What Is Truth?

My husband and I are leading a Bible study based on the Truth Project videos by Focus on the Family. Naturally, I have been thinking a lot about what truth really is and what various people say it is.

A lot of individuals these days believe that truth is relative. They think truth is as you perceive it. They assert, “What might be true for you may not be true for me.” They claim that we should all walk in the truth that resonates within our own hearts. That sounds really nice, very ecumenical. But is it right?

According to my American Heritage Dictionary, the foremost definition of truth is “conformity to fact or actuality.” A one-word definition would be reality. Years ago, I heard Frank Peretti explain it something like this: Truth “is true, whether you believe it or not,…whether you like it or not…” [“God’s Way or My Way,” © 1990, Focus on the Family].

Just because you prefer a particular view of reality doesn’t make it true. When I was serving as a paraprofessional in a public elementary school a few years ago, I had a fourth grader disagree with her score on a spelling test. She insisted that the way she had spelled a particular word was correct. “Our teachers said it’s okay to spell words the way they sound. This is the way I have always spelled it.” I told her that just because that was the way she thought it should spelled, that did not make it right. Any dictionary or spell-checker on a computer would have confirmed the spelling her teacher and I had given to her.

Truth is not all-inclusive. Generally speaking, truth can be quite narrow. For example, 1 + 1 = ___ has only one right answer. You could offer an infinite number of responses, but only one will provide a true statement: 1 + 1 = 2. Although there are many possible answers, the correct one is unique.

Not everything can be true. The world around us presents many things as “truth.” But some of them are false. Most of the ideas about God, man and the universe are mutually exclusive. Either this is true, or that is true. Two opposites can’t both be true. There are true statements and false statements; there are accurate assessments of reality and inaccurate assessments. There are partial truths and outright lies.

Believing in something doesn’t make it true. I may believe that the ice on a pond is solid enough to bear my weight. Does that mean I’m right? If I skate on it, and it is not frozen enough, then I may fall through and drown. If I am the coach of a hockey team, I might send all of my players to a watery grave, if my assessment of the ice is not accurate. It’s important that I believe what is true, since a mistaken belief could prove deadly to myself and those who listen to me.

In the same way, it is vitally important for us to know and believe in what is really true. How can we know what is truth?

Truth is reliable. You can depend on it. You usually can test an idea and see how it lines up with reality. Observational scientists can experiment in a laboratory to see whether a hypothesis is true or not. If the expected results occur, then the hypothesis is right. If not, then the scientists have to come up with a new hypothesis. Spiritual truths are not so easy to prove, because you don’t normally have empirical evidence to back them up. Those who believe in them may offer anecdotal evidence from personal experience, but you can’t always reproduce those same circumstances and receive the same results. Of course, we won’t know for certain whether our beliefs about life after death are true, until we die, so it’s not recommended that you test your assumptions on that subject! Nevertheless, there are some truth principles you can test. For example, Malachi 3:8-12 says we can test to see whether God’s promises about giving are true by tithing and then watching Him multiply and take care of our resources.

Truth is unique. While there are a lot of notions out there about what is true about God and morality, if you boil them all down to their basic tenets, there are two main ideas: Man is basically good and can improve himself, or man is fatally flawed and needs to be rescued. All man-made religions teach the former (including atheistic secular humanism). Only Christianity teaches the latter. As noted in the example from mathematics, there are often many wrong answers, but only one right one. Even in its origins, the Christian faith is unique.

Truth is unchanging. While circumstances, cultures and languages may change, eternal truth is unaltered through the course of time. In Malachi 3:6, the Lord told His people, For I, Yahweh, don’t change…” (WEB). Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29 says He does not lie or change His mind like human beings. That’s why Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever.” Hebrews 13:8 tells us, “Jesus Christ,” (who identified Himself as the Truth in John 14:6), “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” He Himself told us, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Truth generally goes against human nature and preference. We’d all like to think we are generally good-hearted, but the truth is, “The heart is deceitful above all things and it is exceedingly corrupt…” (Jeremiah 17:9). We have to work at being good, since we naturally gravitate toward what is not good for us and others. We want to be independent and self-sufficient, yet God wants us to rely on Him and help one another. We want to accumulate ‘stuff’ for ourselves; God wants us to be generous and give.

As I mentioned in the pond ice illustration above, it is vitally important that we know and believe what is actually true. Not only our present well-being, but our future destinies depend upon it. I don’t want to stake my immortal soul on a false belief system that sounds good but isn’t true. Neither should you. The Bible says God’s Word is truth (c.f.—Psalm 119:142 & 160; John 17:17). It passes the test—it is reliable, unique and unchanging. Whether you believe it yet or not, I encourage you to check it out and see for yourself that it’s true.Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!” (Psalm 34:8, NKJV).