What Is Truth?
“What is truth?”
Pilate’s question to Jesus the night before his execution seems strikingly modern.
The internet has brought us unprecedented access to information, yet much of it seems to be conflicting—how do we evaluate claims of truth? Science states its findings in theories, all of which are updated with new research and data-
Is truth a moving target?
In an era of fake news, fact checkers, and partial truths supporting a political agenda,
we might find ourselves quoting Pilate: what is truth? All of this is in the midst of our culture exiting the Christian era where religious truth was considered absolute.
Popes and theologians could make doctrine, and people adhered to the faith as it was taught. Now religious pluralism and a general questioning of authority has made even religious truth seem relative. It seems worthy to consider the question.
Pilate was the Roman pro-consul, the regional governor of the empire.
He had jurisdiction over the Jewish state of Israel, and power to put down rebellion—
which he had to do often. Jesus was brought to Pilate, not because Pilate had any beef with him But because the Jewish religious leadership didn’t like Jesus’ claim of being the Son of God.
Prior to the scene in our Gospel lesson, Pilate meets with the Jewish leaders.
the religious leaders were angry because of Jesus’ theological claims—
Jesus threatened the temple and its leadership, the very institution that had held the people together for so long. They had to get Jesus out of the way. But they knew that Pilate wouldn’t care about any of that. He wasn’t a Jew. So they trumped up charges that Jesus was an enemy of the state. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.
Instead of answering, Jesus asks a question back. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Jesus doesn’t admit to being a king outright, but instead says that his kingdom which is not of this world. When Pilate presses him on whether he is a king, Jesus only answers, “You say that I am a king.” And the clincher: “For this I was born, for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
I don’t know about you, but if I were Pilate, I would have been getting frustrated at this point. Here is Pilate, trying to get to the bottom of the Jewish leadership’s anger and accusation He’s got an angry mob on his hands And Jesus isn’t cooperating. And then Jesus comes out with these lofty words about being born to testify to the truth.
Give me a break? This guy, truth? When he won’t give me a straight answer? What is truth, anyway?
Turns out Pilate should have been in my confirmation class. In confirmation class, I always talk about Truth with a capital T, and truth with a little t. I usually bring it up when we study the two creation stories in Genesis in chapters 1 and 2. Scripture has reserved two renditions of the ‘truth’ of the creation of the earth, which frankly tell pretty different stories. But every kid knows of at least one other creation story: evolution.
And this story is completely different, because is a scientific story. Its language is hypotheses and theories, based on physical evidence and data, and while it may speak of human beings all coming from the same stock in Africa millenia ago,
it does not trace back to two human parents. How do we reconcile these seemingly competing claims?
What is truth?
That’s when I talk about Truth with a little t and capital T. I say, Scripture and science address different questions. Scripture address questions about who and why: Who made the world? Why do people do bad things? How does temptation operate?Meanwhile, science is great at addressing What and How questions:
How did human beings spread out over the planet? What is passed on through genetics?
My answer is that Scripture talks about Truth with a capital T—truths that speak about God and humanity and the world. Meanwhile, science talks about truth with a little t- hypothesis and data and constant evaluation. Both are important. But is that answer good enough? What does Jesus mean when he boldly states that ‘everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”? Jesus probably didn’t make a lot of sense to Pilate. But we who read John’s Gospel remember that Jesus himself is the Truth—the Truth with a capital T. In chapter 14, Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Belonging to the truth means belonging to Jesus. It means listening to his voice in prayer, and discovering that Jesus’ Spirit of Truth is already in you. It means learning to give and receive the love that is deepest and most true: God’s love for you.
What is truth?
It’s so much more than analyzing data or an intellectual enterprise.
It’s about growing in our relationship with Jesus.
It’s about imitating him, our King who serves the lowly and least, our Ruler who loves us and is completely trustworthy. Today on Christ the King Sunday, let us invite Christ in, who is our way, our truth, and our life.