In Search of the Truth
(In Search of the Truth was originally written 03/2001; most recently revised 04/2013)
I like visiting the library, but sometimes the number of supposedly spiritual books I could read seems overwhelming. There are so many perspectives regarding a countless variety of beliefs, and each standpoint is vigorously defended by one of a host of authors. I find that some are aligned with my existing views, while some aren't even close. Many of the writers have a thorough understanding of the original Biblical texts (or other ancient sources), and can read Greek and Hebrew. Some know more than I do about world history, archaeology, and science. Even if I were an expert in one of these subjects, I could be outgunned in another. If I studied my whole life, there would still be more to learn. I could either go ahead with a futile (and monotonous) attempt at becoming the most studied person ever, or I could just trust my experience, feelings, and reason to guide me into truth.
Knowledge is useful. If no one had learned the original Biblical languages and translated them, you and I would never have heard of the Bible at all. And the archaeological and scientific discoveries that have been made can serve to bolster one's beliefs. But if a certain level of book knowledge is necessary for knowing of God, and more importantly for knowing God, what is that level, and how does one know if he's reached it?
Experience and feelings also have value. A person can learn a lot just by being forced into a situation in which he must find a practical solution in order to get a job done. And feelings can serve to give us an idea of whether or not we're on the right track. But we don't all have the same experiences, or interpret our experiences and emotions the same way. Relying on these things alone leaves too much up to individual opinion. What if one is interested in truth that stands independently?
There must be a more basic and universal method for someone to arrive at the truth when sifting through all of the available information. If there isn't, then a lot of people are wasting their time trying to please a God who may be unappeasable, capricious, or fictitious - a sort of Zeus.
Now if you don't believe that there is one constant truth, or one definition of what we call "right", how then will you plead your case if you are ever wronged? On what grounds would you seek to prosecute the one who robs you or damages your property, and why would you be justified in feeling angry? Many people seem to be quick to stand up for their own perceived rights, but slow to acknowledge an absolute standard of right and wrong. They deem it less controversial (and therefore more prudent) to maintain neutrality in matters that they believe don't concern them, and therefore practice a sort of spiritual opportunism. Conversely, others will vehemently defend an unquestionable moral code, but won't practice it themselves; we call this hypocrisy. I think that these extremes have a lot in common with modern liberalism and conservatism (respectively), and both are inconsistent, corrupt, and even cowardly. But we can forsake these two choices and go to the extreme in a better way.
I insist on contending that there is one truth, and one way to know it - in matters small and great. There is one way to find out if God is real, and accurately depicted in the Bible, or if such a belief is simply an exercise in mass delusion. The way to know is to honestly and wholeheartedly dedicate oneself to the lifelong pursuit of consistency, truth, and "rightness"; that is, not just what our experiences or book knowledge have indicated is right and true, but what becomes evidently right and true from outside our initially limited scopes of observation. We must consent to both an assent of the facts revealed to us, and to abiding by them. We must decide to do the things that we acknowledge the theoretical man ought to do. For my part, I may never end up being more book-savvy or experience-laden than some people on my block, let alone everyone in the history of the world. But by being impartial and submissive to truth when it confronts me, I can know Jesus.
There are some steps to take in this process. The first thing that an honest truth-seeker must do is to open his mind - at least temporarily - to the idea that anything is possible. This means different things for different people. For some, it means considering for the first time that there may actually be a God. For me, it meant being open to the chance that there wasn't one, or that he was different from what I expected and had insisted upon. In general, we have to be humble enough to accept that we may be mistaken about the beliefs by which we've come to define ourselves. And we have to allow for complete disclosure; there can't be any evidence suppressed or ignored. I'm always skeptical of get-rich-quick schemes that leave out the details until you're in a hole ten miles deep. I'm equally skeptical of anyone who tries to hide spiritual information from me. Some people have a vested interest in concealing facts. But if I can obtain the facts and I'm open to them, I can proceed objectively.
I have a little travel game called Outburst. It involves guessing key words that are related to a given topic - a bit like the television game show $25,000 Pyramid. The secret words are revealed when you place a gibberish-covered card behind a little red screen. But I've discovered that if I really look closely, I can see the words on the card without using the screen; I can tell the difference between the gibberish and the concealed correct answer. This illustrates how we can behave as seekers: we tend to only see what our own personal screen - constructed by some combination of nature and nurture - allows us to see. If we would be mature, at some point we ought to throw out the screen and make sense of the card without it, even though it takes more effort. We should take truth from the right or the left; otherwise we don't want it at all. We only want to twist certain hand-picked half-truths to fortify our existing positions.
This is why the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who held political and religious power in Jesus' day misunderstood him completely. If you read through the Old Testament, you can hardly help but be struck by how obvious it should have been to them that Jesus was the king they claimed to be expectantly waiting for. The fact that they couldn't see him for who he was demonstrates how corrupt they were. No honest, decent person who had the knowledge of the Scriptures that they claimed to have would have failed to recognize Jesus' divinity. The Pharisees may have read and even memorized the words, but they didn't really receive them. They expected a Savior who was just like they were, but maybe just a bit more grandiose. They wanted a super Pharisee. Nowadays we need to be aware that we don't miss the real Jesus because we are looking for a super Republican or a super Democrat, or a super Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Mainline Protestant, Catholic, or any other such thing. We must seek him as he is.
In contrast to the Pharisees, the Bible tells of other people who recognized the truth of the Gospel relatively quickly. The reason that some of the apostles' hearers were converted right away is that they were already dedicated to accepting pure truth before the message reached them. They were spiritually "on their way" when they met up with the words, so the transition to a belief in Jesus was almost seamless. Such was the case with a Roman named Cornelius when the apostle Peter preached to him (see Acts chapter 10), as well as with two Jewish temple servants named Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-28), who were so tuned in to God's Spirit that they recognized Jesus even in his infancy. The passage in Luke says that Simeon was "waiting for the consolation of Israel." So when he saw the baby, he knew who he was seeing. But the ones who weren't waiting with a sincere heart were threatened by the truth when it came into their lives (as it inevitably does for everyone). Their religion was no more than an inherited lifestyle from which they culled an easy, self-indulgent life, and they were prepared to exterminate anyone who challenged that life.
There are bonds that one has to break (or at least loosen a little) before he can be completely objective. Some of these encumbrances are demonstrated in the Bible:
Pride and jealousy can get in the way. Psalm 10:4 expresses this by saying, "The wicked through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts." John 9:24-34 illustrates this principle clearly, through the story of Jesus' restoration of sight to a blind beggar. After the healing, the Pharisees kept asking the man how he came to be healed. When he spoke up in defense of Jesus, they replied, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?" They were too proud to listen to someone whom they considered to be insignificant; someone who didn't meet their man-made standards of religious adherence. And they responded to Jesus in the same way, as someone too unconventional for their taste. But truth is truth whether it comes from the mouth of a preschooler, a pauper, a professor, or a prophet. And if you won't hear it from either of the first two, it's unlikely that you'd pay attention to the other two either.
Money and career aspirations can adversely influence us if we don't prioritize them correctly. Acts 19:23-27 gives a good example of this. The apostle Paul was convincing many people to believe the Gospel, and a silversmith named Demetrius got upset because he didn't think he'd be able to sell shrines of the goddess Artemis anymore. He was also worried that people would quit worshipping her altogether. So he stirred up opposition to Paul and caused a near riot. He didn't care about the truth, only about his monetary profits and an empty religion. Will you hear the truth and accept it, even if it adversely affects your desires for wealth, comfort, and recognition? If it turns out that the institution of which you are a member is out of line, will you stand up and say so, even if it could bring the house down? If the house is built on a poor foundation, it's not going to stay up for long anyway. So why cling to it?
The excessive love of people can hinder us as well. Luke 14:25-35 contains Jesus' words about this subject, and 1 Kings 11:1-13 describes how Solomon, as wise as he was, was swayed in such a way. Even though the Lord had appeared to him twice, he still let his many wives turn his heart away from God. Verse four says that his heart wasn't wholly devoted to God, as his father David's had been. If necessary, it is better for a man to be all alone with the truth than to let a spouse, friend, or family member cloud good judgment.
Galatians 6:12 indicates that people will also compromise themselves in order to avoid persecution. Unless we relocate to live alone out in the desert somewhere, we are all certain to come into contact with some people who are involved in unrighteous practices. How should we respond to these inevitabilities, when we're in a position to do so? If one is dedicated to being truthful, he's bound to make some enemies. So a decision must be made as to which is more important: integrity, or keeping oneself safe and intact. On the other hand, when you stand in the truth and are harassed and persecuted for it, you're assured of good company (see Hebrews chapter 11).
Ultimately, sin itself is the all-encompassing roadblock to the acquisition of the truth. Romans 1:18-19 sums this up, and Psalms 14 states that the "morally deficient" (as described in an NIV footnote) claim there is no God. Perhaps the most commonly referenced passage on this subject is John 3:20-21, which says that evil people won't come to the light for fear of exposure, while those who practice truth come to the light in order that their good works may be illuminated. I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the works of some of this era's preeminent atheists, but I've never had to read for too long before I've discovered their efforts to champion all kinds of sinful behaviors. This is no coincidence; sin blinds the human mind and heart to truth, and no amount of academic scholarship (which is what most athiests claim to base their beliefs upon) can break through that blindness. Only repentance and humility can. I have noticed that I myself seem to question God the most when I'm feeling a bit restless and constrained by his commands, regardless of whether any new facts about his existence have come my way. When I start questioning my commitment to be faithful (and this questioning usually begins at some subconscious level), I'm tempted to try to discredit his truth. But when I have pursued these avenues of doubt, they have inevitably proven to be dead ends. I've ended up suffering, he's always proven himself to be real, and now I'm praying that I've been through that cycle enough to just stand firm when the doubts come knocking. And they do, from time to time.
In short, our ability to weigh all of the facts and to come to an honest conclusion about truth can be thwarted by our natural aversion to discomfort and inconvenience, but accepting the things that are difficult for the flesh is required for the spirit to live and grow. Submitting to the truth can hurt; in fact it almost certainly will hurt in the beginning. But it's an honorable and necessary kind of hurt - the kind that leads to healing. It's like cleaning an infected wound. Would you rather let the infection spread, and take your life? To face the truth means facing the unpleasant possibility that you've believed some lies, and maybe even based your life on them. And it's heartbreaking to realize that you have so little to show for all of your trouble. But it can be done; Paul did just that, and he said that everything he gave up was like "rubbish" to him (Philippians 3:7-11).
If we won't expend the effort to search for the truth, maybe we're just satisfied with the existing lies in our lives. Maybe we don't care enough. But those who do care and who persistently search are guaranteed by Jesus to find answers (though not always as quickly as we might like). We should be patient. Jesus said, "seek, and you will find", not "you might find" (Luke 11:9-13). Psalm 34:10 likewise says, "but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing." Truth is a good thing to possess.
So what's the point of seeking? Why should we risk our jobs, our families, and even our lives, for such a thing as truth? We should take these risks because we ought to hate even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant lie. We should hate superstition and those mere human traditions that exist solely for man's approval. Psalm 4:2 states, "How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?" I can only hope it won't be much longer before the world is subject to the truth; we've seen some tragic consequences as a result of ignoring it in recent times.
Once in a while I'm surprised to find myself in the strange position of defending someone with whom I'm fundamentally at odds. It's not that I'm standing up for their corruption of major issues, but it happens when extra insults or unfounded myths are being heaped upon the accused person. Ironically, when these lies are exposed, the result is often that a bad person comes off as looking like a victim. It would be better to just stick to the basic facts. I can't stand falsehood, whether it's about good people or bad people. I can't stand it when it's intentional or born of misinformation. I detest lies when they concern God, man, or the amount of fat in a doughnut. People's lives are destroyed by lies, so I like to see lies exposed for what they are. To ignore any kind of truth - no matter how initially unpleasant it may seem - is as foolish as insisting that the world is flat, or that five times five is not twenty-five.
Jesus said that if we continue in his word, then we will really be his disciples, and we will know the truth and be set free (John 8:31-32). So why not examine his words with impartiality and determine if you believe they are true. If so, then faithfully live by them in even the most difficult times. Then you'll know!