In John 18:38, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask. That question was this: “What is truth?”
This is an easy question to ask but one that can be very difficult to answer. How difficult? Well, think about it for a moment- how would you answer this question if someone asked you? You see, this is a critical question to answer for if you don’t define truth for yourself now, someone else will surely try to do it for you later.
So what is “truth”? Well, simply put, “truth” is defined as “that which conforms to reality.” Truth is that which is in agreement with the facts. In other words, if you’re speaking the “truth” then you’re telling it like it is. The “truth” refers to that which is authentic, genuine and corresponds with what is actual and factual.
Sometimes people speak of “absolute truths.” An “absolute truth” is something that is true for everyone, everywhere, all the time. Now does this mean that all truth is absolute? Not necessarily. Some truth is relative. This means that it is dependent on or related to something else. You see, two people can give very different (but truthful) answers to the same question if the answer is dependent upon how they feel.
|An authentic disc from The Doctor’s very own collection|
Here’s an example: Let’s say that two people are listening to a CD from a hot new polka band like the way-cool disc seen here. If those two people are asked how they liked the CD, one might say, “It’s great” and the other might say, “It’s awful.” Are they both telling the truth?
Sure they are. Even though both people gave opposite answers to the same question, they both spoke the truth because in this instance, a truthful answer was dependent upon their feelings.
Now, while truth can be relative, not all truth is relative. For example, if someone says that George Washington was the first President of the United States, that’s not a relative truth because it is and always will be absolutely true that George Washington was the first U.S. President. It’s an absolute truth because that statement conforms to reality and isn’t relative to how anyone personally feels about it. On the other hand, if someone says that George Washington was a bad or good President, then that statement becomes a relative truth because it depends on how that person personally feels- get it?
This thing about absolute truth comes up a lot when talking about Christianity. For example, Jesus once said of Himself, “…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV). That’s an absolute statement by Jesus that a lot of people object to because they don’t believe that absolute truths exist. This kind of belief is reflected whenever someone says something like, “You may believe in Jesus, but that’s true for you and not for me.”
But let’s look at this again for a moment and think it through. For example, can you spot a contradiction in the following statement…
“There is no absolute truth”
What does this statement really say? If you think about it, this statement reflects an absolute truth, doesn’t it? In saying that there is no absolute truth, you’ve just stated an absolute truth, haven’t you? In other words, it’s an absolute truth that there is no absolute truth! That statement cancels itself out.
Here’s another way of putting it that’s slightly different. Let’s say that someone makes this statement…
“We really can’t know if absolute truth exists”
Ok, fine- but check out that statement again. In saying that we really can’t know if absolute truth exists, we’ve stated an absolute truth again, haven’t we? This statement is saying that it’s absolutely true that we really can’t know if absolute truth exists.
So once again, in making this statement we’re saying that at least one absolute truth exists, namely that we really can’t know if absolute truth exists!
Let’s try another one…
“All truth is relative”
How did you do with this one? If you think about it, there are two ways to show the problem with this statement.
First, this statement contradicts itself when it says that all truth is relative because there is at least one absolute truth- all truth is relative! All truth can’t be relative because the statement “all truth is relative” itself is an absolute truth.
Secondly, if all truth is relative, then the next question is, “relative to what?” If all truth is relative then it must be related to something else, right? That “something else” must be absolute truth.
Here’s one more…
“You may believe in Jesus but that’s true for you and not for me”
This is a statement that a lot of Christians find difficult to respond to but in reality, this can be handled in the same way as the others.
Just ask yourself this- does that statement apply for everyone? In other words, is it true for everyone that Jesus can be true for some and not for others? If the answer is yes, then it is possible that something can be true for everyone. And if it is possible for something to be true for everyone, then it is also possible for Jesus to be true for everyone. This puts Jesus’ claim to be the way and the truth and the life in a whole new light, doesn’t it?
Can you see how these statements contradict themselves? When someone attempts to deny the existence of absolute truth they must state an absolute truth to do it. Unfortunately, people are often uncomfortable with the idea of absolute truth because absolute truth implies there has to be an absolute authority- that’s God.
This creates conflict for people who want to live their lives however they want and not have to worry about whether or not their lives are pleasing to God. So the issue is really not with the existence of absolute truth- the issue is what will people do about it?