In this post and the next, I will be continuing the meditation of my last post on Welch College’s motto, from Psalm 43:3, “O send out thy light and thy truth.” Let’s start by discussing truth.
We need the truth of the Trinitarian God if we are to make sense of the world we live in and know how to find a way out of our despair.
Now when the Bible talks about truth, it’s talking about something different from what our postmodern culture means by truth. In our current cultural mood, we have a tendency to say, “Truth is relative. You have your truth; I have mine.” But that’s not the way the Bible sees truth at all.
Here’s my quick, thumbnail definition of truth: Truth is a God’s-eye-view of reality. It’s what’s in God’s mind. It’s the real nature of things as God sees them.
When the Bible speaks of truth, it means two things that could be summed up in two words: faithfulness and factuality: faithfulness, in the sense of personal reliability, and factuality, as opposed to falsehood. Most of the uses of truth in both the Old and New Testaments are derivatives of these two uses. (See Anthony C. Thiselton’s still-excellent “Truth,” in the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology published by Zondervan in 1978).
Liberal-leaning scholars in the nineteenth century began to drive a wedge between these two uses. They said there was a wedge between the Hebrew concept of truth as personal faithfulness and the Greek concept of truth as factuality. Rudolf Bultmann, for example, said that the Apostle John was guilty of soaking up Greek ideas in his idea of what truth is.
I think this approach is eating away at our age and at students in so many of our schools and universities. It’s the view that truth is really only personal truth, personal faithfulness or reliability, and that truth as fact is unimportant. Thus there is a de-emphasis on absolute truth or objective truth and an emphasis on the subjective, on personal perception.
But Scripture does not present truth as relative. It’s absolute. It’s what Francis Schaeffer called “True Truth” or “Truth with a capital T.” So when we proclaim to the world that racism is wrong or that human trafficking is wrong or lying or abortion or same-sex relationships, we’re not just saying it’s wrong to us, to our culture, to our time. We’re saying it’s wrong in the mind of God.
But Christians believe in objective truth. To take out of context Fox Mulder’s slogan from that television program back in the day,The X-Files—“The Truth Is Out There.”
The Bible even goes so far as to say that everybody knows the basic truth of reality. St. Paul said in Romans 1:18-23:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (NKJV).
As you can see from Romans 1, we’ve got a big problem, and that is this tension in us. On some deep level, we know the truth, but because of our sinfulness and fallenness, we suppress it. We tuck the truth away so deeply that it’s not really in our consciousness.
So what good is truth if you can’t really know it and act on it because you’re so sinful and so distorted in your understanding? Well, that’s where light comes in, and I’ll offer a meditation on that in my next post.