Some Thoughts on 'Truth'

Do we really have a handle on what we call truth? I mean, think about it, we can go to school for years, master our field through decades of service on the job, even read the insights of others in our free time, while yet, it seems like the kid always comes out victorious on Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? But is that really the truth? Is that what they're playing for, or with? Are they challenging each other in a knowledge of what we deem to be "the truth", or are they competing over who can be the fastest at answering trivia? We all do this, I think - claim our trivia to be us knowing truth. But I'm not so sure that it is. Honestly, what's actually engaged there?

As a teacher, I'm always looking around at the different standardized tests that my students are required to pass, and I wonder... are they truly retaining? synthesizing? building? learning? In other words, I'm constantly worried that my students don't actually know how everything "fits together". They're told that they're "right" if they answered an objective question correctly - but isn't that just repeating trivia? (By the way, this isn't a post on current educational theories... so you can rest.)

But, what if we're approaching this all wrong? What if we're unintentionally compartmentalizing something that shouldn't be, or can't be? Or... what if in compartmentalizing the one thing, we're actually limiting other, seemingly unrelated things. Here's what I'm getting at - knowledge ultimately appears to be just the fragments of "things" that we file away into our brain's dropbox. It's there to pull from whenever we need it. So, knowledge is an object, something to point toward. But that still doesn't seem to fit for truth. So, again, what is truth? In short, it's many items, events, and ideas all in unison.

Having trudged through a good bit of philosophy, the works of both old and new thinkers, considering how they approach(ed) truth, I've learned one consistent fact: there's no one approach. Some I like. Some I don't. This is partly due to the fact that the word itself, "truth" has gone the way of so many other words in our culture - it's fallen into the chasms of ambiguity. It can be seen as synonymous with fact, wisdom, experience, or even the "real". By some, it's considered abstract, an idea, or a goal. This is similar to Plato's idea of True Forms. This claims that we are in a faux reality, and need to get [back] to the real. Others consider truth to remain in the mind of the perceivers, like an attributive filter, by which we determine notions - if I hold a red ball in my hand, there is a red ball. In short, this perspective defines truth as merely a "trait" to label some proposition or fact by. Really, both of these views tend to describe truth to be profoundly unattainable, like a star... or worse, beginning in the mind, is redefined deep into the abstract, like the idea of a memory of a star. Either way, I haven't been that satisfied. It seems like there should be more synthesis between the two primary views. Okay, enough boring stuff...

This past Sunday a pastor from a church we're visiting said something I've heard a dozen or so times. But for some reason, this time something clicked. He said,

Truth is not solely the selling of propositions and objects of thought. It is the correspondence between one and (his) reality.

"The correspondence between one and reality." I can definitely get on board with this. Here's why. My beef with those other perspectives is that they seem to

be limiting truth to being an either/or object. Why not both? What if the idea of truth is meant to be left in the realm of metaphysics, but can practically be worked with here in the physical? Meaning, what if it transcends these two definitions. With an item like that, there's only so much "analyses" that can be given over to it. So, what if it by nature must transcend?

With the either/or of the other claims, I'm left asking, "What of Christ?" He is the truth, right. Yet, he's not trivially just a thing for us to "get to". Nor is he solely a quality to measure other things by, because that would just draw our attention to those other things, as though they are the subject of focus. Simultaneously, he's not an unreachable concept like "thought" or "memory". Neither is he in between like some stoical, unapproachable star.

The catch to the question "What is truth?" ultimately rests in the fact that we can't avoid all these different uses of the term "truth". To attempt such an avoid- ance would just be foolish, as it's too prevalent a word in our culture, which has been given many connotations. Likewise, any attempt to simply rename the term depending on its given use would be in vain as well. However, to say that the different uses are qualitatively dissimilar, regarding their properties, isn't actually any more "true". What I'm getting at is that the answer to that very question rests in the reality of Christ. So, the context/renaming issue isn't really the problem. The problem we are faced with lies a good deal further. Should our understanding of truth be so fragmented? Could our fragmenting of such a trivial word such as truth actually affect our theology? What does that say about our comprehension of Christ? Here's what I mean -

truth is:

  • a measurement: It is a means by which we define a fact. Truth rests outside of man, and all of our temperamental subjectivity, acting as an bearing by which we can consistently find direction. Truth must sit outside of what it defines, as an unalterable judge. It's most commonly defined as

    ...the quality of those propositions that accord with reality, specifying what is in fact the case. ("truth" from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy)

  • a property: It is an ontological trait of God's ordered creation that we aren't, by nature, able to perceive. Given the Fall, we are blind to many things deemed "true" by God, and are therefore in need of sight to see such wholeness. For instance, I don't understand space/time, the soul, or death, as my current consciousness can't fully process them... but they are "true"/real.

    ...there is a new inward perception or sensation of their minds, en- tirely different in its nature and kind from any thing that ever their minds were the subjects of before they were sanctified. For, if God by his mighty power produces something that is new, not only in degree and circumstances, but in its whole nature—all that which could be produced by no exalting, varying, or compounding of what was there before, or by adding any thing of the like kind— then, doubtless, something entirely new is felt, or perceived. There is what some metaphysicians call a new simple idea. (Jonathan Edwards, True Virtue)

  • a person: It is Christ. Being blind and directionless then, man is in need of some kind of "tether" that not only is physically present for the man to grab hold of, but acts so as to merge the man's essence with its own, thus allowing the man to transcend his limited paradigm, and become one with the "tether" in an inter-paradigmatic "truth" or reality. This is the work of Christ in his redeeming his children. 

Before time, we were appointed and given grace in Christ; in the present we were embraced by Christ; in Christ's works all of our ontological shifts not only began, but were completed; and as we are in him, he is simultaneously in us. (2 Tim. 1:9; 1 Cor. 1:30; Col. 1:27; Matt 28:20)

This might all be "old hat" to many of you. And I hope so. I just wonder if there's more that we could be doing in our day-to-day thought to maintain a more cohesive Christology. Maybe this approach to the concept(s) of truth is overkill; maybe it's redundant; maybe it doesn't seem to mesh well to you. Well, it too late to now say that this is more of a work-in-progress?! It's very a broad discussion. So much so that a single blog post can't do it justice. I just couldn't quit thinking through how trivially I often consider the concept of truth, and wondered how that might be affecting my appreciation of Christ's nature as the Truth. Hopefully, this can spur you on theologically, and draw you deeper into savoring the beauty of Christ more wholly and perfectly.