Originally I was going to write a paper about truth with the idea of helping journalists understand how important truth is to the pursuit of their craft. Too much journalism in Mongolia is predicated upon rumor and even outright propaganda that is bought and paid for as opposed to investigating the truth behind certain events. However two things changed my direction. First, Mongolian journalists have a great deal of training and information already available to them to help them discern the difference between truth and error in reporting the news. The procedures, policies, and practices necessary to make Mongolian journalism “truthful” already exist. It is therefore redundant for me to repeat them here. Beyond this, my objectives are much larger than the smaller world of journalism, which leads me to the second reason my direction changed.
The more I examined the topic of “truth” the more I came away with that first truth I have known since I began my walk with Jesus Christ more than 23 years ago. There can be no complete understanding of truth—any truth—without first understanding the Bible’s perspective on the topic. This is because, as theology professor Wayne Grudem points out, God in His very being and character is the highest standard of truth that exists. The Bible, as the primary record of God’s communication and acts on earth, is the highest standard-bearer of truth available to man. The Bible reveals and defines truth, exposing its origin, nature, and effect.
In Buddhism truth is determined by experience. In atheism there is no truth, only subjective ideas that groups consent to accept; ideas which can change over time. In both systems, with only a few exceptions, truth is subjective. I’m not comparing Buddhism with atheism. They are simply the primary world views that have defined Mongolian culture in the last century. Atheism’s one “truth” is that God does not exist. Buddhism does subscribe to a small number of truths revolving around suffering, right perceptions and right living. Truth, in this respect, is a system of belief or part of a system of belief. However, truth as declared in the Bible is not a system, or part of a system of belief; it is much, much more as we shall see.
Mongolia is a society primarily governed by the philosophies of Buddhism and atheism. Historically, Mongolia’s ideas of truth and error did not develop in the same way as in the West, which had the benefit of a developing a Christian worldview over a long period (though sadly most of the West has abandoned Christian truth). Therefore, to understand truth, apart from the ideas of Buddhism and atheism, it is important to understand the Bible’s teaching about truth and why it is not simply an alternative to these other world views, rather it is the highest authority on earth when it comes to understanding the nature of truth.
Truth, as we shall see, does not stand alone. Truth is not simply an idea, or an ideal too which we aspire. Truth is closely related to faithfulness, goodness, and justice. None of these can exist without the others; and all of these are major problems in Mongolian society today. One of the chief complaints of Mongolians against their government, specifically the court system, is that there is no real justice. In everyday interactions people earn a reputation of being good or bad based upon whether they do bad things. Faithfulness, in family relationships and work is also a great problem. In fact when putting together these four character traits, truth, faithfulness, goodness, and justice, we are discussing more than simple truth, we address the concept of Integrity.
Let us therefore examine some basic issues about truth. These may be different from that which you learned growing up if you grew up in a Buddhist or atheistic society. While we respect the right of each person to choose the system of belief he or she will subscribe too, we also reserve the right to speak, act, and write that which comes from our understanding of these issues as presented in the Bible, and to present the Bible as that which is declares itself to be, the highest standard of truth on earth.
Truth #1: Truth Is Objective, Not Subjective
The concept of truth assumes that there are some things, some ideas, which are “untrue,” just as there are things, which are “true.” To declare that certain things are true is to also declare that things must then be false. This also implies that certain things are always true regardless of whether or not we perceive they are true, and certain things are false whether or not we perceive them to be false. Let’s look at an example.
Here is a true statement: “Man suffers.” What is not apparent in the statement is the degree of suffering some people endure. Nor is it apparent that what may be suffering for some is not suffering for others. Suffering more or less than another is SUBJECTIVE, not OBJECTIVE. So while it is a true statement that man suffers, it would be untrue to declare that all men suffer the same way.
Here is another true statement: “Man sins.” This means that all people, everywhere, at periods of time have committed acts, thought thoughts, and believed things that are morally offensive and wrong. Not everyone sins in the same way as every other person. Some people sin in areas of violence more than others. Some have greater trouble being truthful than others. Degrees of sin from person to person are SUBJECTIVE, but that all men sin is OBJECTIVE.
These statements (“Man suffers,” and “Man sins”) are OBJECTIVE, not SUBJECTIVE. That is, they do not depend upon the perceptions of the one observing the truth. They are true regardless of one’s perception. All people suffer and all people sin. However, the Bible goes further than this to declare that all men suffer because all men sin.
Let us look at an example from the Bible of this truth. The Bible presents an important truth regarding suffering and sin. The Bible declares that there are three reasons man suffers:
- Man suffers because he is sinful and separated from God. Romans 6:23 declares, “The wages of sin is death…” Sin, that is, wrong beliefs, thoughts, and behavior that are contrary to God’s truth, lead us to a path of suffering in its various forms, including death.
- Man sometimes suffers because God disciplines him to bring him into a right relationship with Himself (Hebrews 12:5-11). Specifically of those who have a right relationship with the Creator God and sometimes go astray, the Bible declares, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
- Man sometimes suffers to bring good to others. The greatest example of this kind of suffering is in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered an agonizing death as a substitutionary punishment for our sin. The Bible declares in I Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God…”
These declarations from the Bible reveal to us an important OBJECTIVE truth: While all men suffer, and all men sin, all men suffer because all men sin.
These truths from the Bible follow a pattern that is common to all truth. Since truth is OBJECTIVE and does not depend upon an observer for its existence as truth, then its observer or discover cannot alter truth, and truth does not change because of an observer’s perceptions or experience. Therefore,
Truth #2: Truth Is Declared Or Discovered, Truth Is Not Determined By Experience
This is another way to saying that truth is not subjective, but the statement goes further. Truth is not determined by experience, rather truth is experienced; the experience simply reveals a truth that pre-exists our experience of it.
There are times when a person experiences the truth of something, but does not perceive it for what it really is. A person may have a relationship they perceive is a good one, but not realize that the truth is that the relationship has major problems and might be in jeopardy. This wrong perception may be a self-deception, or deception on the part of others. A person may perceive that his job is secure because he believes he is doing well. However that person may not be aware that his employer is dissatisfied with his performance. In these examples we see that the truth of the situation exists apart from the perception of the one who needs to know the truth. He may be experiencing the truth, but not have the capacity to perceive it for what it really is. Or he may not be experiencing it at all. His lack of experiencing the truth, or misperception of the truth does not make the truth any less real; only his personal knowledge or perception of it is incorrect. When he discovers the truth, or the truth is declared to him then he will experience it for what it really is: truth.
Some people believe that there are truths, which are true for them but not true for others, or that there are truths, which are only true for them. These kinds of beliefs usually fall into the realm of philosophy or religion. As an example, some people believe they can perceive God in nature, or commune with God by communing with nature, while others believe that nature reveals there is no god. Certainly both beliefs cannot be true even though their adherent may believe them to be so. To carry this example further, we see from the Bible that in fact, both statements are untrue.
The Bible declares to those who perceive a creation without a Creator, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork…” (Psalms 19:1). It also reveals in Romans 1:19-20, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Likewise these passages in the Bible declare another truth: that God is separate and distinct from His creation. We can perceive things about God, as the above passage reveals, but we cannot perceive God “in nature,” because He is separate from it. When we perceive that God is “in” or a part of nature, or that nature is god, then our perception is contrary to the truth that God has already declared. When we perceive that nature is its own creator, that it has no outside cause, then we again perceive contrary to that which is already declared by God. In each case the truth of God and nature exists regardless of our perception of it. The one who worships nature, or worships through nature has not discovered a “personal truth,” or something that is true only for them. That person has discovered a deception. The emotional or mental experience of something different from the already revealed truth does not make the truth any less true or binding upon that person who has experienced the deception. This leads us to our next point.
Truth #3: What Is True For One Is True For All
When it comes to choosing a career, mate, and the outward trappings of lifestyle, these are things, which do not fall under the category of “truth.” These are things which fall under the realm of conscience. One career path may be good for you, but not for your neighbor. These are choices of conscience, which vary for each person. But in the realm of truth, especially spiritual and moral truth, the same truth must be true for all.
Scientists studying the universe work from an important assumption: The laws of physics, which we observe in our own part of the universe must be equally true in the entire universe. If this were not the case then we would see a universe around us that operates under completely different rules than what we see in our own solar system or galactic neighborhood. Instead, scientists see a common set of rules that apply to the whole universe that helps explain its nature. The same rules of physics to which the universe is subjected are the same rules to which we are subject. The laws of physics are not only true for some, they are true for all.
This rule also applies to human nature. Human beings are part of the universe. Human nature operates in the universe. Human beings are creatures made from the same basic elements as the universe we live in. We are subject to the universe’s laws. The God who made the universe also made man, who occupies that universe. The God who provided the laws of physics that govern the universe also provides a law of spirits that governs those occupying the universe He created. We may not like some of the laws of physics, but our disfavor with them does not change them, or make them any less true. So too, we may not like certain moral and spiritual truths, but our disfavor with them does not immute them.
We know that there is one common moral and spiritual truth equally applicable for all people everywhere at every time, because there is only one eternal Creator God, who is ever present in all places at all times. God is the author of truth. Look at what the Bible declares about the one true God and His personal character as the source of truth:
- “I am the Lord and there is no other; besides me there is no god…” (Isaiah 45:5)
- He is the unlying God: “…God, who never lies…” (Titus 1:2)
- “…it is impossible for God to lie…” (Hebrews 6:18)
- “Every word of God proves true…” (Proverbs 30:5)
- “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
It has been argued that even if there is only one God, that one God might present different truths for different people or cultures at different times. However, God Himself has declared that this belief is untrue. First, God created man “in His image, and in the image of God He created him” (Genesis 1:27). The Bible only declares this about man, and no other creature. It is God’s desire that man’s character be a reflection of God’s character: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy…you shall not steal, you shall not deal falsely, you shall not lie to one another…” (Leviticus 19:2, 11). Consistently throughout history God has declared a unified message regarding His character and man’s character.
Second, whenever and wherever the good news about Jesus Christ was taken into the world, the message of truth was always the same for all peoples in all cultures. The Bible declares, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent…” (Acts 17:30). When Jesus Christ commissioned His disciples to take His truth to the world He stated that He was given, “All authority in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28:18), and under that authority He commanded that people of “all nations” be taught to “observe all that I have commanded…” (Matthew 28:20).
The Bible therefore affirms the important truth that what is true for one person is true for all. The things, which God declares are true for one are true for everyone. These truths about God’s nature and man’s nature lead us to more specific truth. Since all real truth originates with the one true God, and since what is true for one is true for all, therefore,
Truth #4: What Is Moral Or Immoral For One, Is Moral Or Immoral For All
Truth originates in the character of the one true God. That God is always true and never false implies other attributes of God’s character:
- God is always faithful (falsehood and faithfulness cannot coexist),
- God is always good (falsehood and goodness cannot coexist),
- God is always just (justice requires truth; falsehood and justice cannot coexist).
Taken together we say that these character traits are traits of Integrity. This means that a person is true in their whole person; that their thought, speech, and behavior aligns with that which is morally true as a reflection of God’s character.
Moral truth is a reflection of the moral character of a righteous and morally pure God. God, who existed before the world and its cultures had a morally perfect character before the creation. He then imparted that morality to His creation. As such, morality transcends culture because morality is a-cultural; that is, morality is not concerned with cultural practices or differences and in some cases must transform a culture for it to become morally true. But what is morality?
Morality is the verbal and behavioral reflection of the inward character of a person. A moral person demonstrates a moral character. An immoral person demonstrates an immoral character. So what thoughts and behaviors are moral or immoral?
God has provided two ways of looking at thoughts, speech, and behavior to help us know what is moral and immoral. The first, most obvious one is through a series of declarations regarding thoughts, speech, and behavior that are immoral (contrary to God’s character). The most famous is Exodus 20:2-17 when God declares Ten Commandments His people were to follow. These commandments defined immoral or “bad” thoughts, speech, and behavior, and include but are not limited to prohibitions against murder, sex outside of marriage, stealing, lying, and coveting. The implication is that God does not partake in these behaviors. As a baseline of morality we see that these are the most basic behaviors to avoid if we want to avoid being an immoral person. However, avoiding these behaviors does not make us good or moral people. Morality is more than avoiding what is bad. Morality requires that a person intentionally pursue that which is good. This brings us to the second way the Bible helps us know what is moral from immoral, and it is something we have already touched upon: God’s character.
While God was giving the prophet Moses His declaration of the Ten Commandments, God’s people were involved in practices to break all of the commandments he was giving them (Exodus 32:1-6). Upon Moses’ request, God forgave His people and declared His name and character attributes to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7, partial list only). It is no coincidence that God declared His chief character attributes in the face of His people’s breaking of the law. While God required His people to avoid immorality, He was demonstrating that His own character traits are proactive toward that which is right. God is always seeking to proactively do the right thing, not just avoiding the wrong thing. In other words, morality is not simply the avoidance of that which is wrong; it is the proactive pursuit of that which is right. It is also no coincidence that God declared these moral truths to a people who were of a different religious persuasion. God declared to idol worshippers that which was wrong and right. His declaration of truth did not depend upon their religious persuasion or history or personal ideas. He simply declared their behavior to be immoral. The one moral law applied equally to all because the one moral law originated from the one moral Law Giver who created both the law and the lawbreaker.
Let us review the facts about truth:
- Truth is objective, not subjective,
- Truth is declared or discovered, truth is not determined by experience,
- What is true for one is true for all, and
- What is moral or immoral for one is moral or immoral for all.
The existence of real objective truth given by a real objective Truth Giver implies that we have a responsibility to that Truth Giver and the truth provided. Obedience to truth enables us to become people of truth. However, obedience to truth is not found in a system of applying certain principles or denying certain desires. Because truth originates with a Truth Giver, becoming a person of truth requires a true and intimate knowledge of the One who gives truth.
Jesus Christ declared of Himself that which no other religious leader or philosopher could: “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life, no one comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). Jesus did not declare that He knew the truth. Jesus did not declare that He offered truth. He did not only declare that He taught the truth. Jesus declared that He was truth. Jesus Christ, in His very person and character, is the living embodiment of truth. He IS truth.
This is a remarkable claim. Since God is the originator of truth, Jesus was declaring that He Himself was the one God in human flesh. Taking this further, we can apply what we know about truth to Jesus Christ:
- Jesus identity, words, and works are objective, not subjective, they are not open to our interpretation or reinterpretation; He is truth,
- We can discover who Jesus is, and experience His truth,
- Jesus’ truth is true for everyone.