When Jesus was before Pontius Pilate facing crucifixion, an interesting dialogue took place (John 18:28-38).
Pilate asked, “What have you done?”
Jesus, not really answering his question, responded, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
Pilate, seeing an opening to charge Jesus with treason, retorted somewhat enthusiastically, “So you are a king?”
Jesus, knowing the reality of his situation, proclaimed, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate, very much perplexed by the situation, posed a question as a statement, “What is truth?”
This week, I had the pleasure of being a guest on season three of the Pastor Life Pod by Pinnacle Leadership Associates, which centered around courageous conversations. Hosts Rhonda Blevins and David Brown wanted to talk to me specifically about truth; discussing its rapid demise in a world of echo chambers, fake news, conspiracy theories and alternative facts.
As I thought about the interview prior to recording, the encounter between Pilate and Jesus came to mind. Pilte’s question-statement is an important inquiry to engage.
Pilate did not know who was lying or telling the truth in this incident. Was it the Jewish leaders or Jesus?
Pilate knew deep down that this poverty-stricken Rabbi was no real threat to Rome, but he also knew he was charged with keeping the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome). If he upset the Jewish base, turmoil could follow. Therefore, in the end, Pilate gave in to his Roman truth.
The Greek word for “truth” used in John 18 is very interesting. The word is alethia, meaning, “truth, but not merely truth as spoken; truth of idea, reality, sincerity, truth in the moral sphere, divine truth revealed to man, straightforwardness.”
While alethia leans more to moral truth that guides life, the contemporary definition of truth seems to include the notion of fact. So, let’s try to clear up the confusion between the two definitions.
I tend to lean more towards truth as a moral interpretation of the facts before me. With honesty and integrity, I attempt to interpret facts in order to form ideals, values and morals that guide my life. Facts are the observable objects defined by community consensus that lead to reasonable conclusions.
Let me provide an example.
I’m standing on a corner when two cars crash into one another. When the police officer asks for my statement, I provide him with my observation of the facts I witnessed. I am honest and sincere with my observation.
However, there was another person on the opposite corner who described the crash differently. They, too, were honest and sincere. Which one of us is telling the truth?
I contend that both of us are telling the truth, even though we provided different accounts, based upon the notion that we are honest and sincere in our interpretations of events based upon the facts we witnessed.
Truth can seem elusive, ever-evolving through time and perspective. However, truth is rooted in our honest pursuit of it and an agreement on factual evidence.
Here is the problem I see today. While our truths may vary depending on conscience, religion, politics and upbringing, we have tended to agree on the definitions of facts before us. A tree is a tree. A building is a building. A car is a car.
However, in recent years, there is a significant number of individuals attempting to convince us that the tree, building and car are not what they seem. They are attempting to persuade us that we are actually observing a flower, shack and boat. Barely tinged with a hint of truth, they have convinced themselves that their alternative perception of reality is factual.
Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, once wrote, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
As the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads like wildfire across the United States among those refusing vaccination, this statement rings true. While we discern truth from facts, facts are not subjugated to our truths.
In a world where alternative facts, claims of fake news and conspiracy theories now thrive, we would be wise to once again return to reason based upon the common good.
We need to agree that facts are based upon observable data defined by common consensus, while we all search for the truth to move us forward as a society.
When those facts are agreed upon, then we must also be willing to respect prospective truths. However, the most important facet of this endeavor is to enter into this process with honesty, integrity and kindness.
God created a diverse group of humans to walk together in this world. While we all pursue truth from different vantage points, we cannot abandon the notion of facts that provide a roadmap for our pursuit.
Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus declared, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
For Jesus, God’s word was the factual evidence to observe, while he offered an invitation to walk with him, searching for practical truth to apply to life.
May we once again embrace facts on our pursuit for truth. Only then will we be truly free.
CEO of Good Faith Media.