What is Truth?

When Pilate say’s to Jesus “What is truth?” he asked the most important question that can ever be asked. Truth is what makes existence valuable; it is what every human being lives for. What we believe to be the truth is also what will govern how we live. Everything we do is based on what we think the truth is. So what is truth then?

Truth is what is known as a “transcendental.” During the Scholastic period, terms such as truth, goodness, being and others were called transcendentals. These are terms that have universal applications, and they are also terms that can be considered proper names of God. So Absolute Goodness or Absolute Truth or Absolute Being would be descriptive names of God. This is why we find Jesus saying that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus, being God incarnate, is truth.

How does this relate to our understanding of what truth is, or how do we apply this understanding of truth to what we consider to be true? If God is truth, then the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God, and only insofar as something reveals God can it be described as “true.” What this means for truth then, is that truth is always a matter of interpretation. There is a difference between something that is a factual description, and something that is true. Truth is how those facts are interpreted, and if the facts are interpreted so as to reveal something of God, then that is a true interpretation.

This is an important distinction. To say that the sky is blue is an accurate description of how the human eye perceives the color of the sky. To say the sky is blue simply because it so happened that the human eye perceives the color blue in the sky by some accident of random natural selection, is not to say something true, because truth is only true insofar as it is a revelation of the One who is truth.

Truth is then not simply “the facts,” but is how those facts are formulated into a story. Science for example is not primarily about discovering truth, but is about discovering particular facts concerning the nature of the universe. Those facts are then put into theories; stories that attempt to make sense of those facts. Scientific facts may be accurate descriptions of the material universe, but where science can go wrong (and often does), is when those facts are put into a story that isn’t a true story, because many scientists are very deliberate about making sure the way they organize their facts excludes God from the equation altogether.

This also tells us something about stories themselves. What constitutes a true story? A true story is not necessarily a story that is factually accurate in the most literal sense, but is a story that reveals God. C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia are indeed true stories. They are not factually accurate. There is no Narnia, no Aslan; the entire story is factually made up, but it is true nonetheless, because Narnia is Lewis’s interpretation of the world, and it is a true interpretation insofar as it reveals God.

This of course doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about accuracy as far as the facts go. The primary function of stories is to reveal truth about God, and the entirety of creation itself is a story, it is countless stories composing one grand story. Knowing the facts is valuable to reveal the truth of reality insofar as we organize those facts into true stories. Fictional stories reveal truth insofar as they reveal God, and we can learn from those stories to then perceive the actual story, the story that is happening right in front of us. And the true story will set us free.

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