Facts about Truth, Truth about Facts (I)

I was doing some reading and revising of a lecture for my freshman biology class and I was thinking about the scientific process.  I stress that science has a goal of uncovering facts, which is different from discovering truth.  I started thinking about the differences between fact and truth, how they are intertwined.  Now it is not my intention to muddy the waters, but for years, I have struggled with these concepts in matters of religion and faith.  I think that I may have started to come to a greater understanding of what truth is, and I hope that my exploration may give you a place to begin your own examination of truth.

As a general rule, I find that it is usually good to start with what is known, and move from simple ideas to those that are more complex.  Using that as a guide, it appears that the simpler of the two ideas is that of the fact.  A fact is an objective, indisputable reality.  It simply exists.  So, a fact is in and of itself true.  Water is wet.  Rocks are hard.  These are facts.  One can only dispute a fact so long as one remains in ignorance.  When confronted with a body of facts, a reasonable person accepts them.

Philosophers debate the meaning of truth.  As I have said before, I am no philosopher, nor am I a theologian.  I am a teacher who is trained as a scientist.  But I am also a Christian with an active, inquisitive mind.  I am a seeker of truth.  I question all things to determine if they are indeed based on facts, on reality.  I have examined the facts that have been presented and I have accepted the truth of Jesus, who, himself, declared that he was indeed the truth.

So, what is truth?  I know, Pontius Pilate asked that question of Jesus at his hearing, right before he went out and told the people he found no fault in Jesus.  We could discuss the sincerity of that question from Pilate, but not from me, since I am here to affirm that I am genuinely seeking an answer.

From my explorations, it appears that truth is perhaps a more elusive concept.  Truth is built on fact, and apparently requires a judgment regarding the conclusions reached based on the facts presented.  One writer said that the perceptions that make up truth allow the facts on which the truth is built to “soar.”

If truth is built on fact, and facts are irrefutably true, then can one reject a truth?  Obviously it is possible, and possible for a number of reasons: if the evaluator does not see the connection between the facts, the truth may not appear to be logically supported.  If a person is lacking one or more key facts, the greater truth may seem insupportable.  The honest seeker will seek to rectify this, however, rather than remain in ignorance.  Truth is far too important to squander for want of attainable evidence.

Of all the New Testament writers, none said more about truth than John.  What is interesting about this is that John’s gospel had more of a philosophical, even mystical flavor to it than the “just the facts” accounts of the other three.  From the outset of his gospel, John declares, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1.14)  Later, he announces, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.17)  It is interesting that “grace” and “truth” are so auspiciously linked, and reasonably so: grace must be received, as must truth.  As long as one rejects truth, he remains in ignorance.  As long as one rejects grace, he remains outside of fellowship with the family of God.

In John 8.32, Jesus announces that, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  The disciples rankled a bit at that, saying they had never been enslaved to anyone, so how could they be set free? Jesus said that those who participate in sin were slaves to it, thus they were given a way to achieve freedom from that hard master.  Some commentators suggest that this could also mean that Jesus had provided a way for his Jewish brethren to be freed from the bondage of rabbinical excess, the complex heaping on of rules on top of God-given Law.  Either way, the promise of release from bondage should have been appealing.

One of the most important records of Jesus’ discussion of truth is in John 14.  There, he is comforting his disciples after telling them (in chapter 13) that he would soon be leaving them.

“14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”

“5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

“6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The way to God is through Jesus.  The truth of God is Jesus.  Eternal life is in Jesus.

…continued in Part II

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