The Nature of Truth
From the influence of family to the influence of strangers, from the desire for wisdom to the desire for control, from promises of health benefits to promises of better character, from the excitement of novelty to the excitement of freedom, the reasons that a person first comes to believe in a system of thought are numerous and varied. But what is a good enough reason for believing in something? Should someone continue to subscribe to Catholicism because he was raised Catholic? Should someone delve into religion because he thinks it is good to believe in something outside of himself? Should someone begin to go to church because he wants to improve his character? Should someone become a Buddhist because he desires world peace? Should someone believe in relativism or naturalism because he thinks it is the way of sophisticated men? Are these reasons good enough?
In the postmodern world where “everyone has his own truth,” many seek the side benefits of religion as its ends. Others mold their beliefs to their desires. But I can neither imagine a justification for undervaluing one’s existence for a mental construct, nor for squandering the time of one’s precious life in the pursuit of the unsubstantial just to please oneself. A life lived to its fullest is one that lives in accordance to truth and not to illusion. Those who neglect the importance of truth, and the application to pursue truth, are to be pitied, to say the least: even if this life were all that existed, he who neglected the truth has wasted his only chance to find out the mysteries of the universe.
Truth is independent of perspective because truth, by definition, is what exists, not what one perceives. Those who argue that truth is relative do not know what truth is. They mistake interpretation for truth. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but truth is not. It is to this unchanging, very real existence of truth that I dedicate my life. There is nothing I can take out of this world at my deathbed, but the satisfaction of knowing that I have seen the truth will provide pleasant closure to a life that I will deem to have attained fulfillment.
Thus, as only truth itself has intrinsic value, it is for it that I am Christian.
The Nature of Christianity
One does not (or ought not to) become Christian with the objective of living a peaceful and prosperous life. There is a biblical sense in which we have peace (with God), and our life is rich (in Christ), but here I am referring to the worldly sense, because many call themselves Christians for the desire of peace and prosperity in the worldly sense. The one who believes in the prosperity gospel has misunderstood Christianity and does not understand the truth. One also does not (or ought not to) become Christian in the hopes of behaving more “morally,” or to gain a circle of “nice” and “generous” friends. The one who seeks as his purpose the gifts and not the Giver does not understand the truth.
True Christianity is focused on God but is about the nature of everything. It embodies the truth about why things exist, about the beginning of the universe and its end and about the nature of people. But most of all, it is about the nature of God, who created everything else: the universe and everything in it. It is this grand worldview that is able to explain the origins of everything, that is able to explain suffering, love, good, evil, sex, reason, and morality. Do not be satisfied with anything less, because to do so is to be shortchanged in your fulfillment. Let not your sights be set on something less than everything.
Means of Truth
Truth, or what actually exists, looks different to different people. No doubt, personal biases color one’s lenses through which one interprets reality. But Truth exists nonetheless.
Many philosophers have tried to tackle epistemology. I am not a professional philosopher, but I must address epistemology before talking about Truth’s consequences. How do we know what we think we know? That is, how are we certain that what we think we know is a representation of reality? This is a profound question. The skeptic can provide excuses ad infinitum, casting doubt onto everything. There are some (a few) who choose this route. The only thing I can say about them is that they will never know whether they are right, and so they do not possess the truth. The argument ends, and it is unfruitful. I do grant that if truth were uncertain, then I would never know it. But I do not believe truth is uncertain. I argue that truth is knowable, and this leads to the following point.
Everything requires assumptions. Knowing the truth requires assumptions. In the most direct case, that is, Truth being made known to us, we have to assume that whoever is conveying the Truth is reliable, that the mechanism of transmission is reliable, and that our senses are reliable at that instant. Even being a skeptic requires assumptions (e.g., the uncertainty of the senses). So when I argue that truth is knowable, my argument is primarily against the assumption of skepticism, which says that we can’t know anything.
My foundational assumption is that truth is knowable. This assumption implies that at some point, I have to trust in something, because if I don’t trust in anything, I have no foundation against which to test what I believe is Truth. The foundational assumption needs no proof, just like how Schrödinger’s Equation needs no proof. Schrödinger’s equation is motivated by the conservation of energy, but it is not proven by it. So it is with my assumption. It is motivated by the observation that my life makes sense, logic works, I have consciousness, and the like. It’s not proven by these observations, but the very fact that I can use deductive and inductive faculties lend support to the assumption that the truth is knowable. It is an axiom.
Likewise, my assumption that “God is God, and He has spoken,” as so eloquently put by a friend of mine, does not need proof. Many people would say, “You cannot use the Bible to prove the Bible, because it’s circular.” Mathematical axioms, I would argue, is also circular. The definition of axiom includes the concept of self-evidence. And because it claims to be self-evident, the axiom thus points to itself. There is nothing wrong with this; this kind of “circular reasoning” is required of all things that are true. But that is a minor point, because circularity is not even an issue.
Those who consider the Bible to be circular implicitly assume that it is one narrative. While the Bible is one unit in the sense that it delivers one overarching story of redemption, it comes from different historical sources over the span of thousands of years. It is written by many authors, the later ones affirming the testimonies of the previous ones. There is nothing circular about that. When Peter implied that Paul’s letters were considered Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16), he is making a statement about the truth of Paul’s letters, not his own. When Paul wrote, “All of Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), he is making a statement about the truth of all the text of the Bible that came before (and perhaps he had in mind his own as well, but that is not relevant to the current discussion), but not including Peter’s (perhaps he looked forward to it, but this is not necessary for this argument either). When Jesus used the Old Testament as a source of authority, he was affirming its truth and was not referring to the New Testament. There is no circularity. In the Old Testament, there are many passages containing, “Thus says the Lord…,” which attested to what God had said, and not to what the prophets thought. Indeed, there were many recorded prophecies which even the prophets themselves did not fully understand (e.g., Daniel). Nobody would question the text transcribed by a stenographer in modern courts. Consider the Old Testament prophets as stenographers. God said something, and they wrote it down. There is nothing circular about that.
I do have to state one deciding and dividing assumption, which is that Biblical testimony is reliable in the first place. It is here that many people make their stand for or against the Bible. But it is an assumption that one can only make with the grace of God. The wind blows wherever it pleases (John 3:8). Nevertheless, I will present an illustration that perhaps can give the reader some insight into the process of accepting a testimony. In biographies or history books, the reader’s first assumption is that the author is telling the truth. Whether he makes that assumption or whether the text states it is irrelevant. If he assumes that the author is trying to tell the truth, he is necessarily accepting the implicit self-claim about the veracity of the document. Whether a document expresses explicit claims of truthfulness is independent of whether it is true. Thus, if one is willing to accept documents that do not explicitly claim to be true, why would one not accept documents that are explicit about it? Self-testimony really has nothing to do with circular reasoning. Instead, it has to do with establishing intent and credentials. When Paul claimed that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, he claimed that his own writings were reputable. It is there to clarify to us, the readers, that it is reputable, for our benefit. Does that mean all writings in the world are trustworthy? Not necessarily. But there is a threshold past which we decide to accept what someone says about his own testimony. I believe that this threshold is how God sets apart His elect from the perishing.
Personally, I assume that the Bible is trustworthy. Firstly, it is self-consistent. Seeming contradictions can be addressed without being unreasonable. Secondly, it provides answers to everything, even the reason for my assumption that the Bible is trustworthy: faith is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:9); and the reason that many don’t make that assumption: the Gospel is foolishness to those whom God has chosen would perish (1 Corinthians 1:18). Thirdly, everything it claims about human nature makes sense and is supported by observation. I believe human beings are evil by nature. Sometimes the evidence is obvious (e.g., wars, theft, murder, rape, corruption), and sometimes it is not (e.g., covetousness, pride, lies). I find it amusing that everyone always uses the nature of humanity’s imperfection as an excuse for error, but then every religion besides Christianity relies on human effort to achieve eternal bliss. Talk about inconsistency. Compare that with Christianity: everyone is imperfect; therefore, nobody deserves eternal life. Christianity requires a perfect being to perfect us.
Consequences of Truth
If you assume the Bible is trustworthy, then you must believe everything it says. You must believe that it is God’s revelation to humanity about the nature of God, the nature of the universe, and the nature of the human condition of sin. You must believe that God has the power to walk on water, control the weather, give rain, give sunshine, create matter, and hold the universe together. You must believe that atonement is possible outside of yourself. Because if you don’t, then you are contradicting what God says about Himself. If you assume that there is a higher power at all, then you must assume that the higher power has ways of transcending physical limitations. Otherwise, what kind of a higher power is it?
I often hear complaints along the lines of, “Religion is okay if it didn’t come with the claim that it is true. If it kept solely to the realm of morality and not make claims against science, I would have no problem with it.” This is a mistaken attitude to have. If Christianity were to restrict itself to morality, the Bible would be just another self-help book. Then what authority would it have over other self-help books? And if self-help books became contradictory to one another, how do you determine which one you should follow? Thus, the Bible cannot “just restrict itself to morality.” The truth is (harhar), Truth cannot be restricted to what you want. Truth comes with baggage, and it is independent on how much you like it or dislike it. To publish a book on morality without regard to truth would be meaningless. If you say, “I don’t believe the Bible because I don’t like what it claims,” then it shows that you don’t really care about the truth, because you are making a judgment based on what you like. If you have never heard that complaint, then surely you’ve heard of, “I am not a Christian because I see a lot of immoral Christians.” Well, if there are immoral Christians, they will come into the judgment of the Truth, no different from everyone else (whether or not they put on the righteousness of Christ is something God will determine). The Truth is independent of whether other people abide by it. While it is true that true Christians may commit immoralities from time to time, that is evidence that we still need a savior. But for those who make a lifestyle of immorality, it shows that they do not really believe in the Truth that they claim they abide in, for if they believed it, then they would attempt to act consistently with their beliefs (though not necessarily successful).
Just as it does not make sense (i.e., is illogical) to choose not to believe in Christianity because of something you don’t like in it, it is illogical to pick and choose what you want to believe in the Bible, and still call it Christianity. Christianity is the entire package. You cannot pick and choose what you think is true in the Bible and what you think isn’t true based on what you think is reasonable. By what authority or knowledge would you do this? God is the ultimate authority. So if you believe what He says as recorded in the Bible, you must believe all of it. If you don’t believe all of it is true, then by what metric do you believe the parts that you don’t have a problem with?
Truth is not relative. That means that Truth will offend someone. Truth will not make everyone happy. To place tolerance above Truth is to support falsehood. If one promotes peace and quiet at the expense of Truth, then what right does one have when Truth comes to judge, to claim that one does not deserve to be punished as a liar? Does the end justify the means? On the flip side, does that mean we need to fight with the sword to make converts? Not at all. For if Christianity is the truth that it claims to be, then reason will prevail in the sight of those who are reasonable. Truth is logical. If Christianity is truth, one does not need to appeal to the warm and fuzzy feeling-based approach of evangelism. One does not need to depend on trying to gain acceptance by watering down the message. Because to do that would be to sell out Truth for something less. Truth can be argued for because it is logical. It needs to be proclaimed and defended. And if it truly is truth, there’s no way to prove it false. Do not be afraid to reason, to debate, to discuss, to argue. Because in the end, irrational rejection of truth will be condemned and not the faithful proclamation of it.
Consequences of Christianity
I mentioned earlier that one does not become a Christian to satisfy the desire to live a peaceful, stress-free, and prosperous life. One does not become a Christian to surround oneself with “nice,” “generous,” or “moral” friends. One doesn’t become a Christian because one sees “friendly” people doing “good” things and one wants to become like them. Granted, there are many ways people come into the faith, and these may be reasons that started them down the path. I do not condemn them. But I hope that God has transformed their hearts to seek Him more, to want to know about Him more, to trust in Him more; to trust Him enough to be able to say, “Whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I am content” (Philippians 4:12); to be trusting enough to turn the other cheek; to be trusting enough to accept rejection; to be trusting enough to love one’s neighbor as oneself; to be trusting enough to give ten percent of one’s pre-tax salary to the local church; to be trusting enough to say if the time comes, “Lord, I am willing to die for Your glory.”
Christianity isn’t about acquiring goods where rust and moths destroy, but storing up treasures in heaven. One keeps one’s eyes on the final goal, and that is to be able to see God face to face, to be with God, to be praised, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Christ has not come to bring peace to the earth (Matthew 10:34). Christ will divide families (Matthew 10:35-36). Christ requires you to love him above all else, including your family, your comforts, even your life (Matthew 10:37-39). Safety is not number one. A comfortable life is not necessary. And a well-paying job is not something to be coveted.
Peace, comfort, and prosperity are not bad desires. I would prefer to live a life free of trials if that were possible. Who in his right mind would ask for suffering? I would love to be able to enjoy God’s gifts. Who am I to complain or to think myself higher than I am? What pride do I think I have in rejecting His gifts, if He were to provide them? But at the same time, I am willing to suffer for His name.
If you consider yourself a Christian, understand what the cost of following Christ is. Understand what God desires of you, by reading the Bible. Because Jesus has warned us already, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30). Have you counted the cost?