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What Is Truth?

Various Passages   |   Shaun LePage   |   August 31, 2008

What Is Truth?

Various Passages   |   Shaun LePage   |   August 31, 2008

I.       Introduction

A.    Pontius Pilate spent 10 long years ruling over the unpredictable and obstinate people who lived in the little province on the eastern side of the Roman Empire known as Judea.

1.     He and the Jews never got along; first day in office set up image of Caesar—like every other city in Roman empire, started riot; historians Josephus and Philo report a few such incidents—one resulted in deaths of several Jews at hands of Pilate’s soldiers; trip to Rome to explain himself. Sent back with a stern warning to keep the peace—no more riots. No more slaughtering Jews.

2.     One day the Jews came demanding the death of one of their own—Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was silent before His accusers, but the apostle John tells us Jesus did speak with Pilate: Jn 18:33-38a.

3.     “What is truth?” A cynical question (didn’t wait for answer) from a man caught in middle of 2 (or more) clashing cultures which had very different ideas about what was good and right and true.

B.    Our own times not so different. “What is truth?” modern question—if understood as skeptical/cynical rather than actual request. Such a significant shift from “modernism” (reason/rational), now called “postmodern”. Postmodern thinker: No absolute truth—what’s true for you not necessarily true for me. Or truth is a western idea—relative to particular person/culture/time period. Many are more assertive/offended by those who try to answer, “What is truth?” They’ll say, “Who are you to judge someone else’s ideas?” or “What right do you have to try to convert people?” All based on relativism.

C.    If there is no truth, we waste our time every Sunday. “Can we trust the Bible?” is a crucial question.

D.    Plan: “His Story”—Genesis to Revelation; first good to ask/answer “Can We Trust the Bible?”; Last week, my story as it relates to Bible; after becoming a Christian became aware of attacks—(outside) radical higher criticism, cults, religious pluralism; (inside) attacks on the inerrancy, sufficiency, relevancy and clarity of the Bible. Again, some are well-intentioned/ unaware of the logical conclusions of their teachings, but Scripture (our authority) is clear: Tear down ideas, not people. See Is 55:6-11; 2 Cor 10:5; 1 Tim 1:3-6—we’re in a battle for truth: Eph 6:10-17; Life verse/motto: 2 Tim 4:2 teaches the balance (also Mt 5:43-44; 1 Tim 5:1-2; 1 Peter 3:15). People deserve gentleness and respect, but ideas which are counter to God’s Word must be pulled down.

II.     What is Truth? Postmodernism is a vast subject and difficult to nail down, but in order to understand this issue, and help others sort through it, we must take a look [ Note: Some good points: many things] Two common ideas—hopefully simple, but not simplistic:

A.    Many say, “We can’t know anything for sure”. Humans are hopelessly limited—we cannot know something with omniscience (all knowledge) so we can’t be certain about anything (except that we can’t be certain about anything). This is the issue of epistemology (from Greek word for knowledge; a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge)—how we know what we think we know. In some ways, good: many things not as black and white as previous generations have suggested, labeling “fact” or “scientific” what turned out to be false. But, many postmoderns go to extreme: says everything is relative (relativism)—we are so impacted by our genetics, social background, education (everyone of us had different teachers), culture, religious influences, historical time period—we can’t possibly put all those influences aside and then sort through the evidence and opinions and determine what is absolutely true. Again, some truth—judgment can be influenced by these things, but this is an over-reaction.

1.     But, we can know with reasonable certainty.

a)     If omniscience is the only standard, then we can’t know anything with certainty. But, omniscience is an unreasonable standard—too strict. We can investigate, we can accumulate data, we can talk with eyewitnesses and experts, we can take into consideration our genetic, social and historical influences, then know things with high levels of certainty. Just because it is difficult to determine truth does not mean it is impossible.

b)     Illustrations:

(i)    Clock reads _____; can I know with perfect certainty it is Sunday morning and ____ o’clock? 1 min. faster than clock in my truck; 3 mins. slower than cell phone; None of us checked the U.S. Naval Observatory, but we did check our “reasonably certain” clocks/watches and all showed up here same day/same time—reasonable certainty!

(ii)  ___ told me his name is _____; married to _______; wearing rings—can I know with perfect knowledge their names and actually married? No, but with reasonable certainty.

(iii)          Read D-Day by Stephen Ambrose last year; trash it as unreliable because the perspectives of all those people he interviewed are hopelessly influenced by their genetics, background and social perspective? No—it was well researched, eyewitness accounts which correspond; no reason to lie; trust it with reasonable certainty as accurate history.

(iv)This is true of the Bible as well. We can examine the ancient manuscripts, consider the case for their reliability and preservation, read eyewitness testimony, look at the uniqueness and geography and history and archeology (see Archeological Bible) of the Bible, research its long history of acceptance over many years and many cultures, talk to people whose lives have been transformed by it, etc. and determine with “reasonable certainty” that this book is exactly what it claims to be: God’s Word.

2.     But, we can know through Divine Revelation.

a)     If one with omniscience tells us what is true, then we can know with absolute certainty.

b)     The Bible certainly claims to be the Divine Revelation of the Omniscient God.

c)     So, when His Divine Revelation tells us that there are absolute truths for all people, in all places of all times—we can know absolute truth. Ex: Gen 1: “…God created the heavens and the earth.”; Ex: Ps 11:7: “…the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness…”

B.    Many say, “We can’t know right from wrong”. All systems of morality are social constructions—differing from culture to culture. This culture says drinking is wrong, but that culture says it’s okay. That viewpoint says marriage should be between one man and one woman, but those people say its okay for two men or two women to get married. That religion says Jesus is the only way to know God, but that religion says there are many ways. All of us are products of our upbringing, influences, genetics and personal preferences, so right and wrong is a matter of personal perspective—relative.

1.     But, this is self-contradictory and therefore, impossible to live by.

a)     The statement “We can’t know right from wrong” is an absolute statement about what is true! To say, you disagree is to be considered wrong. To say, something is true for you, but not for me, is to say that my view is right and yours is wrong. Relativism is self-contradictory.

b)     Practical example: Postmoderns tend to be strong advocates for social justice—fighting against human trafficking, abuse of animals, destruction of environment, etc.; They tell us these things are wrong! That’s an absolute truth (which we happen to agree with!)

c)     We can know right from wrong because we are created in the image of God and know for certain (according to Rom 1) that there is a God who created the universe and deserves to be honored. And we know human trafficking, animal abuse and destruction of the environment is wrong because the Holy God gave us specific revelation (Bible) and told us it is wrong.

2.     But, this is dangerous and therefore, unwise to live by.—if morality is a personal issue—a matter of personal perspective, anything can be justified;

a)     Right From Wrong, Josh McDowell, pgs. 17-18—Why Truth Matters.

b)     People who believe truth is personal/particular will experiment with sexual lifestyles and life choices that usually result in disease, emotional devastation or death, unborn humans will be slaughtered and newly born babies will be discarded; elderly/handicapped euthanized, etc.

c)     Fact is: Violation of God’s moral laws results in negative consequences—by design Rm 1:27

d)     But, if we discover right/wrong from our Designer, and live by it, we will remain under His umbrella of protection and avoid the heartaches and destruction of sin; eph 6:1-3—life goes better/less dangerous if we live according to God’s revealed, moral will.

III.   Closing (over)

A.    Can I tell you with omniscient certainty everything that is true and right and wrong? I cannot. But we don’t need to be absolutely certain. We can be reasonably certain. And, we can be reasonably certain that there is a God because the magnificence of what we see around us tells us this is so. And we can be reasonably certain—as we look at this book—that it is the word/revelation of God. Then, we can read it and know what the all-knowing God has said to us.

B.    John 20:24-29. Being reasonably certain does not remove the need for faith. In fact, I believe God does not want us to have perfect, omniscient knowledge about Him and about the work of Christ/salvation/morality/truth. The writer of Hebrews tells us (11:6) “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” God wants us to have faith. Not blind faith—He has given us plenty of evidence that points to His existence and the reliability of His revelation. But, He wants us to put our faith in Him. “Blessed are they who did not see (have absolute, omniscient knowledge), and yet believed.”

C.    John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Believe and receive eternal life right now!

D.    Pray!

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