What is Truth?

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Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
– John 18:38

On this day, 190 years ago, something remarkable happened.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams, second President of the United States, passed away. Adams would die on the same exact day as the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the document that set forth the American revolution and the reason you will watch fireworks light the sky tonight. Of course, this in and of itself seems like a crazy enough coincidence on its own, but that’s not all. Just hours before Adams would take his last breath, Thomas Jefferson, his former-enemy-turned-beloved-friend, passed away as well. It was the only fitting end to such a friendship, almost like Romeo and Juliet’s inability to live without the other.

David McCullough, famed historian and author of many biographies including a riveting one on the life of Adams, commented on the event and said something deeply profound: “The truth is often far more extraordinary than fiction.”

I think about the fiction that’s out there. Stories of utopian and dystopian societies, intergalactic battles, animals that converse with humans, adventures around the world fill our fiction shelves. I recently finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a story of a man and his son traversing the fire-ravaged lands, trying to find escape and survive the conditions. Definitely fiction. Our world isn’t covered in ash, humanity eradicated. Certainly, we know that fictional characters like Admiral Ackbar of Star Wars, Napoleon of Animal Farm, and Rubeus Hagrid of Harry Potter are extraordinary in the sense of their being beyond what is ordinary, what we know as normal. But McCullough’s point still remains. Though these features of fiction are undeniable, the unbelievability of truth is perhaps even more bewildering, more amazing.

No Hollywood scriptwriter could have written such an ending to the lives of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Herb Brooks’ 1980 United States Olympic hockey team defied all odds and beat the Russian juggernaut, really. Saddam Hussein was given a key to the city of Detroit. Hitler was born 129 years after Napoleon, came to power 129 years after Napoleon, and was defeated…you guessed it…129 years after Napoleon. Halley’s comet appeared in the sky on the day Mark Twain was born, and on the day he died. Leicester City won the Premier League this year with 5000-1 odds. Jesus came back from the dead, just as he said he would.


Truth so defies the human concept of logic. It is, by human terms, unexplainable. Yes, we know that fiction novels and stories will entertain us, but what do we do with unbelievable, unexplainable truth? How do we compute it, make sense of it?

Pilate couldn’t. Truth itself was standing right before him, offering him to peer into the depths of his heart and determine that he needed the truth. But such a task was too mighty for Pilate. He rejected the truth. It was too beyond logic. Too beyond reason.

Should human logic and reason determine and limit what we can pronounce as truth? This is the postmodern way, that truth is relative, and only barring based on what a particular human mind deems as truth. In the postmodern understanding of truth, the most critical dogmas on which we base our philosophies and worldviews are the very things our mind can invent, can conceive of, can sense. Empiricism: David Hume’s happy place.

But stick with me here: what makes truth compelling, to me, is not that I find it logical, but that oftentimes, the illogical is exactly what happened. That Leicester City actually won the championship, in real life. What makes that story so strong and shocking is that it didn’t play out according to human logic. No one was placing their bets on this team. It wasn’t rational to pick them. They knew it, just as we did; just watch the team’s roaring celebration video. They never expected to be here, champions. But truth has a way of proving itself in the face of logic, time and time again.

“How can a Christian be so convinced his way of faith is right?” It’s an honest question, with good intentions. But when I think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it isn’t hard for me. The extraordinariness of it all almost serves as a proof. It happened.

I am not compelled by Christianity because of its rationality, but its factuality, which is far different from the human limits of rationality. Just because our finite mind cannot conceive of it does not mean that it is null and void.You don’t understand the mechanics of gravity, do you? Yet it is there. Further, we are not capable of defining “rationalism,” after all. We base our concept off of another. In other words, our concept of what’s “rational” and “irrational” has to come from some other authoritative source. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we cannot call a line crooked unless we have some concept of a straight line.

Here in the gospel we find some of the most seemingly “irrational” happenings of all. That God would send His Son, Jesus Christ, to live sinlessly among men who despised and rejected him. That a virgin would conceive this Son of Man. That this man would die on a cross on our behalf, receiving our sins on his perfect shoulders to reconcile us to God.  That we, sinners given over to rank idolatry, would receive the imputation of Christ’s shining righteousness. That this man, fully God and fully man all at once, would rise again and proclaim victory over death for all eternity, inviting my sorry soul to the table for an unending Feast. It doesn’t make sense, does it? And yet, it happened. The truth of the gospel may be extraordinary, but it is truth nonetheless. I leave you with a quote from Lewis himself:

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion that you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”

 

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