Truth is one of those intangible concepts that are difficult to define. When Yeshua said He bore witness of the truth, Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” It’s a good question. We live in a world where truth is so subjective, that the idea of it becomes almost meaningless.
Most of us hold to some basic truths we were raised with. Family roles are a good example of this. In the classic musical, “Fiddler on the Roof,” the song “Tradition” spelled out marital roles more specifically. “Who, day and night, must scramble for a living, feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers? And who has the right, as master of the house, to have the final word at home? The Papa, the Papa! “
And similarly, for the wife, “Who must know the way to make a proper home, a quiet home, a kosher home? Who must raise the family and run the home, so Papa’s free to read the holy books? The Mama, the Mama!”
These roles may have been true a hundred years ago, but our society has changed. Today, in the average American home, both husband and wife work for a living. It may still be the man’s job to take out the garbage and mow the lawn and the wife’s responsibility to cook and clean, and go shopping for groceries, but not necessarily. As women entered the work force, domestic responsibilities have been renegotiated and shared. It once may have been the woman’s job to do the cooking, but now many men share that job. The same goes for cleaning, shopping and taking out the garbage. Roles changed with our culture, and their underlying truths shifted along with them. I don’t expect my wife to be a Fiddler on the Roof type of wife, because we live in 21st century America, not 19th century rural Ukraine.
When we talk about truth, we need to realize there are subjective truths that change with the world around us, and objective truth, which does not change.
When I think about truth, I think about what is real, what does not change. When Yeshua said “I am the Truth,” he was reflecting what God said in the prophets, that he does not change. He is the same throughout our generations. This is the meaning of “I am what I am,” when Moses asked God’s Name. It can also be translated, “What I was, I will be.” What he was for our fathers, he will be for us. Because God does not change, we can trust what he says. We can count on him. He won’t be different than what He promised to be.
The problem is not with Yeshua changing. The problem is more often the different interpretations people make regarding what He said and did. God does not change. He can be relied on. Humans, with their different perspectives, often conflict with one another, because we all don’t see things the same way. It doesn’t make God any less true, because reality is reality. It means we shouldn’t confuse God’s objective truth with people’s subjective interpretations of what truths mean.
I hate it when I hear some pompous speaker claiming to teach “The pure, unadulterated Word of God.” The Word of God may be pure and unadulterated. What it says is what it says, but when they tell us what they think it means, that’s another story. They may feel inspired when they tell you what they think it means, but interpretation is not the Word of God. It is the word of man, and hence, not pure or unadulterated because none of us are all seeing and knowing. If someone is telling you what he thinks Scripture means, he has crossed the line from inerrant to errant. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust anything someone says. It means we have to look deeper and consider the things other people have said, trying to get the whole picture.
Another aspect to consider is that everyone isn’t interested in Truth. Truth can be brutal or uncomfortable. Some people find it more reassuring to believe a lie. The problem is, believing a lie doesn’t change reality. If you weigh over 300 lbs, no matter what you tell yourself about being a little overweight, you are still going to need a seat belt extension on a plane. Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
It is interesting to observe the effect truth has on people. When they think they have arrived at the truth, they close their minds off to any further discussion of ideas, because they have “arrived” at the truth. A lot of religious people and philosophers do this. Other people become more open-minded when they find truth, because they realize there is so much more they don’t understand. I don’t think truth should make us closed-minded. It should make us want to think more deeply about things.
The whole issue translates out for me as follows: I trust God and I trust the Holy Scriptures. I am open to what people say and think, but I don’t take anyone’s perspectives as if they came down from Mt. Sinai. They are opinions to be considered, but no more than that. It also means, I consider the possibility that I might be wrong and am therefore open to the ideas of others, because we, as humans, are great at convincing ourselves that we are right and the other guys are wrong. We need to be careful that we are not deluded by ourselves or others. Recognizing that God is the truth and his word is the truth, but all the rest has to be sifted and digested, keeps us open and honest. We need to consider that the guy we disagree with might be right. Even if it isn’t likely, it’s possible. Of course this only matters if you are really interested in truth.
– also posted in Riverton Mussar: A Wellspring For Ethical Change