What is Truth? Pilate’s Age-Old Question.
So Pontius Pilate, who holds all of the cards politically, says to Jesus while attempting to wash his hands of the whole affair, “What is truth?”
Jesus does not counter with words. He counters with silence, not because he is unable to respond but because he is unwilling to do so. He said, “Those who belong to the truth hear my voice,” indicating that truth is known from the inside. Truth may, indeed, be declared outwardly but we must embrace it. It must become our truth, not an abstract concept or idea.
We enter truth like we enter friendship with another person. Truth and love are relatives. If we participate in the Jesus-journey, we shall know his truth that frees us, for he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” We learn and know this truth by going along with him when he says, “Follow me.”
To do the truth means to be faithful. Truth and trust belong together, like that old English word “troth” in the wedding words, “I plight thee my troth.” This means I vow to be true and to be faithful – as one action.
Consistency of character is part of truth-telling. If we are true to ourselves, we are at the same time true to others. But here we run up against a problem. In every age we are sick in specific ways that rob us of doing and cleaving to the truth.
Cynicism and skepticism are the epidemics of this age. They make us sick in two ways. First, they rob us of inward certainty and the strength and the authority that go with surefootedness. Secondly, they rob us of fellowship with others, because without some harmony on basic moral and spiritual principles, no community is possible.
The church is called to proclaim the truth that she knows in Jesus Christ. That is the reason and the central purpose for the church’s existence. Cynicism and skepticism are overturned by the truth. But we must participate in that truth. It’s not a solitary affair.
Don’t think that we can live the values without the structure of belief that underlies them, either. Many people think they can do this, but it doesn’t work for the long haul. The Quaker writer Elton Trueblood said that we live in a cut-blossom society. We try to keep our values without the faith that underlies them, and it won’t work. The flowers that are our values will wither and die just like so many cut blossoms, separated from their roots. They may look pretty in a vase or our lapel for a while, but they will soon die.
The price of not seeking the truth is the negative world we live in. Ours is the age of nihilism, of nothingness. Is there no correlation between the decline in genuine spirituality and the rise in violence to self and others in our society? No connection between the vast sea of amorality in which we find ourselves and the fact that there is no sure ground under our feet on which to stand? The 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche predicted that the age in which God is dead would not result in a burst of freedom, but in the death of humanity. This slow death begins with cynicism and skepticism and leads to violence because we wind up hollow inside.
The truth of Christ awaits us all. In the community of faith, we may embrace God’s truth. God’s truth requires trust in the faithfulness of the One who is alongside us. After all, how far down the road to inner peace and certainty are we getting on our own?
published 19 March 2010