So-called environments of objectivity tend to be closed shops with presuppositions solidly entrenched. The quest cannot be narrowed either to the natural or to the supernatural realm.
“What is truth?” Pilate’s question has reverberated through the centuries of human experience. Behind it we can sense man’s anguished impulse to know the truth and his awareness of the difficulty of finding it.
Man’s search for truth is as noble as it is universal. It is a human prerogative, an ability distinguishing man from the rest of God’s visible creation. The pursuit of truth is the special task of the educational process. Next to the desire to glorify God, the desire to find truth is the most excellent of many good reasons for obtaining an education.
The initial premise that truth-seeking man must recognize is that there is a source of truth. He readily accepts the principle that the existence of something presupposes an origin of the thing. When he sees an automobile or a chair in a display window, he is aware that its existence can be traced back to a manufacturer. He is equally aware that the existence of the visible universe argues that it had a source (even those who deny divine Creation are preoccupied with questions of origin). Yet he often fails to realize that the same principle applies to abstract spiritual qualities. Truth has an origin, and to pursue it wisely we must understand what its source is.
Both reason and Scripture tell us that God is the source of all truth. Reason informs us that only a divine, omnipotent being could originate all truth, and this is also the message of the Bible. The God of Scripture is “a God of truth” (Deut. 32:4). He is “abundant in … truth” (Exod. 34:6), and his “word is truth” (John 17:17). Christ told his followers, “I am … the truth” (John 14:6), and he explained the purpose of his coming as bearing “witness unto the truth” (John 18:37). It is the testimony of the believer, too, that “the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:21).
Since God is the source of truth, truth belongs to him; it is, in a sense, his possession. This is partly what is meant by the repeated references in the Bible to “his truth” and “thy truth,” even when writers intend something more specific than truth in general. Notice the attitude of the biblical writers: “His truth endureth to all generations (Ps. 100:5); “His truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Ps. 91:4); “Lead me in thy truth” (Ps. 25:5); “I will praise thee with … thy truth, O my God” (Ps. 71:22); “Sanctify them through thy truth” (John 17:17). The principle is clear enough. Truth belongs to God, its source.
From this recognition that God is the source of all truth emerge several important corollaries. It follows, first of all, that the truth we seek and find has been revealed by God. This should strike a note of humility into man’s search for truth. The world responds to men’s achievements and discoveries by extolling the greatness of human ability. It is an error that the Christian has no excuse for following. To praise human discovery without acknowledging that all truth is first of all a revelation of God is as foolish as believing that man saves himself. The humble attitude of the psalmist is the only appropriate one for anyone engaged in the pursuit of truth: “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me” (Ps. 25:5).
God has revealed his truth both naturally and supernaturally—naturally in the created universe, supernaturally in his written Word and in the incarnation of Christ. To neglect either sphere of revelation is to abdicate men’s responsibility in the search for truth. Unfortunately, this abdication is a salient characteristic of the educational scene today. On the one hand, secular education has crippled the search for truth by limiting the quest to the order of nature. Having decided a priori that all truth is to be found in the sphere of nature and empirical demonstration, the secularist thereby precludes the possibility of finding the truth that lies in the supernatural realm. Often it is claimed that secular schools, unencumbered by religious presuppositions and commitments, provide an environment of true objectivity where truth can be pursued without hindrance. But that is far from the truth. Secular colleges and universities tend overwhelmingly to be closed shops in which the possibility of finding truth in any supernatural realm has been effectively strangled. The presuppositions are solidly entrenched; virtually all that can be said is that the presuppositions are secular rather than religious.
On the other hand, Christian education has no pure record either. The tendency here has been to view the pursuit of truth in the realm of natural revelation with suspicion and antagonism. This attitude is based on the unwarranted assumption that somehow the truth man discovers empirically in nature constitutes a threat to what is revealed in the Bible. But if God is the source of all truth, we can rest assured that there can be no difference between the truth he reveals and the truth man discovers (this is not to say, of course, that everything man claims to have discovered, or all the deductions he makes from his discoveries, are truth). The evangelical Christian community should welcome free inquiry into the truths of natural revelation. All that we should demand is that the interpretation of empirical evidence be guided by the supernatural revelation found in the Bible. Daniel 4:37 speaks of “the King of heaven, all whose works are truth”; that is, both God’s natural works and his supernatural works are the repository of truth.
If truth is first of all revealed by God, we might ask whether there must really be a process of searching to find it. Christian parents sometimes wish their young people and the intellectual community would do less searching and be more willing to rest in the accepted traditions. But the need for searching after truth is rooted in both human experience and biblical revelation. In case the truth seems easy to attain, we need only remind ourselves of the variety of answers to religious questions found within the evangelical community alone. It is a serious thought that on most religious issues there can be no more than one right answer. Obviously only one of the various views on the millennium, for example, can be the truth. This means that a great deal of untruth is being embraced and taught in evangelical churches, for their varying views on many issues are clearly incompatible. We ought to be impressed by the seriousness of the need to search carefully, lest we believe something other than the truth.
Scripture tells of the necessity to search for truth. One of the Proverbs enjoins us to “buy the truth” (Prov. 23:23), implying that we acquire truth through some kind of effort. Paul wrote that God “will have all men … to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), and again we can infer that truth is something one reaches through learning and searching. We know, too, that it was the mark of the Bereans’ nobility that they were not content merely to receive what they had been told but instead “searched the scriptures daily [to see if] those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
This process of searching is part of fallen human experience. In his original state of innocence man, created in the image of God, was endowed with true knowledge (cf. Col. 3:10). The Fall was, among other things, a fall from truth and an embracing of the lie. That is why Scripture urges us to try the spirits to see if they are of God, to be on guard against false and deceitful philosophy, and to be aware of false prophets whose message will deceive us unless we scrutinize it carefully.
If truth must be sought diligently, it is equally important that the seeker acknowledge the truth when he finds it. Modern thought is often characterized by the idea that the search for truth is an open-ended process carrying no possibility of attaining a goal. Paul describes the pathetic nadir of the intellectual quest when he writes of those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). John Milton seized upon the point and portrayed the fallen angels in Paradise Lost as being trapped in exactly this kind of futility, reasoning about philosphical issues and finding “no end, in wandring mazes lost” (II, 561). Christ himself spoke explicitly about the possibility and result of finding the truth: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The same principle is stated by Paul (Rom. 1:18–25), who vehemently denounced those who denied the truth God has clearly revealed and, by refusing to recognize the truth available to them, “changed the truth of God into a lie.”
The notion that all truth is relative and the corresponding notion that truth is simply not very relevant to the daily task are follies of the modern mind. It is refreshing to turn to the writings of earlier ages and observe the high esteem held by truth. When Milton in Paradise Lost portrayed his standard of true virtue and godliness in Abdiel, he made Abdiel’s loyalty to “the Cause / Of Truth” (VI, 31, 32) the keynote of the whole account. Similarly, the sixteenth-century poet Edmund Spenser, in presenting an allegorical narrative about the attainment of holiness (The Faerie Queen, Book I), made Truth the guide to Holiness. We do not usually consider truth the primary prerequisite to holy living; but as C. S. Lewis has observed, Spenser attached such importance to truth because he wrote “in an age of religious doubt and controversy when the avoidance of error [was] a problem as pressing as, and in a sense prior to, the conquest of sin” (The Allegory of Love). The older way of thinking has much to say to us in an age when truth must be disentangled from such a host of counterfeits.
If the search for truth is not an end in itself, neither is the mere finding of truth. Scripture is rich in its statements of appropriate responses to truth. These responses include praise of God’s truth (Ps. 71:22), love of truth (Zech. 8:19), assent to the way of truth (Ps. 119:30), and living according to the truth (Ps. 86:11). John, who in his New Testament epistles was at pains to combat heresy with truth, made it clear that he desired from his readers something more than passive intellectual recognition of the truth: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). Truth must also be our protection in a world of error; it is part of the Christian’s spiritual armor (Eph. 6:14).
Jeremiah lamented that in his day there were none who were “valiant for the truth upon the earth” (Jer. 9:3). May this never be true of the community of believers in the twentieth century. Scripture is emphatic in telling us that we must search for truth and, having found it, must live according to it and be valiant in its cause.
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