insist on it. It was wrong even during times when culture permitted it. If there’s no sense of objectivity—no universal truths to guide our moral compass—how can we morally assess slavery? What standards of fairness—of right and wrong—can we appeal to? What’s our source of inspiration, and who’s our authority? Could it be that the God of the Bible has made all people in His image, transcending time and culture?
In the Garden of Eden, the serpent presented himself as having a truth at odds with God’s truth. In the very act of the serpent denying truth, another truth claim was born. The serpent’s version of truth deceived Eve, creating a staggering dilemma. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the experience as “Truth against truth—God’s truth against the serpent’s truth.” (Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 1980, p. 113).
The serpent presented a lie of autonomy, claiming that we could find our own sensible version of truth and live it. But when misrepresentation becomes the order of the day, there is no way to receive truth in absolute purity. All things must be tested (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We must train ourselves to follow truth and learn how to live according to it.
In the trial of the ages, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate stood before Jesus, who had been accused of claiming to be king—a seditious act punishable by death. Pilate asked, “Are You a king?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king.” Then Jesus added a mysterious statement: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37, NKJV).
Jesus stood before Pilate and claimed that His kingdom was based in ultimate truth. In reply, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Before Pilate asked this profound question, however, Jesus had already declared in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Pilate’s question echoes our pluralistic society, where everyone claims their own truth. It demonstrates that we can easily get so caught up in the world’s controversies, philosophies, and theories of truth that we fail to grasp absolute truth itself. Worse still, we can lose touch with reality and become deceived. In Jesus’ trial, no one seemed to care about ultimate truth—not the priests, the rulers, or the governor. For Pilate, ultimate truth was irrelevant; it mattered little when he had the power to put Jesus to death. He said, “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you?”
What does real truth matter when you wield enough power to defend your own version of it? Governor Pilate, King Herod, High Priest Caiaphas, and even Hitler lived their own versions of truth. Each claimed a truth and killed to defend and justify it, but Jesus shows us that the power of politics, fortune, social fame, and other forms of power do not determine reality.
As a follower of Jesus, I see moral truth residing in one being. I believe in absolute truth. It’s not about self-autonomy but about being like Jesus. I understand that I am not the truth. The truth is Jesus. I understand that in a pluralistic society, my belief that Jesus is the ultimate truth may come across as narrow and intolerant (as do yours), only with one humbling exception.
At the end of the trial, Pilate decided to crucify Jesus. First, however, he had Jesus beaten and scourged and presented Him to the crowds of spectators, saying, “Behold the Man!” (John 19:5). This beaten and bloody one reveals truth. By beholding Him, one sees ultimate truth. The truth does not depend on social context. It is not based on feelings or sensory perception. Truth runs much deeper than our dearly held opinions and beliefs on how to live. It isn’t my impressive display of facts, the strength of my arguments, or the shape of my intellect that establishes truth. Rather, we must place our personalities in the background, stop following our own versions of truth, and start being loving and truthful like Jesus, even in the face of suffering and death. We are most human when we embrace this truth, for Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is a crucified truth, but it is the ultimate truth.
Jesus’ example shows us that the strength of truth does not require power to justify but only a willingness to live for truth’s sake. One can believe in absolute truth even when everyone else believes in lies. Jesus reveals what we as humans are designed to be—brave truth-tellers who place Jesus at the forefront. Our strength and determination do not come from theories, beliefs, feelings, or aligning truth with power. They come from being on the side of self-sacrificing love—the truth as it is in Jesus.
I am certain that the revelation of God’s love will increasingly become central in the end. The last truth to the world is a message about the absolute certainty of God’s love. Only one absolute is true at all times—the love of God. Our perspectives of truth can change, but the ultimate reality of God’s self-sacrificing love applies to us all. This truth exists outside us. It belongs to God.
Jesus’ example of dying for the truth models the strength of love. To be on the side of truth is to be on the side of love. The world is changing at an alarming rate, but the good news is that this truth never changes. I want to learn to live on the side of truth, so I can promote the greatest good.
Craig Ashton Jr.