Someone recently asked me to consider the topic of truth. Is truth subjective, different for every individual? Is truth objective, unaffected by our agreement or disagreement with it? Does truth lie somewhere between the two points, possessing both subjective and objective qualities? As I considered my friend’s question, one thought took precedence in my mind: I think we often confuse opinion with truth.
This past weekend, a friend of mine and I attempted to make pigs in a blanket with chocolate chip cookie dough instead of crescent roll dough. My friend said the result was horrid; I thought the result was pretty fantastic. We both had a lot to say about the end product, making statements that, grammatically, sounded like factual assertions. In this case, however, we were both speaking of subjective tastes, of personal preferences, and not of objective truths (although he would contest that point).
Such occurrences aren’t infrequent in our culture. Listen to how people speak of the newest restaurants or movies or music, and you’ll likely hear strong wording: “This place is great,” “That movie was awful,” or “This song is the best!” You may express your opinions with similar verbiage. For the most part, this is fine and good. We can typically distinguish between expressions of subjective opinions and assertions of objective truth. Yet, when weightier subjects enter our conversations, we seem to have a more difficult time separating the two.
Consider what happens when world-views clash. Two differing groups can approach the same situation and can, from their respective perspectives, draw differing conclusions and offer differing solutions. Both speak from within a world-view, a framework by which they understand the world. Both interpret their experiences in light of their world-views. And both, apart from humility and care, can become militant in their defenses of their own views and in their attacks on the opposing views. And no matter how much the two groups may quarrel and fight, they often never change the minds of their opponents.
Often, two contradictory truth claims will meet; logically, they can’t both be true. So, given the above example, how can we determine which group is in the right (or is at least more in the right than the other)? Apart from some way to ground a world-view in objective reality, we will struggle to answer such a question. We’re like sheep wandering around, looking for the right way to go, trying to convince the other sheep that we’re worth following. We think we can find the way ourselves when, in reality, we need a shepherd to guide us, an outside standard to ground us.
So how do we get grounding? We must appeal to God and find in him the bedrock of reality. His word is truth (John 17:17). He, as the creator of humanity and the designer of the world, knows how we ought to live and work in his world. He, the reigning Lord over eternity, is “the Alpha and the Omega,” the one “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). He has revealed himself through the Scriptures and through Jesus Christ, and he dwells with his people through his Holy Spirit. He, the God who is, has made himself known to his creation and graciously invites us into relationship with him.
I believe that we will grow more adept at differentiating between truth and opinion as we grow deeper in fear and in love of God. I don’t mean to suggest that we will somehow know how best to respond in every circumstance of this life. In a world full of complicated issues and questions, we find our lives more confusing and complex than we ever imagined them to be, and we admit that simple answers often simply don’t exist. Yet as we come to know the Lord, we start to see what matters to him and how he desires for us to live. We learn to recognize his character and likeness, learning too what bears no resemblance to him. And this knowledge, I believe, changes how we live. We worry less about the competing understandings of “truth” around the world and focus more on the truth God has revealed to us. We focus less on what is unclear to know better what is clear. We start to see how often we fight and quarrel about things that ultimately carry little to no eternal significance, and we begin to focus less on “your truth” and “my truth,” (that is, our subjective takes on the world) and turn our gaze instead to the Lord in the pursuit of alignment with him. We engage this world not simply to win arguments but to advance a kingdom, and we, in this pursuit, allow secondary matters to remain secondary as we seek to know better the primary tenets of God’s character and his gospel, that all may know him.
So this week, consider how you talk. Take note of what falls into the realm of perspective or preference and what falls into the realm of fact, and learn to walk in humility and wisdom in this world. Get to know the Lord of all and learn to see all of reality through his eyes. Let us learn to abide in him amidst the chaos of competing truth claims. And let us know the truth and be set free (John 8:32).
Thanks to Derek O’Quinn for suggesting the topic for today’s post.