Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, Part 1: What Is Truth?
As I promised last week, Lady Jane Grey has arrived on the scene with an introductory post on truth that is certain to challenge current cultural norms. Please join with me in welcoming her. Lady Jane Grey, what is truth, why is it important to the church in the 21st century and what, pray tell, is a tertium quid?
Like a sing-song taunt out of the depths of some ancient poet’s cave, the word-trilogy “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty,” has long mesmerized me. Who said it first, I don’t know. Who’ll say it last, I certainly can’t predict. Who’s saying it now, well, we are. Here.
The Word of God has revealed something fascinating: God’s attributes of truth, goodness, and beauty are essential qualities peculiar to the Christian worldview, and are a major dividing point between secular culture and the culture of Christ’s church.
You will agree with me that an ugly head has been reared, and its name is Don’t-touch-my-value-judgments. Those of the postmodernist worldview claim that truth, goodness, and beauty are subjective to the meanings that each person attributes to them, and fluctuate in value according to the personal benefit each person receives from them. On the other side, those of the modernist worldview believe that absolute truth in every area can be found by using brain-games and the test of practicality.
While the effects of the modern and postmodern views have been devastating to Christian culture, I believe that Christ’s church can face a hopeful future when it is equipped with God’s standard as the foundation for all things True, all things Good, and all things Beautiful. The wavering echoes of the cave of man are nothing compared to the triumphantly glorious songs of the King’s church.
1. The True
“What is truth?” Pilate asked Jesus at His trial. Every age has asked this question, and some have attempted to answer it. “Truth is whatever you or I consider to be true,” some say these days. W. C. Smith was a perfect example of this postmodern thinking when he said,
“Christianity is not true absolutely, impersonally, statically; rather it can become true if and as you or I appropriate it to ourselves as true and interiorize it insofar as we live it out from day to day. It becomes true as we take it off the shelf and personalize it in actual experience.”
That is, truth is not absolute, changeless fact (inherent in the very definition of the word “truth”) but is instead a matter of personal opinion. However, personal opinions are often different, since they are dependent on often-misleading sensory perceptions and personal experiences. Knowing this, the modernists say that to have truth, you must have the agreement of a majority or the conclusions of “experts.” But truth cannot be solely the consensus of “experts,” for who decides what an expert is, and how do we know that an “expert” is infallible in his judgments when many “experts” have disagreed? Jesus said that the way is broad that leads to destruction, “and few there be that find it.” We know that truth cannot be dependent on the agreement of a majority, for there are many instances in history where the majority agreed on something that today’s majority considers absurd.
A higher standard is needed. Lewis called this standard by which to measure all other standards, a tertium quid. This must be a standard that not only holds what is true, but one that actually authors Truth.
The Only True Truth
The truth of God has never changed, though the factual conclusions that man has reached over the ages change frequently. God’s truth requires no other proofs of its infallibility than its own self-attesting declaration, “I am the Truth” (John 14:6). Even if many people disagree with it, the fact is not changed that God’s truth is the accurate representation of the way things really are. God’s truth is related to the eternal—that which will never cease to exist—for the entirety of God’s word is truth and will endure forever (Psalm 119:160). God’s truth also encompasses all things, “reaches to the clouds” (Psalm 108:4), is “founded forever” (Psalm 119:151-152), is the “entirety of God’s word” (v. 160), is “unsearchable” (Romans 11:33). The mere fact that God is the Creator of all things shows us just how massively encompassing His Truth is.
We Cannot Determine Our Own Truth
We are fallible and wicked (Is. 64:6). Though God has given all men a knowledge of Himself that is manifest in them, man has suppressed this knowledge about God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
Jesus confronted the Jews in Palestine who had suppressed the truth as well: “Because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me. Which of you convicts Me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me? Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:45-46)
His last statement was a daring thing to say to Jewish leaders, for they knew the great esteem that God held in His title of eternal changelessness: “I AM.” In this title He was declaring His ownership of the everlasting, changeless Truth. He was truth Himself, reality itself, a Being that was absolute, immutable, and not “becoming.” In spite of such a blatant declaration, the Jews would still not believe He spoke the truth. He explained their prejudice to them:
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44).
The father of truth and the father of lies stand in high contrast here. Those who believe the words of Jesus believe the truth. Those who believe the words of the devil believe lies.
However, those who believe lies are not always aware that they are being deceived. They are “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:14). These also have their “understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to licentiousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” (vv. 17-19). Though a man may profess a desire to know the truth, and even “heap up for [himself] teachers” to give himself assurance that the majority of professionals believe his way, he will be “always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth.” He will turn from the truth he says he desires, and put his trust in man’s fables. (2 Tim. 3:6-8, 4:3-4).
This is not to say that all things spoken by “heaps” of teachers are false. Some true Truth may satisfy the modern qualifications of the “agreement of the majority.” For example, there is not much debate now about whether or not Hitler was morally evil. The Bible supports the fact that, even though much truth is suppressed, some people will still retain a bit of the truth that God has graciously revealed to all men.
When a person trusts in Christ as the Truth to stake his life on, his desire is to soak up every bit of the Word of God. His mind then becomes “purified in obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22), and he will see that the supposed “truths” that multitudes of worldly teachers try to promote are nothing but fables and will fall away over time.
This discussion of truth becomes more important when we see that many people today are believing great untruths that have disastrous results. Click here to go to my complete article called “What Is Truth?” and to read more about the impact that absolute Truth has on individuals, churches, and societies that possess it.