Ryan Burgett, June 1, 2011
When Christians start talking about truth, they most often begin with the Bible. It is held up as the truth. Now this is true, to a certain extent, in that the Bible is true, but the reality is that truth is not a “what” but a “who.” Truth requires an anchor, something that is unchanging. If everything was in a constant state of flux and nothing remained the same, there would be no truth. But the reality is that there is an anchor, and there is truth. That anchor is Jesus Christ, the Creator of the heavens and earth. In John 14.6, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The truth is a person, not a thing. Did truth begin with the Bible? No. Truth existed beforehand because God existed beforehand. He is omnipotent and unchanging, and He is the truth. Truth has always existed because God has always existed. When God (the Word, John 1) said, “Light, be!” it was (Genesis 1.3)! That is because God is truth and His word is true.
In the first two chapters of Romans, the apostle Paul speaks of three ways that we can know truth. The first is through what we know as natural revelation. In Romans 1, the apostle Paul speaks of how people can know truth through God’s creation. This means that by observing nature, society, and the universe as a whole, we can come to know truth, mainly that there is a God who created it all, and because we are created we have a purpose, and because we were created for a purpose we are accountable to God to fulfill that purpose and risk punishment for failing to do so. But even more truth than that is available to us through basic observation. We can learn the truth of basic morality by watching society and seeing what actions lead to pain and suffering and which lead to peace and happiness. We can learn the truth of natural laws through observation. We can observe that if we drop a book, it will fall to the ground, displaying the law of gravity. And there are also mathematical laws which are true and never change. Two plus two will always equal four and that will never change. Truth is observable all around us and it all points back to Jesus, the almighty Creator of the heavens and the earth. C.S. Lewis describes this process of finding truth through observing society brilliantly in chapter one of his classic, Mere Christianity.
The second way we can find truth is through our own consciences. Paul pointed out that “Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Romans 2.14-15). God has programmed truth into our own consciences. We know inside ourselves what is right and what is wrong. If you would see a person in trouble and you had the capacity to save them, your first feeling would be that you should save them. But immediately following that, you brain would often kick in with excuses as to why you should not. But we all have consciences which teach us truth, both moral truth and instinctual truth. I would call instinctual truth the truth that lies inside of us and is unlocked when needed through circumstance. Women know instinctually how to give birth to a baby and they instinctually know that they should feed the child at their breast. They might deny these instincts, but that does not mean that these instincts are not true. Also in the case of basic parenting, a person might have no understanding of children until he holds his first child in his hands. Suddenly it is as if a new instinctual set of skills is unlocked and he knows how he should hold the baby and countless other skills that it would be inexplicable that he would know apart from instinctual truth. So we can know truth, both moral and instinctual, through our own consciences.
Paul explains in Romans 2.17-18 that the third way people can know God’s truth is through His written word, the Bible. The Bible is the infallible, written truth from God, and is therefore the best and most comprehensive collection of truth available to humanity. But it must be pointed out that the Bible is not the sum of all truth, because we have already seen that truth can be found apart from the Bible. (Just because the sum of two plus two is not given in the Bible does not mean that it is not truth!)
The obvious question that arises at this point in our discussion is: What if these different means of finding truth lead to truths that are contradictory? One might say that through their observation of nature, they see that homosexuality is a perfectly moral practice. But the obvious problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. If truth is truth, then it cannot contradict itself. Absolute truth is absolute, regardless of what the source is. We know the Bible is God’s infallible written truth, so we can say that the person made a wrong observation of truth through nature. The Bible can be used as a check on what we see to be true outside of it. But it can also go the other way. We might start from the Bible and see truth and then look out into nature, society and our consciences and see the truth backed up in the most wonderful way. If truth is truth, then it is the same wherever you see it. But of course the point must be made here that God has never said that natural revelation or the conscience are infallible, only His written word is given that quality and it is therefore the most trustworthy collection of truth that there is.
Many see the Bible as the source of truth, or at least they treat it that way. But if truth was limited to human language, then we would be in a sad position. Just look at how the church has interpreted the Bible through the ages. The Bible hasn’t changed, yet it has been used for more things than you could possibly imagine. There are competing ideologies and denomination all based off of the same passages but just with different perspectives or different interpretations. Unfortunately, words are often putty in the minds of readers. But the awesome reality is that truth transcends limited human language and that is why we can find it in different ways. Going back to my original point, Jesus is truth. The Bible is true because it reflects Jesus. Nature, society and our consciences show us truth because they reflect God’s truth woven into the fabric of the universe.
But if truth is a person rather than a thing, there are certain implications. The first implication is that the fullest understanding of truth must start with relationship. Academic study of the written word or natural revelation can only take a person so far. The fullness of truth grows out of a personal relationship with Jesus, the truth. A person not in a right relationship with Jesus will read the true words of the Scriptures but not fully comprehend what is being said. But when the “Spirit of truth” (John 16.13) begins working in them, then they are able to see the reality. Salvation, sanctification, and knowledge in general all flow from Jesus. The entire Christian life is inherently relational. Another implication is that if all truth flows from Jesus, then anywhere there is truth, you can find Jesus. Truth can be found in nature, art, religious and secular writings, our consciences, mathematical textbooks and all sorts of other places. This is not to say that everything is truth, but that truth can be found nearly everywhere. This is also not to say that Jesus is literally in everything, but the point is that when you find truth, you can always trace it back to Him.
It’s all about Jesus. That is the awesome reality of life. As Christians, we seek after Jesus. Some will misunderstand what I have written to be downplaying the importance or the veracity of the Bible, but I do not believe I need to defend myself against such an accusation. Holy Spirit said Himself through the apostle Paul said that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” My point is not to downplay the Scriptures, but to lift up Jesus and put Him in His proper place. Truth is not a what, it is a who.