Truth: Something More Than Sacred or Secular
We have been looking this summer at the basics of our spiritual life. All in an attempt to more deeply consider what we talk about when we talk about God. We have explored words like Faith, Belief, Salvation…even the word God itself.
Today we come to truth. What is truth? (If you are reading take some time to think about how you would define truth.)
People talk a lot about truth. Our everyday conversations are based on what we believe is true and not true. So, yes people talk a lot about truth, especially religious people. It’s inherent in the word Amen, which means, I agree.
Christians talk about truth because the Bible talks a good bit about truth.
For example, in Genesis 42 Joseph, having risen to second in command over Egypt, tests his brothers who have come looking for food to see if there is any “truth in them.”
So following Joseph’s query, if you agree with the passages I am about to read just offer an Amen after each one!
Wisdom literature in the Bible such as the Psalms often speak about living according to God’s way and truth. For examples in Psalm 25 (4-5)
Teach me your ways, O Lord; make them known to me.
Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me.
The prophets cry out that truth is connected to justice but kings and nations ignore the truth and so they fail to do justice. So for example in Isaiah 59:14
Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking…
Apocalyptic literature, such as Daniel use the image of a “book of truth.”
Scripture sometimes pairs peace and truth together such as when Zechariah commands us to:
Love truth and peace (8:19) and to
Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace (8:16)
Jesus said in John 8:31
If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Also in the gospel of John Jesus says,
I am the way, the truth, and the life… (John 14:6)
The Bible often connects truth to God’s word, such as in James 1:18
By [God’s] own will he brought us into being through the word of truth, so that we should have first place among all his creatures.
Perhaps one of the most needed passages for the world today is from Ephesians 4:15:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
I could keep going but I think you get the idea that truth is spoken about all over the Bible. And you probably knew that before I reminded you of any of these passages.
As you think about what the Bible means when it talks about truth, you need to first realize this: The way we think about truth has changed over time.
Two weeks ago I talked a bit about the Enlightenment and how it changed the world. Prior to the Enlightenment, most people believed that the world worked the way it did because God made it that way. But the Enlightenment fundamentally shifted this idea. Scientists began to theorize that there were predictable, knowable, rational rules that governed how their universe operates. There is cause and effect and clear explainable connections between the two.
For example, when something is in motion, you can predict things like trajectory and destination if you know the relationship between things like speed and weight and gravity and friction. Such knowledge meant endless possibilities in terms of science and engineering and technology. And it began to shift our thinking in terms of the way the universe works: God as the source of the universe was replaced by these scientific laws.
Birds did not fly because that’s the way God made them. Birds flew because their weight and design gave them the ability to harness the power of the wind to soar through he air.
And so there is Renee Descartes famous axiom: I think, therefore, I am. In this view, our existence is tied to our ability to think, not to God.
Before Descartes people saw knowledge as revelation from God. With Descartes came a new view that we know what we know because of our own ability to think, our own reason and logic…and not God’s revelation. Our ability, our intellect, our mind replaced God as the source of our existence.
Over time, truth became tied to logic and reason. Something was true if it could be proven repeatedly in a laboratory. And if it couldn’t be proven, then it wasn’t true. It was only a theory or hypothesis. Since so much of faith and spirituality couldn’t be proven in a lab, much of our understandings about God were no longer considered true.
Now, I love the way that the sci-fi television show Star Trek pokes at the Enlightenment. In the original there was Spock and in the Next Generation there was Data. Both relied on reason and logic. And both failed to understand and appreciate things like love and laughter. In fact, Data longs to be human so that he can love and laugh. He experiments with both. He tries to make jokes, but he can never get it right. He is unable, using science, to create a humor program which works every time.
Why? Because such things cannot be proven or repeated in a laboratory. What makes one person love or laugh is not the same for another person. Love and laughing cannot be understood through the science of the Enlightenment. And yet we know that they exist.
What we should realize from this is that reason and logic are not the only ways of knowing. You cannot explain why a song moves you to joy or tears. Why a particular poem touches your soul so deeply. Or why chocolate just fixes everything when life goes awry. Or when someone asks you why you love someone, you struggle for the words, trying to describe some positive things about them but ultimately finding yourself at a loss for words because at the end of the day when it comes to love, you just do.
I love the way Rob Bell describes this:
There are other ways of knowing than only those of the intellect.
I the lab, we can stand objectively over the subject, testing and retesting and examining, filtering the data through the lens of relational repeatability.
But outside the lab, in the course of our very real lives, some experiences act on us. We engage with them passively as they happen to us.
They seize us and capture us and woo us and abduct us. We don’t stand over them; they jump us in a dark alley and pin us to the ground and won’t let us go.
We are way too complex, and so it the world – too much surprise, too many possibilities, too much that defies out limited logical categories – to fit everything through the narrow filter of reason and logic alone. (from What We Talk About When We Talk About God)
So, truth as reason and logic has limitations. What we know of the universe around us is only a tiny tiny fraction of all there is to know. And while reason and logic are super helpful, there is so much that they cannot help us know. And there are other ways of knowing that are equally valuable and helpful and insightful and truthful!
You see, sometimes truth demands the reason and logic of a physicist…and sometimes truth demands the artistry and aesthetic of a poet. Sometimes truth comes from a mathematician and sometimes it comes from a musician. Sometimes truth is discovered by a method and sometimes its discovered by a mystic. There are other ways of knowing truth than what the Enlightenment claimed!
None of these are at odds…even though we in our heads often set them at odds.
What’s true is that there is something more going on here. There is something more going on than these false categories can describe. That something more is not either/or. It’s not faith or science. It’s not math or mystery. It’s not sacred or secular. It’s both/and.
In fact, the problem is that our society wants us to choose. The Enlightenment prioritized a way of thinking that forced people to choose science or faith as true. And religious leaders bought into it hook line and sinker by engaging in the either/or debates. Creation or evolution. God or Big Bang. Miracle or probability. Believer or heretic.
But the world is not black and white, either/or, yes or no, good or bad, light or dark, conservative or liberal.
The world is grey, and full of humble maybes. And sometimes things are good and bad at the same time. Sometimes you need a lot of light to see clearly. And sometimes you need to dim the lights to see the real beauty of something. Sometimes the conservatives have an important point and consideration. And sometimes the liberals do. Sometimes you need science and sometimes you need a song.
Let me explain…
Think about language. We have different kinds of language for different kinds of problems.
When you are doing something that is tedious and time-sensitive and needs precision, then you need technical language. You need clear, explicit, unambiguous, step by step directions. So, when someone asks yo how you re doing today, you don’t say, “I am standing 6 inches behind the pulpit at Hood Memorial Christian Church locates at 300 E Cumberland St. My pulse is about 80 beats per minute. My blood pressure is 127 over 82. And my body temperature is 98.5.”
No! You say, “I’ve had a rough week and I’m tired and worn out, but today is looking up cause I’m here with my church family feeling the grace and love of this community.”
This opposite is true as well. Cause when you are struggling with a situation that is draining and exhausting and emotionally heavy, you don’t say to someone who is ready to give up, “You need to exercise 15% more than you are currently doing. You need to consume more Vitamin E. And you need to spend at least 15 minutes twice a day making a list of things you are grateful for.”
No, (although some of that might help) you need something poetic and inspiring. You need encouraging hyperboles, and uplifting metaphors, and energizing figures of speech. You say, “Remember this: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” You say, “God is my rock and my fortress.” You say, “Hey reach deep down inside you and discover that you are stronger than you ever thought possible. You will crush this!”
Well, the Bible is the same way. Sometimes it speaks poetically and metaphorically. Like when it offers hope in books like Psalm
God is my rock and refugee… (Psalm 18:2)
Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth… Death will be no more, mourning and crying will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am making all things new. (Rev 21:1,4)
And other times the Bible gets very specific:
When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were (also once) a slave in the land of Egypt; and this is why I am commanding you to do this. (Deut 24:21-22)
When I read scripture, what I hear is a consistent nudging to you and me alike to begin to see truth as something that belongs to God. That’s not taking a side in the debate that the Enlightenment began. In fact it is saying that the debate itself is the problem.
Scripture points us to truth in a variety of different ways. Truth is about speaking what is right and true about the world around us and the way it works. Truth is about a person, specifically Jesus. Truth is about love and peace. Truth is about justice and obedience. Truth is God’s word. Truth is a way of life.
The Bible doesn’t say truth is sacred, not secular. It says truth is something more. It says truth is sacred and secular. The Bible says truth is faith learning to dance with science.
Read the entire Bible cover to cover and you will notice one overarching theme which is this:
We, humans, are not the source of Truth. Truth is divine. It’s source is God. No matter what the form or substance of that truth. Truth is science and spirituality. Truth can be physics and poetry. Truth can be explainable or unexplainable. Truth can be secular or sacred, religious or regular. For everything that is true is of God and everything that is God is true.
Just remember: sometimes truth demands a physicist and sometimes a poet. Sometimes it speaks through science and sometime through a song. Sometimes truth is discovered through a method and sometimes a mystic. It’s not either or. It’s both and.