In John 18:33–38, while being interrogated by Pilate, “Jesus answered, ‘For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’
Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’”
Maybe if Jesus could’ve pitched a zinger, a sound bite he knew would reach Pilate where he lived, he would’ve responded. But most likely no such zinger is within the province of language.
Imagine Jesus answering, as did the poet John Keats about 1800 years later: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty.”
So Pilate asks, ‘What is Beauty?’
Suppose Jesus answers, “Love.”
Then Pilate counters, “And just what is love?” Which leads Jesus back to Truth, beginning an endless loop.
Or Jesus might’ve answered, as according to John 14:6 he did to his disciple Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…”
To such a claim, Pilate could reply, “That’s not an answer.” Which would be a valid point, as Jesus seems to imply elsewhere.
In John 8:31-32, “Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed him, ‘If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'”
Here he has revealed that knowledge of the truth requires the actions of perseverance, discipline, and application of a fund of principles.
Probably since the concept of truth entered language, folks have argued it’s meaning. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a summary of 20th century approaches. If you’re up for a challenge, give it a read.
Of the philosophers I’ve consulted on the topic, Soren Kierkegaard offers revelations that most appeal to my admittedly highly subjective mind.
What you’ll find below I have clipped from a philosophy website and edited a bit for the sake of conciseness and clarity.
Kierkegaard distinguishes between objective and subjective truth. Considered objectively, truth merely seeks attachment to the right object, correspondence with an independent reality. The statement “cats often meow” is objective truth. Considered subjectively, however, truth seeks achievement of the right attitude, an appropriate relation between object and knower. Thus, for example, although Christianity is objectively merely one of many available religions in the world, it subjectively demands our complete devotion.
For Kierkegaard, it is clearly subjective truth that counts. How we believe matters much more than what we believe, since the “passionate inwardness” of subjective adherence is the only way to deal with our anxiety. Anxiety, a condition central to Kierkegaard’s world view, is the appropriate reaction by seekers of truth to accepting that they must make the journey entirely on their own, relying on nobody or no set of dogma. Passionate attachment to a palpable falsehood, Kierkegaard supposed, is preferable to detached conviction of an objective truth or common belief.
This could translate, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re sincere.” But Kierkegaard’s standards for sincerity are exceedingly high. They bring us around the circle to John 8:31, where Jesus advises those who seek the truth to practice discipline, perseverance and the application of the principles he teaches. And I’ll maintain that such application requires uncommon humility and deep, courageous honesty.
For now, at least, I’m going to end this exploration with a highly subjective conclusion: Truth is that which alerts us to Beauty by drawing us closer to openhearted, generous, selfless Love.
Find Ken Kuhlken’s books at www.kenkuhlken.net