Posted in Faith

What is Truth?


Reposted from The River Walk

The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)

At Jesus’ trial Pontus Pilate asked one of the most important questions in the history of mankind: “What is truth.” Jesus said that the Father is looking for those who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth. I want to be one of those He is looking for so the answer to Pilate’s question is of vital importance. The fact is there are a lot of crazy ideas about what truth really is. In the past hundred years, one theory that rose to the forefront is the pragmatic theory of truth. Guys like William James and John Dewey basically said truth is something that works. It is a concept that can be applied or verified. Post modern thought has grabbed hold of this concept, twisted it, and ran with it in the wrong direction. Statements like, “Whatever works for you” or, “That’s fine for you but for me I believe…” are twisted versions of the pragmatic theory. Basically truth has become whatever a particular individual is comfortable believing.

Another theory of truth that has come to the forefront in the past few decades is the consensus theory. This states that whatever is generally agreed upon must be true. You can see this theory at play in politics. Generally the republicans believe one thing and the democrats another (or the labor and conservative parties, or the nationalist and communist parties, or…) but if both (or all) parties tend to agree on a particular issue then that must be true.

Hegel and Marx both held to a theory of truth that is often still at use by historians today. They say that truth is actually an historical or social construct. We only see and know truth as such because we have been raised within a culture that has developed to understand reality through various historical or cultural lenses. Those raised in Asia Pacific would have a very different understanding of truth than someone living in North Africa or Western Europe. For the constructivist, truth varies based on a person’s culture or history.

There is also the coherence theory of truth but I would have a hard time in brief space distinguishing it from the pragmatic theory. To be honest, I really thing the pragmatists are no more than a variation of this theory which says truth is what fits a logical set of principles.

I tend to be in agreement with Aquinas on the issue of truth. Reality is what it is and truth is the process of accurately conveying objective reality through our words or thoughts. All the other views state that reality is constructed in some way by the individual or collective intellect. The correspondence theory of truth flips that. Objective reality is what it is and our responsibility is to conform our understanding to that truth. Truth isn’t shaped. We are.

When Jesus says that we must worship in spirit and in truth it is this last idea that He is speaking about. The Greek word we see used is “Aletheia” isn’t referring to a spoken truth but rather a reality. It is a truth revealed. When we worship God, we cannot simply do so however we like. The phrase, “To me God is…” has no value here. It doesn’t matter what we want to believe about God. What matters is who God is. He has revealed Himself to us and it is our responsibility to conform our intellect, and our worship, to that revelation. We don’t have a choice in the matter. In truth lies worship. In convenience or preference lies only idolatry.


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