“What is truth?” was the question asked by Pontius Pilate to the Son of God who claimed as “The Way, The truth, The Life” (John 14:6). Nowadays, people either believe that truth is objective and impersonal following Plato’s philosophy or believe that truth is personal meaning individual or subjective and thus not objective. Modernism follows the understanding that truth is impersonal and objective. Postmodernism rejects Modernism and goes on to embrace truth that is subjective and personal. In this postmodern era we often hear people argue that one’s belief is one’s own and so one can believe anything he/she wants. Therefore in a discussion with postmodern believers people who are educated in the modern philosophy often find the discussion futile and often frustrating. Postmodernists would say: “It’s your belief to say so, my belief is different, then let’s just leave it at that. You can believe all you want, and let me believe all I want. All we need is tolerance. Tolerance of that we see things differently.” Modernists would be jumping in disbelief when such statement is put into effect on truth. For example, an ice can’t be hot and cold at the same time. It is either hot or cold. Postmodernists would say that if one believes it is either hot or cold, then so it is for that person, but if another believes it is both hot and cold, then so it is according to that person. Truth is subjective, it doesn’t matter even if it seems contradictory, for truth is defined by who perceives it. At that point, modernists would eat their own hair for such contradiction is greatly disorienting to their logic. It feels like we are as confused as Pontius Pilate in regard to truth even though we are 2000 years more advanced than his time in terms of knowledge, technology, and many other things. What is truth?
The secret of truth cannot be found in any philosophy. To some degree we are foreign to this so called truth. But on the other hand we feel we are very familiar with it as if it resides there in our being. Modernists are right that we cannot have two truths at the same time that are contradicting each other. But postmodernists are also right that truth is personal. How to reconcile the two? The secret lies in Jesus’ claim that He is The Truth. Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation” (Colossians 1:15). And “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (John 1:3-4). The truth of the matter is “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Jesus Christ is our true pattern and we are created after him who is the perfect image of God. Humans have the quality of the true pattern, that somehow truth is within our nature. But this being said, we must understand that we are not the source of truth, Jesus Christ is. We don’t know for sure how it was before humans fell into sin, but we know that we have fallen and thus our being and nature are totally depraved. Even truth that was once our quality is now broken to pieces. So no matter how close we are to truth, we always battle the foundation of that truth. In other words, we always have doubt, for our very nature is shattered and not whole.
For example, we cannot truly know what is truly hot, for we are not sure of the definition of hot. If we scrutinize further and try to define hotness, then we will find trouble. If we are asked what is hot, what defines hot, what would be our answer? We might answer using science and say that if the temperature is more than 150° F then it is considered hot. If we push the limit of our definition we will see how difficult it is to make a definition. If we say 150, what about 149? 148? 147? Do you see what I mean? Some might answer using common sense and say that if anything touches my skin and my skin burns, then that thing is hot. But, what about if that thing touches other’s skin and it doesn’t burn him/her? Do you also see what I mean? The problem is not on how we measure the hotness, but the problem is on the standard of the measurement. There are two problems that continue to stay even though we perk up our entire intellectual faculty to define things. The first problem is external. The second is internal.
Let us deal with the first before we move on to the second. Scientists know that we cannot measure everything. What we can measure now is not generalizable for all time for who knows that in the future something different might refute our current measurement. The same thing goes for what we measure in our continent might prove different from measurement in other continents. A long time ago people believed that all swans were white and they thought it’s the truth, until some people explored the world and found that there were black swans. Because we cannot gather everything and measure all of them, for we are limited in time and space, we usually go with majority or with certain limited contexts in order to isolate the result of our measurement. Those who go through this route usually believe in the objective truth. Therefore, usually they don’t believe in the subjective truth. If we carefully review all scientific findings, we will find out that none would admit that the findings are subjective. Upon making a statement of truth, scientists must know for sure that their statement reflects exactly what is in the reality. For example, if I see a pen, then if I am to make a statement of truth that there is a pen, I should be able to prove that there is a pen. My proof cannot be because I said so, but my proof must show that a pen truly exists. This is where the complication begins. Since this route requires evidence external to our faculties, then hard evidence must be tested through many other faculties and other people’s faculties. Just as Rene Descartes did with his Cogito Ergo Sum, then every act of proving must start with doubt. In this case, doubt is necessary in order to find the no-doubt ground of which one can stand in absolute certainty. At least that’s how modern philosophers would argue. Descartes was then hailed as the father of modern philosophy due to his methodology in his approach to knowledge and truth. But this is the dilemma. How can external evidence prove the truth? Or let me rephrase it: How can external evidence prove the truth by itself without interpretation? If interpretation is required, then how one can say it is objective? And since truth according to modern philosophy is impersonal, then truth can’t proclaim itself as truth. Truth here needs our assistance to realize its truthfulness. Isn’t it ironic? Humans are trying to find the truth by looking at the external existence, but can’t find it unless determined by humans which is which.
The internal problem is not less fatal than the external. Postmodernists believe that what we believe is truth, and we can believe anything we want. In this scenario, one does not need to prove that a pen exists using external evidence, even though other people might say that the pen does not exist. It doesn’t matter if that pen exists or not in reality, for that pen does exist in the mind of that person who claims it is. Here correspondence between our faculty and reality is detached, and one can just believe internally whatever he/she thinks as the truth. However, we all know that we can’t live in such a world where anyone can believe anything they want. What if one believes that he kills a person because he thinks that person is going to mug him although in fact he is just hallucinating? Which side of the story you are going to believe if you are the judge? If postmodernism is to be applied fully, then our world will definitely be in chaos. People would do anything they want and there is no judgment on whatever they do. Internally humans got a huge problem. We don’t know anymore what is right and wrong, what is good and evil. That is why we can’t agree with each other which is which. That is why we disagree with each other even though we see, hear, touch, taste the same thing. This shows that there is something wrong with our very nature internally. Even if we believe something without external evidence, we are not sure whether to keep our belief for as long as we live. We might change our belief one day and it is fine. Those who follow this route will face many difficulties, for we cannot simply say that black is white or white is black only because we say so.
Our external and internal problems lie on the truth revealed by God himself that the entire human race has fallen into sin. Our image is broken. Our quality of truth is also broken. Since the fall we are confused. We look externally for the truth, but we can’t find the definite answer, because we don’t look at the right place. We look internally for the truth, but we find nothing, because we are totally broken. Pilate’s question “What is truth?” reminds us how troubled we are as humans. Pilate knew that Jesus was not guilty. Pilate knew that the Jews wanted Jesus dead out of envy. Pilate knew that Jesus was not an ordinary man. Pilate knew that he was supposed to free Jesus, but yet his action betrayed his knowledge. His fear for Caesar was greater than his sense of justice. External evidence proved that Jesus was innocent. His internal faculty also showed that Jesus committed no crime. But yet he did not do according to his knowledge. This shows how he did not know what truth is. Thus the question.
Cornelius Van Til indicates that knowledge is true when follows the interpretation of God. Interpretation is still needed, but not our interpretation per se, because our very nature is broken. The truth can only be interpreted by The Truth himself. The truth must proclaim itself as truth, therefore truth can’t be impersonal, for impersonal truth is mute. Truth must be personal, but not on our beings, but on God who is the Truth. What is truth? Pilate was standing in front of the Truth Himself, and yet he could not see it. Pilate was blind to the Truth. For truth to be seen, one must have the Spirit of God to interpret it. John Calvin believes that all truth is God’s truth, and any discovery of truth in this world is only possible when the Spirit of God is given to that person who discovers it. Peter made the greatest confession of faith: "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am? Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). And Jesus commented: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). To his disciples Jesus said: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). Jesus continues: "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). To know the truth one needs the Spirit of Truth to guide him/her.
In Christ one is made whole again. The image of God is being reconstructed again when one believes in Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul reminds us that “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). In Christ we put on the new self that aims at the true image, that is we are to be like God. One quality for sure that is being restored is truth. If we are the image of God, and the true image of God is Jesus Christ who claims Himself as the Truth, then we are the image of truth. Truth is both external and internal for us. External because it belongs to God, and internal because we are created in the image of God. Immanuel Kant was trying to grasp this basic concept in his categorical imperative but he was still tangled up with the notion that truth was objective and impersonal. Again, I must remind all of us that although in Christ truth becomes internal, we are not the source of truth. Jesus Christ is the source of truth. Therefore the statement that is made famous in our age today by Arthur Holmes, All Truth is God’s Truth, is clear that the truth belongs to God, not us. Truth is internal in us in Christ only because God Himself makes His dwelling in us. Jesus said: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). Jesus added: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (john 14:23). Only in Christ we can find the lost truth, which once was our true nature and being. Or rather, only in Christ we, who are lost, are found by the Truth. When Jesus Christ finds us, we meet the Truth. Reality is as God defines it. Thus if we don’t know God, we can’t know what is real. Our faculty will forever be in doubt without God. Or we may think we are certain but in fact our thought of certainty is waiting to be deconstructed with a better thought. The problem of epistemology will always haunt us if we don’t meet God, the Truth.
* The Business of Christian Education XIV