“What is truth?”
That was Pilate’s question to Jesus, after Jesus told him that he had come into the world “to testify to the truth.” The question was a good one, but Pilate didn’t wait for the answer. Probably it was less of a genuine question and more of a cynical—possibly bitter?—statement of the shifting realities of political life and Pilate’s role in it. This was a man who had given up on the idea of firm principles. He had seen how changeable the crowds could be, and how precarious his position and power were. He could not afford to care about what was really, foundationally, true—he could only respond to the immediate situation in front of him and try to make the best of it for himself. Or so he thought.
What is truth? The question is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. People are still people, and crowds still change their minds just as quickly, if not more so. Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s villains, last month’s reason for widespread anger is already forgotten, and some of the things you can be cancelled for saying today are the same things that politicians had to say to get elected a decade ago. What is truth? Whatever it is, it seems to move quickly. It seems hard to keep up with.
The dictionary defines “truth” as “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.” This sounds objective, impartial, immovable. And most people still use it that way, at least sometimes. But there are also times when objective truth can become objectionable. What happens when reality includes objective limits to our subjective choices? What if we can’t make our lives, or our nations, or our world, or the people around us, or even our own bodies, everything that we wish them to be? What if we can’t make God what we wish him to be?
When the truth became an obstacle to what he wanted, Pilate abandoned it and made his own way. The truth could not be tolerated, so it was ignored. Killed. And he is not alone: there is far more encouragement today to live and declare “my” truth than to discover “the” truth about myself. And the same applies to God: does anyone actually want to know what God is really like? Or are we more interested in making him fit into our ideas of what he ought to be?
When our current politicians and news sources adjust the facts to suit themselves (like Pilate before them), we cry foul. Fake news is a real problem, because it is fake. It is untrue, unaligned with the real facts of the real world. We hate fake news because we know that the truth about the world is not subjective.
But then—what if the truth about God is also not subjective? What if it is greater and more satisfying and awe-inspiring than we could imagine? And what if the truth about us is not subjective, either? What if it is richer and better than any personal truth we could manufacture for ourselves?
What if the man who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” really is, himself, the foundation of truth? What if he meant it when he said that “the truth will set you free”?
What is truth? The question is a good one.
What if we waited for the answer?