What Is Truth?
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, truth is (1) the body of real things, events, and facts; (2) the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality; (3)a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality; and (4) the state of being the case.
These definitions all say the same thing in different ways. Truth is what is actually there – it’s what is really real. Some truth is physical. We discover this truth through our senses and experiences. We also know through accurate reports of real things, events, and facts.
But truth spreads out beyond the physical. Truth identifies transcendent realities such as love, goodness, kindness, and even truth itself. Truth resides in a property of being or state of being. God is perfect being. God is truth.
One thing is for sure . . .
Truth Is Not My Opinion
Many people in our society declare there is no truth. They say truth is only a person’s opinion. They think each one of us can decide for ourselves what is true and what is false. Truth is only an opinion.
For example, if I tell someone that Jesus Christ is the truth, that person may reply, “Oh, that may be truth for you but that’s not truth for me.” Really? That may be the common mantra of our society but stop and think. Doesn’t that statement sound a little bit nuts to you? It does to me.
What makes any one of us qualified to decide what is true and what is not? Think about it. I’m one of more than seven billion insignificant little lives. So are you (sorry, but it’s true). We all live together on this unimportant little planet. This planet travels around a rather minor sun. That sun is one of a billion suns that make up our rather average galaxy.
As a tiny speck living on a small blot in a dark outer band of a mediocre galaxy, how could I be the source of truth even for me? I have an extremely limited perspective of the universe. I know nothing about the lives of people in other parts of this small planet. My mind is too shallow and finite to comprehend simple truth like eternity and infinity. Even if some magical genie gave me the authority to decide truth, my tiny brain would get in the way. My brain can’t handle the truth.
Truth is much more than your opinion against mine. This universe is real. How did it get here? Did it come from nothing? If so, then who brought it into existence? There is one true answer to each of those questions. It’s not a matter of my opinion or yours. It’s not up for a vote. Only the truth is truth.
The Search for Truth
Truth is important. Knowing the truth is essential. We need to know where we came from. To Whom do we owe thanks for this wonderful world? What does this great Being want from us, if anything?
Each of us should have a burning desire to find truth. But many people don’t join the search for truth. They seem concerned about completing the daily tasks of life. Get up. Go to work. Come home. Truth is not important to them. Will they ever find truth? Not likely. As Ayn Rand said, “The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.”
Why must we search for truth? Because our world is filled with lies and half-truth. According to Blaise Pascal, “Truth is so obscured nowadays and lies so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it.” Truth is difficult to find. When we seek truth we must look through layers of lies that cover the truth.
Truth often remains hidden behind a multitude of daily tasks and concerns. In Mark 4: 19, Jesus lists things that interfere with God’s truth in us. Jesus said, “but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (NAS)
Jesus also says God’s word is truth (John 17: 17). And Jesus promises your search for truth will be rewarded. Jesus said in Matthew 7: 7-8,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (NAS)
Where should we start our search for truth? Atheism starts, and ends, with materialism—the physical world. That’s a good place to start. But is it enough?
Atheism, Materialism, and Physical Truth
Atheism believes truth is found in the physical world. Atheists say, “There is nothing beyond the physical world. It is foolishness to pretend that there is.” According to the atheist Baron d’Holbach in his work “The System of Nature,”
Man is the work of Nature: he exists in Nature: he is submitted to her laws: he cannot deliver himself from them; nor can he step beyond them even in thought. It is in vain his mind would spring forward beyond the visible world, an imperious necessity always compels his return. For a being formed by Nature, and circumscribed by her laws, there exists nothing beyond the great whole of which he forms a part, of which he experiences the influence. Volume I, Chapter 1
What does a true atheist believe? Man is made within Nature. We live our life in the natural world. If truth exists, we will find it in the physical world. There is no place else that exists—only the physical world. The atheist says with confidence, “There is no God. He cannot be found in the physical world.”
But is this really true? Or is the physical world filled with clues and traces that can lead a person to God? You may not see God. But His footprints and fingerprints abound throughout the physical world.
John Locke was not an atheist. But, like other materialists, he felt the world is the source and the beginning for all understanding. However, for Locke the world was only the beginning. Locke starts his search for truth in the physical world. Then he reaches beyond it in his search for truth. Truth is something we can understand through reason and our senses.
In his work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke explains that all understanding begins with the senses. But the mind abstracts these physical perceptions. Reason helps the mind proceed into realms far beyond the physical world.
The senses at first let in particular ideas, and furnish the yet empty cabinet, and the mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the memory, and names got to them. Afterwards, the mind proceeding further, abstracts them, and by degrees learns the use of general names. In this manner the mind comes to be furnished with ideas and language, the materials about which to exercise its discursive faculty. And the use of reason becomes daily more visible, as these materials that give it employment increase. Book I, Chapter I, paragraph 15
Locke was convinced that, starting with sense perception, God has given to man all that is needed for man to discover Him. Locke wrote later in his treatise,
We are capable of knowing certainly that there is a God. . . . having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he hath not left himself without witness: since we have sense, perception, and reason . . . For man knows that he himself exists. I think it is beyond question, that man has a clear idea of his own being; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something.
He knows also that nothing cannot produce a being; therefore something must have existed from eternity. . . . And that eternal Being must be most powerful.
Book IV, Chapter X, paragraph 1-4
The atheist follows the temptation to remain in the physical world. The physical world is simple and easy to understand. It is concrete. It supports his atheistic agenda. Items in the physical world obey known laws, most of the time. The physical world is the world of science. But as Christian philosopher G. K. Chesterton explains in his work “Orthodoxy,”
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out.
Materialism is too simplistic and too small. It may be able to explain most things in the physical world. But it cannot answer any of the ultimate questions of life. Nor can it endorse or explain any of life’s transcendental qualities, such as love, justice, truth, or goodness.
Atheism’s truth (materialism) is easy to affirm. But it has no depth. It cannot answer the most important questions of life. How can it be the ultimate truth?
Atheism’s Partial Truth
What is truth? The dictionary definition at the beginning of this essay listed four definitions for the word “truth.” Two of them apply mostly to the physical world. These are the physical truths found in science and materialism.
(1) Truth is the body of real things, events, and facts. This is truth found in the physical world. It’s the truth of Nature. We accept these things, events, and facts because we can examine them with our senses. For John Locke this is the first way we gain knowledge. We see a thing—let’s say it’s an apple. How do we know that thing is an apple? It looks like an apple. We pick it up. It feels like an apple. We smell it and taste it. Yes, it truthfully is an apple.
(2) Truth is the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality. Say something. For example, suppose you tell me, “There’s a white dog in the front yard.” When I look outside, I see a white dog in the front yard. Your statement is true. It’s in accord with fact or reality.
These are the kinds of truth proven by science in a physical world. Science says these are the kinds of truth it is equipped to handle. Scientist understand their limitations. Science is not a world view. Science cannot answer the ultimate questions of life. Science is a tool—a method for exploring the physical world.
These definitions also describe the kinds of truth endorsed by atheism. The problem for atheism is this: atheism is a world view. Atheism claims answers for life’s ultimate questions. Its answers come from materialism. The physical world is all that exists for them.
Is there a God? Atheism says, “God does not exist in the physical world. Therefore, God does not exist.” What about love? “Love is nature’s way of tricking us into having sex.” Really? What about kindness or goodness? They don’t exist. Nature’s law is “survival of the fittest.” Be tough. Kill your adversary before he kills you.
My soul and my spirit are not satisfied with these answers. Important parts of me cry out, “Is that all there is?” I hunger for more. Where can we find answers for truth beyond the physical world?
The Truth for Which We Search
There is truth that is beyond the physical world. We know these truths exist. They are felt but unseen. At times we wonder if they really exist. But they impact our lives every day.
They are difficult to define or describe. These truths touch our innermost being but remain just outside our grasp. These truths make us complete but leave us hungry for more. They are metaphysical. What are these truths?
Let’s return to our dictionary definition. There are two additional statements about truth.
(3) Truth is found in a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality.
There are qualities are beyond the physical world. Some of these are emotions such as love or joy. Others are abstract concepts such as goodness, beauty, or truth. Many of these qualities, such as kindness, justice, or duty, seem to draw us together. They connect us with each other.
Some of these qualities also connect us with something beyond us. This “something” often is described as higher or better.
Have you ever performed an act of kindness for another person? Examples are buying breakfast for a homeless person or helping a lost child find its mother. Afterwards don’t you feel good? Through your action did you feel part of a larger realm of kindness? There is a truth to goodness and kindness that transcends you and me as individuals. We search for this transcendental truth.
Don’t we also search for other kinds of truth? Many people spend their entire lives searching for true love. Few people find true love in this world. But some people say they found true love. Many of these lovers declare their perfect love is found in God.
We also search for beauty. We don’t exactly know how to describe perfect beauty. What qualities does it have? Why does great beauty fill us with joy or wonder or awe? What is the truth about beauty? No one can answer that question. But we seem to know beauty when we see it. Our search for beauty is rewarded.
Truth is here. We know it. Some people spend their entire lives searching for truth. They may never find it. But most of them feel their lives are better because of their journey.
(4) Truth is the state of being the case. Truth just is. God is truth. He just is.
The greatest truth must be bigger than you and me. This truth of being invades everything from the smallest subatomic particle to beyond the ends of the universe. The universe cannot contain ultimate truth! Truth must be big enough to cover eternity and infinity. Truth must be comprehensive. It must apply to all kinds of reality. This truth is all about God.
The Wonder of It All
Who is this ultimate truth? We know by description that it must be God. Who else covers all of infinity and eternity? God and only God. God is truth.
The Bible goes a bit further. Christian doctrine identifies God as one being with three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible says truth is found in the Holy Spirit and in the Son.
In John 16: 13 Jesus says, regarding the Holy Spirit:
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (NAS)
Jesus Christ, Himself, also is truth. On the night before He was crucified, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14: 6 (NAS)
God is truth. Truth is found in all three members of the Trinity. The wonder of it all is that God fervently wants to share His truth with you through the person of Jesus Christ.