"Veritas. Quid est veritas?" In Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ, this is how the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, sarcastically replies to Jesus in response to His claim that His reason for coming into the world was to testify to the truth. More than likely, Pilate spoke to Jesus in Greek: "Ti estin aletheia?" But that is beside the point. Or is it...?
If, as one friend of mine puts it, 'The truth is what happens', then it is not true that Pilate asked Jesus, "Quid est veritas?", or "What is truth?", but rather, "Τι εστιν αληθεια?" If this all seems very technical and irrelevant, bear with me. (As they say in law shows on TV: I'm going somewhere.)
If the truth is 'what happens', then truth is one of Earth's billions of women giving birth to her baby girl somewhere in a slum in São Paulo, Brazil; truth is one of the universe's billions of stars going supernova somewhere beyond the focal distance of our most powerful telescopes - and absolutely everything else in between.
With a definition of truth as basic, as simple even as this, is it any wonder that Pilate would cynically dismiss the possibility of ever grasping such a vast reality?
But it is not this simple. One of the main ways truth comes to us is as information, and all information is filtered through a specific perspective. All it takes to illustrate this is to compare the national news on a conservative media outlet and then a liberal one. There is only one set of facts that faithfully represent what has actually happened on any given day, but by focusing on some facts at the exclusion of others, it is possible to create any number of significantly different versions of what took place. If you were to try this right now, it would be understandable if you found yourself wondering whether the two news segments were even talking about the same country. To paraphrase a quote one of my friends picked up from a college professor: "All truth is just a matter of emphasis."†
I could provide dozens of example, but let's just look at one more. On any given Sunday, I (or whoever is speaking at the church) will preach a sermon at a high volume and with a considerable level of emotional intensity. A church member might leave feeling exhilarated, challenged, and inspired to face another week of life in San Francisco. A visitor might leave feeling beat up, beat down, and so discouraged that he will think long and hard before ever venturing back into Glad Tidings. The same event. Two truths. What could possibly account for two people having such different experiences of the exact same sermon? Well, the member might be brand new to faith, and may have had nothing but positive experiences with church and Christians. And the visitor might have grown up the child of a pastor who delivered loud and impassioned sermons on Sunday morning – and beat his wife and children on Sunday night.°
This experiential aspect of truth is why the last couple of generations have started using the expression, 'As long as it's true for you', as a way of acknowledging that our insistence upon any one version of the facts doesn't do any justice - it is insensitive, in fact - to the unique impact that events have on us as individuals. Further, 'what happens' in Mogadishu, Somalia is radically different than what happens in San Francisco, California. Even within San Francisco, what happens in the Tenderloin (homelessness, addiction, muggings, murder) couldn't be further from what happens in Sea Cliffs, less than two miles away ($32 million homes, views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean, Maseratis, celebrity sightings).
If we accept this definition of truth, it puts us in a similar position as someone trying put together a puzzle. The picture our finished puzzle portrays can only be as full, as representative of 'what happens', as the pieces we are provided by way our experiences, via the information that we have access to, and according to the perspective that information is given to us. With this in mind, it should only take a moment to realize that in order for the image our puzzle creates to come anywhere near the truth, we would need to have billions and billions - nearly an infinite number, even - of puzzle pieces. The vast majority of these pieces containing experiences, information, and perspectives that will never be available to us.
But even if we could somehow arrive at a place of perspective from which we could see everything that will ever happen, and understand it through the specific filters of the individuals living through their circumstances, do we really accept that there is no deeper significance to existence than everything that ever has happened or will happen? Are we satisfied with truth being nothing more than a matter of emphasis? Doesn't the expression, 'It just rings true to me' reveal that, at our core, we have an persistent conviction that there is something so real that it can only be described as The Truth? Might it make more sense to suggest that the truth is what really IS? ...which makes it all the more interesting that one of the ways that God (and Jesus) refers to Himself in the Bible is "I AM."
Quid est veritas? The irony of Pilate asking Jesus this question will never be surpassed until the end of time. Because earlier in the Gospel, Jesus says, "I AM the Truth." This is an astonishing claim. Try to imagine saying that about yourself. Once Jesus said those words, everyone who hears them has a decision to make. If Jesus is not the Truth, then nothing else He said or did matters. He is either delusional or the worst kind of con-artist. But if Jesus really IS the Truth, then He is the only thing that really matters at all.*
Can we know the Truth? According to Jesus, yes. He said that if you follow His instructions, you will know the Truth. Not only that, but knowing this Truth will set you free. The Bible says that He is the exact representation of God, that everything that is was created by Him, for Him, and through Him. It also says that He is before and above all things (which I suppose He would have to be in order to create them in the first place.) In Him all things hold together and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found. That means that the Truth is not so much a WHAT but a WHO.
How can I know this Truth? Try Jesus. Try trusting Him. Try following His instructions. How can we do this? We can do this because Jesus lived His own teaching. His entire life was one long demonstration of how to live. That's why it makes sense that Jesus not only said that He was the Truth, but also that He was the Way. When you live the way that Jesus lived, you get to know Him.
Jesus said that to know Him is eternal life. So when you follow Jesus, you will not only find yourself on a path that gives you such an entirely new perspective that you will only be able to refer to it as THE Way, you will have a life so rich and fulfilling and free, that it will only make sense to describe it as THE Life, a life that exploding with such a power that it is impossible to imagine anything in all eternity ever being able to extinguish it.
Do you want to know The Truth?
"If you seek Me, you will find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." - The I AM; He who was, and who is, and who is to come.
† Shout out to Phil Aud – philaud.com
° Thank you to Santiago Duran for planting the seed of this idea.
* This is a condensed and modified line of reasoning that was made famous by C.S. Lewis in the book Mere Christianity.