“What is truth?” That’s what the governor Pilate said when Jesus came before him to stand trial before His crucifixion. And with that condescending and cynical question, Pilate essentially revealed his worldview. For him, there was no such thing as absolute truth. For him, truth was relative. Truth was what you made it.
“What is truth?” That’s what the governor Pilate said when Jesus came before him to stand trial before his crucifixion. And with that condescending and cynical question, Pilate essentially revealed his worldview. For him, there was no such thing as absolute truth. For him, truth was relative. Truth was what you made it.
In a sense, Pilate was a man way ahead of his time. What I mean is that he spoke for many in the present time who are part of what is often referred to as the postmodern age. Prior to postmodernism, there was the so-called modernistic age in which God was thought of as no longer useful or relevant. Man didn’t need God to get to the truth. It was thought that man, if given enough time and effort, could use his reason and intellect to come to the truth about everything.
But two world wars later, with no apparent man-made progress in the improvement or understanding of the human condition, a general transition took place. Man abandoned the search for and belief in an overarching statement of truth that gives form and meaning to his existence. As such, we now live in the postmodern age where the thinking is that what may be truth for one is not necessarily truth for another. As one has observed, “The only permissible absolute is the statement that there are no absolutes.”
If there are no absolutes, then there can be no absolute morality or ethics. This is seen for example in the way the postmodernist, “everything is relative” worldview has crept into our culture. Frank Sinatra singing “I did it my way” and Stephen Stills’ lyrics “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with” give expression to that relativistic, “situational ethics” frame of mind. In this way, mere personal and cultural inclinations have replaced real truth.
But in abandoning the belief in absolute truth, man has essentially entered into just one more manifestation of rejecting God as the source of real absolute truth. As such, he has replaced God with himself. Man has sought to be his own god.
This desire for autonomy or independence from God and his truth first surfaced in the garden of Eden. There Adam chose to reject God’s revealed truth that he would inherit eternal life if he would be obedient to God’s command regarding eating fruit from the forbidden tree. Relying upon himself, he chose instead to accept a lie, and plunged himself and all mankind into ruin.
And particularly in this present time of unbelief as expressed in postmodern relativism, man still wants to say, “What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.” But how can something be both true and false? Try that on your next mortgage payment when you attempt to convince the bank that the truth of what they say you owe is not necessarily truth for you.
But God is “the God of truth,” and he has revealed that truth in the Bible which the Apostle Paul called “the Word of truth” (Psalm 31:5; 2 Timothy 2:15). Jesus himself said in his prayer to God the father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Truth is outside of us. It comes from above. It comes from God. It doesn’t come from opinion polls, surveys, human tradition, cultural distinctives or sentimental notions.
In spite of all that man has thought, said and written, its God alone who has given us the truth about the beginning of the universe, the problem of the human race, the one and only way of reconciliation with him, the only way of morality, the blueprint for the family, the course of human history and the one plan for bringing all of human history to a conclusion. Only God is able to tell man the truth about what sin is, what heaven and hell are, what judgment is and what the way of salvation is.
When Jesus ministered to his disciples on the night of his betrayal, he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). What Jesus revealed about himself as being the truth can not be said about man’s imagined idea of truth. Man’s relativistic concept of truth leaves him not only without God, but he’s left without any real meaning, purpose or ultimate future as regards himself. He’s alone! One writer has observed about the postmodern man; “There is an ache at the heart … there is an emptiness, a void, a gnawing of conscience which, when a reflective moment intervenes in the rush of life, leaves the individual person with an awareness that he has not discovered true satisfaction.”
But Jesus also said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). That is, when the truth is received by faith, then the believer is released from the bondage and tyranny of sin. And the truth is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but God himself has come in the flesh specifically to save sinners from sin and all its consequences.
That’s what the cross is all about. It was not Jesus dying as some kind of martyr, or his showing us an example of real commitment to a way of life. It was the righteous son of God who “being found in appearance as a man … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8) to suffer the penalty and pay the legal debt for the sin of believers that they might be pardoned and thereby reconciled to God.
That truth cleanses and purifies. It’s life-transforming, and as one has put it, “renews the mind, revives the heart and redirects our steps.”
What is truth? That’s the truth.
The Rev. Paul N. Wanamaker is pastor of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Easton, Mass. He can e reached at email@example.com. For more information about the church, go to www.teccoe.org.