The rhetorical question that Pilate put to Jesus is an age-old question: What is truth? You can almost hear the world-weary sigh in that question, the cynicism, the curl of the lip, the shrug of who-can-possibly-know-truth in his words. The question is a common one these days, whether it lurks behind the perfect smile of newscasters or is read between the lines of newspaper articles or is implied in the conversation-stopping "well that's your truth, not mine, your experience, not mine." (Viewed in this way, the last statement forecloses discussion, as what is "true" is purely subjective and has no ultimate objectivity.)
When Jesus said "I came into the world, to testify to the truth," (Jn. 18:37), he was speaking about the truth that deep down we all know about: the really real, that which corresponds to reality, or as Francis Schaeffer would coin, true Truth. Truth is real and objective, and it matters deeply.
None of this means that truth is always easy to discover or discern. We wake up in the morning and know for an objective fact that it is light outside and not dark. This seems easy. And yet if we visit the local mental institution there are folks there who may say otherwise, and they're not making it up. They believe it. They are not lying, because they have no intention of telling an untruth. And yet, we know that they are not telling the truth because most of the world believes it is light and can scientifically demonstrate this. None of this will persuade them. They will keep on believing it is dark because of a mental disease or defect which impairs their judgment. Similarly, those who have been hurt, even if it is only a perceived hurt, will believe things that have no objective basis in reality. They are not lying. They do tell untruths, because their spirit is so wounded or warped by bitterness or sorrow that they have a skewed perception of facts. We have all met people like this. I happen to have met a lot of them, as I have been an attorney for over twenty years and as an attorney have dealt with the mentally ill, the bitter, and the wounded. I have investigated facts, and even when facts align against a litigant, because of their bitterness they cannot see the truth. This is a sad, sad truth.
None of this means that the truth we seek is always easy to discern. A blue sky is one thing; God's existence, another. And yet, we look for evidence of both before we believe. The evidence may not be conclusive, or (as is most often the case) is not completely without countervailing evidence, but to say "I believe in God because I want to" is insufficient, and unconvincing. The question is, "Is He real?" Regardless of what most people say, I suspect they want more than a personal experience. They want to know what is really real. They want to know True Truth. They may somply not know how to talk about it any longer.
Consider this: We take for granted that Abraham Lincoln was President in 1861 and was assassinated before serving his complete term. And yet, there is not one live witness to his Presidency or to his death. No one can tell me firsthand what they saw. No movie. No recording of his voice. For proof of his existence, we rely on documentary evidence, evidence that might be unconvincing to some. And yet to deny his existence would be like denying the Holocaust (which of course, some people do.)
So where am I going with this? Just three thoughts: (1) Truth is objective, that is, it corresponds to reality; (2) truth can be difficult to discern and often is discerned imperfectly; and (3) one person's experience can never be the bellwether of truth but, rather, we must consider the person's credibility, whether his or her statements can be corroborated, and whether there is conflicting evidence. Fact-finders rightly look to the weight of the evidence to draw conclusions.
Well, one final thought: Truth must be spoken to family and brothers and sisters in faith in love. And sometimes love bids us not speak. I sometimes tell my kids this with an example: That woman is, by any objective standard, fat. That is true. Maybe her doctor needs to say it to her, or maybe a good friend. They can better say it with care and concern. But you don't know her and so that is a truth you, for the sake of love and kindness, should not speak.
As I say this, I realize that we do not live in this kind of world anymore. If something can be said, it is in fact said. It need not even be true. It's your experience, after all, and that folks ends the discussion. Next we'll hear the bogeyman of censorship raised. And the voices get shriller and real conversation ends.
"What is truth?" It's a good question to ask. I only know that I want to know what is really true. I don't want to settle for less. And even though I know there will always be some mystery to that truth, it doesn't keep me from pursuing it. I don't think it will stop in Heaven, either.