What is truth?

Image: DenisFilm/Shutterstock
Published November 15, 2016

“Truth? What is that?”-Pilate (John 18:38 New Jerusalem Bible).

“The lie is a contradiction of the word of God, which God has  spoken in Christ and upon which the creation is founded.”  — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in an unfinished essay on truth-telling).

I am still reeling from the angry, divisive rhetoric of the recent American election. Of all the victims in that epic political fight, truth-telling seems to have suffered most.

With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of Nazi Germany’s Christian martyrs,

I cry out in anguish: “What does it mean to tell the truth?” and

“How can we be more intentional in our own speaking of the truth?”

Here, for your reflection, are some discoveries resulting from my quest to answer Pilate’s frustrated and cynical retort during the trial of Jesus as recorded in John 18.

Truth-telling is a contextual exercise. We need to recognize that particular situations evoke different understandings of the truth. Truth-telling requires moral character, but also honest reflection on the setting in which it is spoken. Two people may observe the same phenomenon and yet testify to that event from two different perspectives. Both may be reporting truthfully.

Truth-telling centres on knowing what is real, as reality exists in God, and it takes considerable knowledge and experience to speak truthfully. Ultimate truth stands above all human attempts to know and express it.

Divine truth stands above human understanding. Without a grounding in what is real, or of God, there can be no commonly accepted truth.

Satan can misguide and confuse our understanding of truth. Satan can make a lie out of what is true and hold it hostage to the principle of self-contradiction. A lie repeated can appear to be true.

It is sometimes dangerous to express the truth; but that should not prevent us from attempting to do so. When we fail to speak the truth out of fear, we need to recognize that we are an accomplice to the lie.

With its own special confusions, the media can distort what we consider to be true into a falsehood. That can lead to a loss of respect between people in a relationship, a family or a society. More than ever, we need to be aware of both the blessing and the curse of modern media.

How can we be more intentional in our speaking of the truth? We need to know what causes, and entitles us, to speak. We need to grow in our understanding of the place out of which we speak. We must struggle to relate the truth we come to know exists in God to the context wherein we find ourselves.

My heart aches, and my mind is heavy with confusion. I need time-away from the post-election fray-to clarify my feelings and fears. I want to know what is true and to hope again. Through prayer, I will ask God for guidance.  Through discussion with people I trust, I will recreate a roadmap for the way ahead.


  • Wayne Holst

    Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for twenty-five years; he taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and, for 15 years, he has coordinated adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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