Sometimes as I read the Bible, a long-familiar verse will jump out at me, brimming with sudden relevance to my life. A few years ago, this happened to me with John 18:38, where Pontius Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
I had never really understood the gravity of this question until I asked it also. This happened when my view of God — that he was loving, that he cared about the sparrow and me too — had gone through a serious sieve of hurt. Knowing I needed something stronger than my emotions to ground my faith, I wanted to find out what was true. No longer esoterically philosophical, the question “What is truth?” captivated my attention because the answer to it would bear ramifications on the rest of my life.
To get to capital-T Truth, I had to figure out what I was looking for in the first place. St. Augustine’s definition, written in the fourth-century writing Soliloquies, clicked with me:
“What is true, is.”
Truth is what’s real — only what corresponds to reality can be called true.
Inspired by this definition, I gradually began to discover some facts that are real: there is strong evidence for the resurrection; the Christian Bible is the best preserved of all ancient literature; it is philosophically impossible to justify human value without God; this finite universe had a beginning. All of these things are true, unaltered by time passing, but when I was caught up in my emotions, I couldn’t see them clearly.
The Bible shows us that we often hide the truth from ourselves. In Koine Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word for truth is ἀλήθεια. It’s a combination of the prefix α-, which means not, and the noun λήθη, which means forgetfulness. Thus, truth means not hidden. Considering John 18:38 and this definition, Pilate asks literally, “What is not hidden?” This seems silly — it’s like he’s looking for something that isn’t lost!
While this idea made me smile, remembering the many times I have hidden truth sobered me. I have covered it with my doubts, disappointments, and desire for comfort, as if how I felt about God could change who he is, what he wants from me, or what is true.
This is why, in this world of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” where we have surrendered authority to feelings, I have to define truth as that which corresponds to reality. I can’t cater my definition to suit my mercurial emotions or my absurdly-brittle pride.
Instead, I think we have to look outward — beyond the veil of ourselves and our desires — to see the truth. We have to cast off the idea that we can be comfortable in our relationship with God and, instead, embrace continued sanctification, especially when it’s painful.
Truth costs us everything — we are dying to ourselves — but it’s worth it because we get God! As John 8:32 tells us, the truth sets us free. We’re no longer enslaved to self-idolization. Finally freed from all the things that blind us to his goodness, we can see and enjoy God, the very embodiment of truth itself, the great I AM (remember Augustine’s definition? Truth is that which is!). Then we understand what A. W. Tozer writes:
“…Truth is not a thing for which we must search, but a Person to whom we must hearken!”
Truth-hunting took me to libraries, professors’ offices, and church sanctuaries. In the end, answering Pilate’s question had less to do with my location than my posture. When my knees were bent and Bible open, Jesus stepped in and uncovered what was never hidden: Truth found me.
© Olivia Davis 2019, all rights reserved