November 23, 2017
Today’s question seems like a simple one: what is “truth”? It’s funny how difficult it can be to answer that question, and I hope you join me as I think about it on the blog this week.
Let me start by answering the question, at least from a cultural standpoint: “truth” is whatever you want it to be.
A number of years ago, the idea of moral relativism began to crop up in culture. Moral relativism is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. Your truth is your truth, and mine is mine; the two aren’t exclusive and can co-habit the same space without causing any cognitive dissonance.
Reading that paragraph back, I realize how ridiculous it sounds, but despite the fact that it’s an illogical proposition, it sure took hold. And that shouldn’t necessarily surprise us: after all, human beings have enormous capacity for self-deception, and that’s always been true. Back in the book of Judges, the writer says on two separate occasions, “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6 and 21:25).
That’s moral relativism.
The problem, as you might imagine, is when what’s right in my eyes and what’s right in your eyes aren’t the same thing. It may seem right in my eyes to steal your livestock (I’m going Old Testament here), but I doubt I’d convince you of the same.
When moral relativism reared its head, God’s solution was simple: he sent leaders to set the people straight. He needed to remind his people that there was, in fact, something called “objective truth,” that it came from him, and that the only way for them to live under his blessing was to acknowledge his laws and live by them.
Some of those leaders didn’t live up to their calling. When you read through 1 and 2 Kings, you see example after example of kings who did what was evil in God’s eyes, and led the people into idol worship. But some of the leaders did live up to their calling. They destroyed the idols, re-established worship rituals, and called the people back to faithfulness to God.
Fast-forward to today, and it feels like we’re living in the time of the judges. Look at the recent explosion of sexual misconduct charges as an example. When women step forward to accuse a powerful man of sexual assault, his first response is usually something like, “I have a different recollection of those events.”
Sure, that’s your truth, but I have mine.
The craziest version of this comes from American politics (sorry, America). I’m frankly astonished by how much deception there is in that arena, with people denying saying something that was caught on tape and can be played back.
“That’s not what he said.”
“Yes, it is. I have it on tape.”
“No, that’s not what he said.”
In our culture, truth seems increasingly determined by popular opinion. The President of the United States can say something that’s demonstrably untrue (which he’s done many times), then Tweet about it for a couple of days, and, incredibly, people believe him.
What’s happened here? It’s simple: we’re reaping the cultural harvest of moral relativism that we’ve been sowing for a generation.
As someone whose career is dedicated to proclaiming the objective truth of the gospel of Jesus, I feel very discombobulated. When even the concept of “truth” is viewed with suspicion, it’s hard to know where to turn.
Actually, it’s not, because, as I said earlier, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Like in the time of the judges and the kings, my job as a pastor is to do what’s right in God’s eyes, help God’s people tear down their idols, and remind you and myself about what’s always been true, and that’s the gospel of Jesus.
In the midst of all the change in the world, God has never changed. His faithfulness endures throughout generations. He has never wavered. He has never turned his back on his people. And he never will.
What is “truth”? Maybe the better question is, “Who is truth?” (Hint: the answer is God.)
Maybe one day our culture will fall back in love with the truth. Maybe it won’t. But no matter what happens around us, we don’t have to adopt the definition of “truth” that we see around us. Each of us can decide to acknowledge God, worship him, and live according to his righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, choose this day whom you will serve. And I hope that you will say, as Joshua did, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
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