Truth or TruthinessPublic convictions
are convictions that I want other people to think I believe, even though I really may not believe them. For example, if a certain someone asks me, “Does this dress make my hips look too large?” the correct response is “No. I didn’t even know you had hips until you mentioned them.” I make such statements for “PR” purposes, regardless of whether I really believe them.
Public figures are notorious for stating convictions for the purpose of creating an impression rather than communicating truth (“This is the greatest nation on the face of the earth”; “This is the most momentous election of our lifetimes”). Television comedian Stephen Colbert says the quality to which these statements aspire is truthiness
. They may not be true, but they sound
true; they allow the speaker to impress people with his or her sincerity.
This has been going on for a long time. After Jesus was born, King Herod said to the wise men, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” (Matthew 2:8
That was not actually Herod’s true intent. It was a spin job. We give politicians a hard time for replacing truth with truthiness.
Philosopher Dallas Willard makes a provocative proposal: “Followers of Jesus are required to pursue truth wherever it leads them.” This is perhaps a strange way to say it, but even more than we need to be committed to Jesus, we need to be committed to truth. For it is impossible to trust Jesus if way down deep inside, you don’t think he was right. Sometimes believers are afraid that pursuing truth wherever it leads might make us uncomfortable.
When Jesus, a simple carpenter, was brought before Pilate and claimed he could testify to the truth, Pilate responded by asking, “What is truth?” (John 18:38
). What he was really saying was: “How can you truly be certain of anything? What kind of knowledge do you think you have? What kind of difference do you really think you can make? Why don’t you just stop trying to save the world, and all this trouble will go away?” The encounter brings to mind Edward Gibbon’s observation on what happened to faith in the decline of Rome: “Toward the end of the Roman Empire, all religions were regarded by the people as equally true, by the philosophers as equally false, and by the politicians as equally useful.”
Jesus himself had quite a lot to say about truth. He said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32
, NIV) “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (14:6
) “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (16:13
According to Jesus, if you search for truth, you will find him. There is no other way to trust Jesus than to think and question and wrestle and struggle until you come to that he really is true.