Monday, June 30, 2014

What is Truth

In the past few months, I have been doing a considerable amount of thinking about truth.  What is truth?  Is it as simple as a truth is the opposite of a lie?  I don’t think so.  I am not writing on the topic of truth to expound on how telling a truth versus telling a lie.  I think that would simply cause us only to go round and round with defining truth.  My goal is to delve deeper and address the differences between subjective and objective truth.  I have reached the conclusion that more often than not any person’s truth tends to be more subjective rather than objective, especially regarding the topics of God, humanity, the origins of the entire creation, and religion. defines “truth” as the “true or actual state of a matter, conformity with fact or reality, a verified or indisputable fact, or the actuality or actual existence of something”

Pontius Pilate spoke the words “what is truth” to Jesus just before Jesus was condemned to be crucified.  In looking at the four different Bible translations I prefer to use, I find each one reads a little different.  In each of those translations, the punctuation varies causing the meaning of the words to also vary.  Commas are arranged differently and the use of question marks, exclamation marks, and periods also varies.  Punctuation was not part of the ancient Greek writings and was added to the scriptures over the years in order to bring ease to their reading.  However, punctuation holds the power to affect the meaning of words.  Observing the differences between the translations only reinforces my desire to write this article on truth.

Here is John 8:37-38 in four different translations:

Pilate, then, said to Him, “Is it not then so?  A king are you!”  Jesus answered, ”You are saying that I am a king.  For this also have I been born, and for this have I come into the world, that I should be testifying to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth is hearing My voice”.  Pilate is saying to Him, “What is truth!”  (Concordant Literal New Testament, CLNT)

Pilate, therefore, said to him, `Art thou then a king?' Jesus answered, `Thou dost say [it]; because a king I am, I for this have been born, and for this I have come to the world, that I may testify to the truth; every one who is of the truth, doth hear my voice.' Pilate saith to him, `What is truth?'  (Young’s Literal Translation, YLT)

Hence, Pilate said to him:  Hence, are not also you, yea you, a regent?  Then answered Jesus:  You, you say, that I am a regent; into this I, I have become (born) and have come into this, into the cosmos, so that I may witness concerning (on account of) the truth; every one being out of the truth hears My voice.  Then Pilate says to Him: Who (what) is truth?  (The Writ, Dabhar Translation)

Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”  Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?”  (New American Standard Bible, NASB)

Those are four different variations of the “truthful” dialogue between Jesus and Pilate.  In his question to Jesus, I believe Pilate was making a rhetorical statement, not one he expected an answer to.  I read it as him saying to Jesus, “Who can really know what the ultimate truth is?  Your truth is not necessarily my truth.  If only we could get to the actuality of truth.”  The four different translations of the very same event in John 8:37-38 highlights the point I will be making in this article: human beings are often speaking in a context of subjective truth rather than objective truth.  

What is the difference between subjective and objective? 

I found a simple and easy to understand explanation at the site  Their article titled “The Difference Between Objective and Subjective” says this:

In stories, newspapers, and the spoken word, people all over the world are trying to convince you to think as they do. They are bombarding you with facts and figures, opinions and projections. It is up to you to create order within this chaos and find the patterns that will help you to understand what is true, what could be true, and what is outright false. In order to do all this, you need to have a firm grip on what is objective and what is subjective.

Objective is a statement that is completely unbiased. It is not touched by the speaker’s previous experiences or tastes. It is verifiable by looking up facts or performing mathematical calculations.

Objective statements are facts that can be verified by third parties while subjective statements may or may not be entirely true as they are colored by the opinions of the speaker.

Subjective is a statement that has been colored by the character of the speaker or writer. It often has a basis in reality, but reflects the perspective through with the speaker views reality. It cannot be verified using concrete facts and figures.

Subjective can be used when nothing tangible is at stake.

“Objective is a statement that
is completely unbiased.”

“Subjective is a statement that has been colored
by the character of the speaker or writer.
It often has a basis in reality,
but reflects the perspective through
[which] the speaker views reality.”


I hope this doesn’t come across as a shock, but every human being is biased!  We are so biased that we are typically blind to our own bias while quickly pointing out the bias of others.  And right here, I will admit that this writing will be tainted with my personal bias based on who I am and the experiences of my life. 

Bias is part of who we are and how we feel and act. 
Bias is part of our character and our personality.
Bias is ingrained deep within our soul. 

For the most part, our bias stems from things over which we have had no control.  It is continuously being embedded deeper into our human soul as our body and mind react to all the experiences that began the moment we were conceived.  What is truth to me simply may not be truth to you and vice versa.  Why?  Because we are unique individuals, and we have had very different life experiences.  As human beings, we are similar in the aspects of human nature, but within our heart and soul, we are as distinct as our fingerprints.

In my previously posted article “Is There Such a Thing as Free Will?” I stated:

“Every single choice we make has been influenced by something that has touched us in our lifetime.  Every single thing that we have ever heard, seen, felt, and experienced in this earthly world has influenced our thought processes and the choices that we make. 

When we were conceived and formed in our mother’s womb, we had no choice and no control over:

the day of our conception
the circumstances surrounding our conception
the genetic make-up of our parents
if we would be male or female
what time period we were born in
the exact day we were born
in what location of the world
what we would look like, “attractive” or “not so attractive” to the human eye
the color of our skin, our hair, our eyes
the shape of our body
if we would have all ten toes and ten fingers and be of sound mind and speech
our personality or talents
into what family we would be born in
the behaviors, traditions, or beliefs of that family
what kind of parents we would have
if we would have any siblings and what their personalities would be like
or the day we will die”

Every choice we make and every belief we hold dear and proclaim as truth has been influenced by the combination of who we are at the most basic level and all else which has touched us in our lifetime.  Every one of the factors predetermined for us at the moment of conception and every single experience we’ve had since then (from the most mundane to the most complicated) has played a part in developing our bias towards what we believe is true or not.

Bias and subjective truth in action

People are capable of understanding and expressing objective (tangible) truth.  But I've discovered that we often get caught up in a great amount of subjective truth and try to put it off on others as being objective.  It is an objective truth that I am alive and breathing, sitting here at the computer typing these words, and my dog lays asleep at my feet.  However, the words I write in this article contain subjective (biased) truth.

This morning, I was considering the Muslim women who are made to wear burqas and be completely submissive to those of the male gender who proclaim that is the way God (their version of God) says it must be.  I thought of how those women are subjected to such humiliation and oppression and that for them to speak or act against it could mean serious physical harm or even death.  Thinking about them being subjected to that life out of no choice of their own, but simply because they were born as female in that part of the world and into that culture, during a particular era, reminded me of the scripture that says God subjected all of creation to vanity on purpose.  

For the creation was subjected to futility [vanity],
not willingly,
but because of Him who subjected it…
(Romans 8:21 NASB)

And that also reminds me of the scripture that says God will be merciful to all.

"For God locks up all together in stubbornness,
 that He should be merciful to all."  
(Romans 11:32, CLNT)

Ultimately, we are all subject to God and His plans.  Now, I am completely aware that the belief of God being real and true can be considered a subjective truth and that my statement may be found offensive by some people.  But I did admit that in writing this article I would be guilty of inserting my own subjective truth.  There are people who cannot believe that God exists.  They have never seen or heard God, and to them it cannot be proven that He does exist.  Any amount of “proof” a God-believing person can offer an atheist to convince them God is real will be as effective as the atheist offering their “proof” that He is not real to the God-believer.  Faith is an act of God, not of man.

A few weeks ago, my questioning in certain matters became so intense that I even began to wonder about the existence of God, “What IF God isn’t real?!”  The world is such a chaotic place and some of what happens in this world can bring any person to their knees with anguish and doubt.  God allowed me a couple of days to mentally question His existence and for whatever reasons, He chose to bring about a little event for me which convinced me He was telling me this: “MaryAnn, don’t doubt my existence.  I am very real.  You can question the writings, but don’t question my existence.  I am real.  Don’t give up believing in Me.  That is not the way I want you to go.”  And that little event, its message, and my past experiences with the presence of God were more than enough to reassure me again, “God IS real!” 

I was recently reading a book in which the writer, who used to be an Episcopalian bishop, professed his beliefs that there is no creator, all that exists came into being by accident and evolutionary processes, and that all of life is entirely accidental.  In his book, he proposes there is no one God who is over all and responsible for all and instead, “God” is humans reaching a higher level of consciousness.  He even capitalizes the word “God” all throughout his book.  Every time I read his word “God”, I had to keep reminding myself that he was speaking of an utterly different God than I am familiar with!  His usage of “God” was bizarre to me but perfectly normal for him.  I read his writing with respect for his beliefs and for his life journey, but within my soul I felt a disturbing friction with his beliefs.  My soul could not accept what he was saying.  My soul cried out, “These ideas feel so wrong to me!  I cannot agree or currently consider such things to be remotely true.”  As I read the book, the reaffirming words of the “God is real” event kept coming back to me.  I’ve come to a gracious realization that the writer's truth of God cannot prove to me that God does not exist anymore than my truth of God can prove to him that He does. 

Where does that leave us as we face our differences of truth?

I believe that where each one of us stands in our belief system of what is true or not ultimately rests in God’s hands.  All the factors that affect our beliefs, from the most basic in nature to the most complex experiences, have been ordained and set into motion by His doing.  Once again, I understand that my truth that God exists and is in complete control is subjective because I cannot tangibly show you God.  I cannot drive you to God’s residence, knock on his door, and have you lay eyes on Him and hear Him speak to you in a tangible way.  My personality and life experiences have led me to conclude that God is true and that He is ultimate truth.  Your personality and life experiences may have led you to conclude the total opposite.  And I will respect that.

There are all kinds of beliefs and religions out there in our big world!  I came across the Big Religion Chart on the internet listing many of the world’s religions and some quick facts about them.  Each varying religious belief proclaims to be the truth that all should seek and live by.  That is subjective (biased) human reasoning.  On the other hand, it is an objective (unbiased, tangible) truth that under each main religion there exist a variation of individual beliefs.  Even within each religious camp there is not one hundred percent conformity.

The Christian camp professes God is revealed in the son of God, Jesus Christ, and the writings of the Bible.  The Muslim camp professes that the prophet Muhammad and the Quran writings reveal God’s character and will.  The Hindu camp believes in one God made manifest in many gods and trusts the Vedas to be the holy writings.  The camps question each other’s beliefs about God, who or what reveals Him, and their holy writings.  Each camp proclaims that only their version of God and their followed writings are the absolute truth.  Each camp worships God in diverse ways and also questions the ways others worship.  The God defined by the Christians, Muslims, and Hindus has very different characteristics.  Which one is true? 

This week a Facebook friend posed this question on his timeline:  If there is only one God then who's God is the right one?” 

What an excellent question!  I would challenge anyone reading this not to simply say, “Well, only mine, of course!  “The [writings or teachings of so and so] say it is true!”  Each one of our personal versions of God is subjective to countless factors from the moment we were conceived.  I challenge readers to think long and hard about that question and its implications before formulating an answer.    

Regardless of whether you believe God exists or not, I believe it is an objective and tangible truth that whatever we believe about
the origin of this earth and whole universe,
what happens after we die, and
what will happen in the future,
they are all in correlation with who we are in our soul (genetics/personality) and how all of life’s experiences and our culture have affected us.   

Day after day, the differences of beliefs between people all over the world go on and on.  These beliefs are used for good and evil.  I observe much judging and attacking, in person and through the internet, and a huge amount of it is due to people wanting to push and force their beliefs upon others.  “Your truth is a lie, and my truth is right.”  “You are wrong, and I am right!”  I am not suggesting we do not have the freedom to share what we believe to be true.  We do!  I am suggesting we do not have the right to ravage people’s character or emotions or to demoralize them because their version of truth does not align with our own.  We do not have the right to condemn others and murder them with our words (or hands) if they do not conform to our line of thinking.

I believe in the one God and His son, Jesus Christ.  Yet, my beliefs are no longer in complete alignment with the way Christianity is typically defined.  Therefore, I no longer call myself a Christian.  I prefer not to label or define my beliefs under any particular religious camp. I am looking to and trusting God, not man, to direct my life journey and faith. Since arriving at the belief that God will one day ultimately reconcile all people to Himself and that there is no place called hell, my love and graciousness toward other people has grown by leaps and bounds. 
I have found myself casting less judgmental stones to people who are outside my beliefs' camp because I wholeheartedly believe God deems everyone valuable and worthy of His boundless love and extravagant grace, no matter what.  Instead of throwing stones, I have felt an expanding desire to understand the people in other camps and to hold out my hand in help, kindness, grace, and love without thinking that they are in any way lesser than I am.

I often think of this account of mankind’s and God’s actions in Genesis 11:1-9 (NASB) and how much it has affected humanity, generation after generation:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.

Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.

By God’s design, we were not meant to always agree or understand one another.  But beyond that moment in time, when God caused confusion in the languages and the people became scattered over the whole earth, I am convinced we are called to love and care for one another generously, in spite of our differences, and to come to a realization that we are all from the same lump of earthly clay.  Not one of us is better than another.  Not one.

I posed the question of truth on my Facebook timeline: 
       Question of a whole lifetime ... "What is truth?"  

Here were some of the responses I received:

Your question is a really good one.

Knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come. Truth also refers to light and revelation from heaven

I believe each one of us holds our own truth so my truth doesn't void out your truth and your truth doesn't void out mine but in the end anything that is believed passionately and without reservation is truth.

Truth cannot change or it is no longer true. I can only think of One who does not change.


Reality as God sees it.

I keep asking the same question on so many levels.

It's interesting that good olé Pontious Pilate SAID " What is truth." He wasn't asking. It would seem some aren't really interested in its discovery.

I have to say that to my mind what I believe at any given moment is MY truth until something else comes along to adjust my understand of said truth. Having said that it still comes down to relative vs absolute. There is an absolute truth that comes from the Almighty God it may or may not match up with MY truth (or the relative truth from my immediate perspective) at any given moment and only when HE is ready for me to be aware of HIS absolute truth will my truth be adjusted.Bottom of Form

Feel free to respectfully share your definition of truth in the comments section below.  I am interested in reading your viewpoint.

Maybe, instead of demanding adherence to our truth, we should be more concerned with grasping and defining what true love for our fellow man means and acting on that?

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