What Is The Truth

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John [8:32]

The climax of the First Crusade occurred in 1099AD, with the Western Christian Crusaders capturing Jerusalem. I remember studying this event while in Theological school. Our Church History professor assigned us a paper to write on this subject and insisted that all of our research use the closest source documents that could be found regarding this event. At first, this was an overwhelming task, because doing close source research took you away from very accessible history books and towards scraps of paper on microfilm or documents that were copied and found in obscure places.

The study of this event was further complicated because there was actually a lot of material in the archives but from four very different points of view. The four points of view were from different reports from the four groups who witnessed or participated in the battle for Jerusalem; the Western Christians, the Eastern Christians, the Muslims, and the Jewish perspective.

As I read all these different reports, I started to wonder if I was reading about the same battle. Events like the capture of an important relic during this battle had four different points of view of who actually ended up with the relic. Each group reported what was important to them.

The Western Christians were the victors and much of what we read about the Crusades in the North Atlantic countries is from this perspective. In these writings, the Muslims are portrayed as marauding thugs. The Jewish population was viewed as co-conspirators with the Muslims. The Eastern Christians portrayed as ambivalent as to what happened to Jerusalem.

As you would guess, when you read the accounts of the other groups, they portray themselves in a more favorable light. And no matter how hard I researched, the murkier the truth became. As time ran out to complete the paper; I concluded that unless I had actually been in the battle I wouldn’t find the truth. The real truth was undeniably elusive.

And that was the conclusion the professor was looking for in her assignment. Truth is very elusive and very hard to pin down. She gave us this exercise to demonstrate that most of what we read and hear has an agenda. Sometimes the agenda is noble and other times not. Truth is discovered by getting as close to the issue as you can, and history blurs the truth.

The crusades were one thousand years ago, and we can smirk at the inconsistencies of the reporting of events. In the 21st century, I don’t think we can say we have improved much on telling the real historical truth.

In these times of very varied opinions; I recently felt compelled to explore what is meant by Christian Truth. And as is typical, I got a very different definition of what the truth is Biblical versus secular truth. In today’s verse, Jesus says; Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And here is the difference, when Jesus makes this statement he wasn’t talking about the truth of current worldly events, rather he was talking about giving up the ways of the world and becoming committed to following a heavenly path.

When Jesus was questioned about this statement, Jesus replied that, if you practice sin, you are a slave to sin. What Jesus means here is that if we become obsessed with something other than God or heavenly ways, we become obsessed with only the facts that support our obsession. For instance, if we become obsessed with money than our truth becomes anything we hear that is related to money. We will seek only the truth or facts that support our obsession.

Likewise, if we sign up to fight for a cause, our truth only becomes what we are fighting for. Anything or fact that appears in disagreement, whether it is right or not, we will seek to dismiss those facts.

This is one of the reasons I love reading about Saint Augustine. In his lifetime, he was constantly in pursuit of the truth about life. And he followed many paths to find the truth. Inevitably, Augustine always found a dead end. And this is what is important about Augustine; when he found the dead-end he didn’t argue bad facts, he changed his course. His goal was always the truth and he went down many dead-end streets.  It wasn’t until Bishop Ambrose began talking to him about Jesus, that he found a home in the truth. And when he did he became obsessed with serving God.

Jesus wants us to separate from worldly truth that ensnares, and instead focus on heavenly truth. Heavenly truth is centered on loving God and loving our neighbor. When we turn that way, we find ourselves listening more and arguing less.

Worldly truth will always be elusive because it will always have an agenda. Heavenly truth is far simpler and has no agenda.

One thousand years from today, citizens of the world will look back on our times and smirk at how the truth was so elusive in what they read about us. Likewise in another thousand years after them, another group with a smirk as well.

But in each of these millenniums, the truth that Jesus talks about will not be elusive. It is the same today as it was the two previous millenniums and will be tomorrow.

Biblical truth is focused on Jesus and worldly truth is focused on the agenda.

Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman

Photo by Billy Huynh on Unsplash