Can We Still Speak of Truth in the Post-Truth Age?
It’s the word on everyone’s lips all of a sudden. “Post-truth” means “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. It is not just an issue in politics; fake news is part of the problem too. No doubt gut feeling informs opinion more than many care to admit. Yet, when any opinion is cynically viewed as mere manipulative advertising in another dress – the world is undoubtedly in trouble. It is a question of trust and reality and therefore threatens the fabric of society. Where can we still find truth?
A post-truth indicates a step beyond the idea that everyone has their own truth to the notion that truth is irrelevant. In many ways it is a natural step for those who believe that the ultimate reality is random chance. If we truly arrive at a point in our culture where information serves only to reinforce what we feel it would be especially solemn. When the Bible speaks of such trends it calls them “strong delusion” in those who “received not the love of the truth” because they “had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Of course this highlights that what we now call “post-truth” has always had currency.
For Christians, there is a danger that we become subtly influenced by a post-truth outlook. What does this look like? It means that our lifestyle is dictated by what feels best and our worship determined by our taste. Our message and convictions may be more influenced by how they make us feel, or the response of other people.
It’s time to remind ourselves that objective and absolute truth matters. Jesus said that He Himself was the Truth and that God’s Word is Truth (John 14:6; John 17:17). Truth has its source and guarantee in God. Truth is far bigger and more complex than many appreciate.
We still need to confront those to whom truth is an inconvenient irrelevance with reality. In many ways this is what took place when the Lord Jesus Christ stood before Pontius Pilate (John 18). As has been observed by others, Pilate himself was on trial. He dismisses any reference to the truth with “What is truth?” and walks away without requiring an answer (John 18:38). George Hutcheson comments on Christ’s example in opposing a “post-truth” mindset with steadfast declaration of the truth. This is an updated extract from his commentary on the gospel of John.
1. Christ Came into the World to Bear Witness to the Truth
Christ’s office at this time was, in part, to preach truth and avow it. He came to prove himself a king by making it successful and to confirm it by His suffering. More particularly, He came into the world to bear witness to the truth that He was a king and so He published the decree of Psalm 2:6- 7 and avowed it to death.
Everyone is sent into the world and employed by God for some purpose and service. They should bear this much in mind and labour to be faithful in their employment and trust despite all threats. Christ, as man and Mediator looks to the purpose for which He was born and the reason for which He “came into the world” (to “bear witness unto the truth”). He will here avow it in spite of all threats, even before Pilate.
2. Everyone that is of the Truth Hears Christ’s Voice
Christ prevents an objection against the truth of His doctrine and witness on the grounds that it is not well received. Only a few may receive His teaching in general or the truth that He is a king. He makes it clear that the fewness of those who receive it does not make the truth void. All who are of the truth (or born of God, begotten by the word of truth) and who love the truth and do not delight in lies will hear Him and embrace His doctrine and testimony.
3. Truth Must be Boldly Maintained
Truth ought to be boldly maintained and avowed when we are called to this. It does not matter however absurd it may seem to be in itself and how unpleasant it seems to others. Christ answers that Pilate says that He is a king, rightly gathering it from His words. This is a bold confession in what it asserts; yet modest in the way it is expressed. He does not respond with boasting and later makes it clarifies that He did this out of conscience and duty. He showed that courage and modesty must go together with owning the truth.
4. Persecution Presents an Opportunity for the Truth
By persecution the Lord gives His servants an opportunity to publish truth and make it known to the greatest of men. Possibly these men would not otherwise ever hear so much of it as is then spoken in their own hearing. Through Christ’s suffering Pilate comes to hear His teaching, especially concerning His kingdom. Besides this also, the very sufferings of Christians invite men to inquire after the doctrine for which they suffer, which probably otherwise they would not have taken any notice of (Philippians 1:12-13).
5. All Who Profess Christ Must Witness to the Truth
All professors of religion must bear witness to the truth or give a testimony to its worth. Partly, they do this by openly avowing it and suffering for it when called to do so in times of peril. Partly, they do this in their ordinary conduct by declaring truth in their personal capacities. This is done by subjecting their life, thoughts and reasonings to it. They magnify the truth in the face of their trials and discouragements. If we neglect this we will never prove resolute in suffering for the truth.
They are also bound especially to bear witness to the kingdom of Christ. Christ Himself is the great Captain of these witnesses. He is the great preacher of truth, whose powerful sceptre as a King is the word of truth. He stands for maintaining the truth and particularly this truth, that he is a King over his own Church, to order its affairs thereof. Christ sealed this and all the truths of God by His blood. He declares this to be one of His great purposes and works in the world – to “bear witness unto the truth”. He gives an example to all others in their personal capacities and an encouragement to all who follow His pattern. They have such a champion of truth, who still maintains it, though He does not come into the world in person any more, nor suffer any more.
6. The Truth is Still the Truth No Matter How Many Reject It
Although most of the world has little regard for Christ’s doctrine, it is still the very truth itself. All the lovers and friends of truth will own it. Those who do otherwise, expose their own estrangement from truth, and are indeed delighters in lies.
7. Suffering for the Truth is Foolish to the World
Pilate disdainfully enquires, “What is truth?” but abruptly breaks off the conversation with Christ. This teaches us that Christ and his followers may often seem great fools in their sufferings, as suffering for things of no moment in the esteem of men. The Lord often brings the godly to suffer for a very small hair and point of truth. Worldly men account it great folly for men to suffer for any divine truth. Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” implies this. He advances it, not so much to get a satisfactory answer (seeing he went out not waiting for an answer) but as testifying that he looked on truth (and particularly the truth that Christ now avowed) as a very trivial thing on which to endanger so much.
8. Pride is a Barrier to Seeking the Truth
A person’s own thinking and knowledge are such a great idol for them that they can hardly bear to be considered ignorant or esteem any truth to be excellent with which they are not acquainted. This also seems to have occasioned Pilate’s disdainful question, to which he will not stay for an answer. He could not endure to hear truth commended of which he and “the wise Romans” lacked knowledge (as he could gather from Christ’s last words).
9. God Can Use Those Who Despise the Truth for His Own Glory
The Lord can make use of, not only men’s natural conscience [Pilate’s natural conscience was convinced of Christ’s innocence] but even their atheistic disposition and contempt of truth and religion. He can do this, when it pleases Him, to bring about the good of those who suffer for the truth. He can make such men vindicate the innocence of those who suffer for God’s truth. In this way He teaches us to look much to Him since He can make use of everything as He pleases. It was Pilate’s contempt of what Christ preached of His kingdom and truth (in the beginning of the verse), which combines with his natural conscience to make him think nothing of the accusation and absolve Him of guilt. Paul was released due to the same reasons (Acts 18:12, 16).
Hutcheson draws many striking lessons from this passage to show that we must and can testify to the truth, even when it is dismissed and disdained. It is particularly noteworthy that God can even make use of such an attitude to truth for His own glory and to achieve His own purposes. The more that we see others despise the truth, the more we should embrace Christ as the truth. As Hutcheson comments on John 14:6:
Christ also is the truth, not only essentially in Himself and as the One from whom all truth comes, but more especially He is the truth as a way to His people, and a true way…in opposition to all the delusions and vanities of the world by which men think to attain happiness. These all draw people away from Christ, the true way, and they will prove a lie and not the truth.
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