by Wesley Hurd
At the end of one of his films, Deconstructing Harry, writer/actor Woody Allen delivers a movie-ending confession that offers a perverted coherence to the film:
“All people know the truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.”
For believers, though, desiring truth – undistorted – is central to the process and experience of our salvation. Nothing is more fundamental in our striving for sanctification – our striving to be good as God is good – than our embracing the truth at every level at which it confronts us.
One of the most common names for the presence of God in our lives is the Spirit of Truth. He is the author and source of all that is valuable, good, pure, and true. It follows, then, that believers in the true Gospel – a work the Spirit of Truth authors in our hearts – will seek what is true. Our commitment to living according to what is true is a “litmus test” for whether we are authentically interested in knowing God and learning to love what He loves – truth, justice, and mercy. Are we interested in knowing God? Then, in the end, we will be open to following the truth wherever it leads us. This will be a lifelong process for us, however, because, like our distant ancestors Adam and Eve, we are more inclined to hide from truth than to seek it or to embrace its consequences. Our fallen, darkened hearts do not naturally respond well to truth, especially when it surprises and inconveniences us, when believing and acting upon the truth costs us something.
In his gospel narrative (John 18.28ff), the Apostle John portrays a powerful scene in which Jesus and his captor, Pontius Pilate, engage in a profound exchange over this issue of truth. Their conversation shows two levels at which truth confronts all humans. Both levels can potentially reflect a person’s moral disposition, but the second level proves to be spiritually crucial. Let me explain.
The first level of discovering truth involves whether or not a person believes truth exists at all in a practical and philosophical sense. Is there truth? If so, how do I know it? How can I be confident in what appears to me to be true? In the John passage, Pilate interrogates Jesus and his accusers, attempting to ascertain the true circumstances that led to Jesus’ arrest. At this level of truth seeking, Pilate assumes the truth can be known and assessed. His inquiry proves he believes truth is objectively available and can be sought and found. Having received adequate firsthand testimony, Pilate determines that Jesus is innocent of the allegations against him. The truth made itself plain to Pilate. Pilate then attempts political maneuvers to free Jesus, but he fails when Jesus’ accusers threaten anarchy that would put Pilate himself in political jeopardy.
Yet Jesus intrigues Pilate, who engages Jesus further, asking Him questions that lead Jesus to claim, “For this I have been born…to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears My voice.” Now the second level of our relationship to truth appears. Once we believe we know what is true, are we willing to embrace it and to act accordingly? Pilate was not willing. His reply to Jesus, “What is truth?”, enables Pilate to keep the conversation at the philosophical level rather than going to the second level of personal, existential response.
Jesus identified himself with the vital truths about a person’s relationship to God and eternal destiny. Jesus spoke the truth about God — who He is, what His will is, and how human creatures can align themselves with those truths. Jesus was concerned not only about the factual truthfulness of what one believes (truth at level one), but also about the deeply personal moral posture of one’s heart toward factual truthfulness. Does one’s heart lean toward or away from letting the truth have its way in one’s thought, choices, and behavior? For example, I can know and agree with the theological truthfulness of man’s sin and fallenness, while simultaneously refusing to allow its factual truthfulness to penetrate my personal conscience and thereby own the truth of my guilt and need for repentance.