What is truth? Let me tell you.

15 Oct

Today, I was interviewed at chapel on campus here (Concordia St. Paul) by chaplain Richard Carter.  Here is a rough outline of how that went:

How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. — Proverbs 16:16

Well, first of all, you work in the library Nathan – what got you on that particular career path?

Libraries have always fascinated and interested me.  All that knowledge in one place!  Perhaps they seemed a bit more impressive and important In the days before the internet, when in order to get wide distribution you needed a publisher.  To this day though, if you want to simply check out a known item – or if you are just starting to get serious about exploring or researching a topic – libraries are usually the best place to go (save having your own personal expert to consult!)  In any case, I’ve always been interested in all kinds of subjects and the “organization of knowledge”, so libraries were a natural fit for me.  It did take me a while to realize that the gifts God had given me went perfectly with libraries, which I can’t tout enough.

Earlier this year, I asked you, as a person who is a librarian and a Christian, to talk about anything you wanted to to the pre-sem students, and you decided to talk about “faith seeking truth”… Why did you choose that topic?

 It is such a fascinating topic.  A few weeks ago, I was reading something about the upcoming election, and a commentator said something totally simple but really profound.  He said: we want our politicians to be honest but we don’t want to know the truth.   I think that is very right, but it’s certaintly paradoxical. The topic has always fascinated me – when I was younger, I fashioned myself a bit of a fearless truth seeker.  I was convinced that the Christian faith my parents passed on to me was true, and there would be answers and evidence for every question I might think to ask about my faith.  I still believe that is true, although I think those answers are not always as simple as I might like.

Talk a bit about the role you see truth playing in the Christian life

These things go hand and hand and are inseparable.  A dictionary definition of truth is something like “being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact; not false”.  And here, it makes sense that we would immediately connect this definition with persons who are “true”, or honest, genuine, and reliable.  Of course, Jesus Himself calls Himself the way, the truth and the life.  When we are born into this sinful world, we are rescued by this Truth and nurtured with the truth, and are called to be the people of truth.  We never stop needing to hear the truth from the Truth (capitol T), and learning to understand the truth more and more.  Also, our seeking the truth does not end with seeking God Himself or his own words to us.  As the 2nd century church father Justin Martyr said, “All truth is God’s truth”.

Say a bit more about that.

Well, Jesus told us to love God with all our heart soul, strength and mind.  And Paul said: “… brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely…’ We see in the Old Testament how characters like Moses, Solomon, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego  are commended for their knowledge of wisdom of the world and its literature – what we might call secular knowledge.  One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in the New Testament book of Acts when the governor of Judea says to Paul, after he defends the resurrection: “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” (Festus, in Acts 26:24).  Of course, at that point, Paul gets very concrete about the truth he is speaking of and talks about how the resurrection of Jesus is not some esoteric knowledge but something accessible to the governor: he tells him these things were not “done in a corner” – “these things are true and reasonable.”  The resurrection really happened, and this gentlemen, Festus, can check it out….

You talked in your presentation about reasons why all people seek the truth.  Could you talk about that a bit more?

There were four points I made there.  First, truth is something we just want to know… (why do we care whether the earth goes around the sun or vice-versa – often we are just curious about the cosmos and want to know… ).  Second, truth is valuable in a practical sense….(here, we think about how important it is to have accurate military, financial, or medical information, for example).  Third, it is simply good to seek the truth even if the truth is not always good (persons are constantly trying to organize and define and state what is true – and even ultimately True (with a big T))  Finally, althoughPope John Paul II said “life in fact can never be grounded upon doubt, uncertainty or deceit” the book of Romans says that we suppress it, or hold it down, as well

You made a connection here with evangelism – what was that again?

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem “natural” to being up matters of God and Christ in a conversation.  But when we start to see more and more connections between all the things in the world – realizing that all truth is God’s truth, and that all subjects not only touch one another but the One in whom is “hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” – I submit that the opportunities to do this will all of a sudden become more prevalent.  Paul saw in the writings of the pagan poets something that was good and valuable, and in studying their writings, his love for the people who valued them no doubt grew.  Later on, he was able to use them as a connection point to Christ.  We don’t have to all be scholars like Paul, but we can explore truths that are important to the persons God has thrown into our contexts.

Any other advice here?

Yes, first, we have nothing to fear from a robust conversation with the world (they, alternatively….). All real truth and knowledge are of Divine origin.  Second, take people’s viewpoints seriously.  There are 3 fantastic questions Christian apologist Greg Koukl talks about that you can keep prominent in your conversations with others at all times: “What do you mean by that?”, “What are your reasons for coming to that conclusion?”, and “Have you considered….[alternative viewpoint]”.  This way you show them you care for them by taking the time to truly understand their views.

Some might say that this approach might not work today.  After all, in recent years many have suggested that there is no truth, or that something might just be true for them….

Well, I think it makes sense to talk about knowledge that is pretty objective (i.e. the world out there that we all share whether we like to or not!) and knowledge that is more subjective (here, our own perspectives and backgrounds come in).  In recent years, many academics have definitely focused a lot on the subjective part of knowledge (“postmodernism”).  Still, again, I think all of us are constantly trying to organize and define and state what is true – whether formally or informally.  The point here is that even persons who want to say that the only thing that is true is that there is no truth things ultimately find themselves saying that we can have enough real knowledge about the cosmos we live in to believe that some ways of living are preferable and more responsible than other ways of living.  They can’t avoid this.

Any closing thoughts?

Spend some time with Martin Luther.  Go to the library and check out lots of stuff by and about him.  The man was a great theologian who loved God and was a genius ahead of his time.  Even today, he stands toe to toe with the best thinkers the world has to offer.

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1 Comment

Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Uncategorized


One response to “What is truth? Let me tell you.

  1. Jason

    October 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Very nice. Well done.


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