The question in the title should register for anyone who has read the New Testament. It’s the question asked by Pontius Pilate in John 18:38. Jesus had just finished explaining that His kingdom was not of this world and that His purpose on earth was to bear witness to the truth. That prompted Pilate to ask “What is Truth?” It is an important question, even today, and deserves an answer.
In order to understand Pilate’s question, you need to understand Pilate’s background. Roman society was saturated with religious cults. All of them were acceptable in Roman society as long as they also paid at least lip service to the Emperor as a deity. Many of these gods had conflicting commandments and origin stories, but that did not matter to the polytheistic Romans. If they wanted to curry religious favor, they would offer sacrifices to multiple gods. Further, many Romans, particularly in the upper class, were something of agnostics. They followed Greek philosophers in search of truth that was ever elusive. Thus Pilate’s question makes perfect sense. When Jesus refers to “the truth”, it’s a foreign concept to Pilate. Roman society had no single truth. Instead, there were multiple truths.
Some of you may have noticed that Pilate’s question, and the culture that prompted it, sounds an awful lot like today’s culture in the west. If you noticed the similarity, you’re right. The culture is obsessed with truth, but their version of it is very much like the Roman version of it. Everyone has “their truth”. To the modern western culture, there is no single truth to aim for. Instead, each group has its own experienced truth. Instead of cold hard facts that are relevant to every individual, the truth becomes the property of the group. Facts are no longer relevant. Instead, the shared lived experience of the group defines what is true for that particular group. Because truth is experiential, what is true for one group of people may not be true for a second group, depending on their shared experiences.
Hopefully anyone with a rational brain has already seen the myriad of problems produced by this view of truth. First of all, it is unbiblical. The Bible makes it clear, that there is one truth. In fact, Jesus claims to be that single truth. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” John 14:6. Note the definite article “the”. When it comes to truth, Jesus is the source. There is only one truth, and that is found in Christ.
There are, however, other problems with a multiplicity of “truths”. The first is, society cannot function this way. What if math is true for one group, but not for another. Imagine having a member of the group that does not believe math is true design a bridge. Would you entrust your life to driving over that bridge? Of course not! But this manifests in more than just bridge building. Imagine a person whose truth is that they are a millionaire. They may only have ten dollars in the bank but their truth is that they are a millionaire. Should they be able to purchase a mansion in Beverly Hills? Obviously not! They can’t pay for it. But if we accept that truth is not universal, then why is their truth less valid than the banker’s truth?
I could list many more situations where having multiple, equally valid truths would be equally, or even more absurd but I trust you get the point. In order to have a functional society, there must be an absolute standard of truth that the whole society can agree to. The society does not have to agree on what the absolute standard is mind you. That’s why you can have atheists, Christians, Jews and Muslims all coexisting, albeit awkwardly, in the same society. However, society must believe that absolute truth exists. If truth is relative, then the society will collapse into tribalism. Sounds even more like the west today doesn’t it?
How can Christians navigate a post-truth society? How can we be a witness to the truth when people don’t recognize that truth even exists? It is going to require getting people to realize that there is an absolute truth. Generally, it’s best to do this by asking questions that illustrate to the listener that they themselves do not believe in relative truth. In this instance, it helps to know your audience, to understand what they will relate to. Once you have caused them to realize that truth is absolute, you can give them the truth: Jesus Christ.
Do you know what’s going to happen when you die? Are you completely sure? If you aren’t, please read this or listen to this. You can know where you will spend eternity. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us, we’d love to talk to you.