• Dan

What is Truth?


"What is truth?" Christ and Pilate, by Nikolaĭ Nikolaevich, 1890


Pilate: So You are a king? Jesus: You say that I am king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the cosmos: to demonstrate the power of truth. Everyone who seeks truth hears My voice. Pilate (to Jesus): What is truth?

- John 18:37-38, The Voice


How do we know what is true? It is not enough to merely assert that we seek truth; many have done so throughout history and have been proven false. Some, in defending their "truth," have inflicted great evil upon others, even in Jesus' name.


If it is in hearing God's voice, how do we know when we are hearing rightly? Even if those around us agree with us, it does not prove truth, as history as also shown the damage done by like-minded people who follow falsehood en masse. Many atrocities have been carried out by such, in which tendencies toward "group think" actually push members to greater extremes than they would go on their own.


In 1995, The UN established a committee to discover the underlying reasons behind events that occurred in Bosnia and South African apartheid. The committee became known as the TRC or Truth and Reconciliation Committee.  Amidst their voluminous 1999-2000 report was a new categorization and/or redefinition of “truth”. They presented four types of truth as: 1. Forensic Truth - What happened to whom, where, when, and how, and who ____was involved. Basically the TRC tried to define this truth along the lines of ____the United States justice phraseology of “the truth, the whole truth, and ____nothing but the truth.” But a certain leniency was applied to this definition ____because of the elusive nature of a truth not confined to the “strictures of ____science.”

2. Personal or Narrative Truth - This is truth of personal recollection and ____memory. In the words of the TRC, “Memories of pain, however flawed with ____forgetting, indelibly scar the victims of unjust suffering inflicted by agents of  ____the state...personal stories are not the whole of truth, but they are integral ____to the truth that leads to new justice.”

3. Social Truth - TRC jurist Albie Sachs defines this as “The truth of experience ____that is established through interaction, discussion and debate. Another  ____member of the committee, Alex Boraine states, “the process of dialogue ____(among South African apartheid victims) involved transparency, democracy, ____and the participation as the basis of affirming human dignity and integrity”.  ____Simply put, when a number of stories of a given society are told publicly, ____together they form a “social” truth, or more aptly put, a “societal” truth.

4. Reconciliatory or “Healing” Truth - Also called “Public Truth” is the ____exposing of the past events in order to raise a public awareness of atrocity ____and to elicit a “never again” position toward such atrocity resulting in a  ____“healed” or “reconciled” society.

At the very least, we must conclude that Truth is something we can only know in part, must be corroborated by others' experience, including those who might oppose us, cannot be refuted by evidence, and must also be able to stand the test of time. To assert that we have a "special" or "secret" passageway to Truth, that somehow can bypass all scrutiny, is a dangerous position to take. We must allow the possibility that we are wrong, even and perhaps especially with the most important truths of all.

Perhaps that is what Pilate was seeking when he asked the question: a way around the horrible choice that confronted him. Yet Jesus did not comply; he remained silent. He could have restated: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6), but perhaps he knew that it was simply the witness of his being, his life lived congruently, consistently, truly, that said more than words could.


Any assertion of Truth made by any of us must bear the same risk: how will it stand up on that final Day, when we are completely naked, vulnerable, and can make no excuse; when we meet God face to face? As C.S. Lewis wrote in Till We Have Faces:


I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.

You are yourself the answer.

Before your face questions die away.

What other answer would suffice?


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