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What is the Nature of Truth?

As a Christian and a long-time Sunday School teacher, I often field questions about the existence of God, the nature of the world, and whether or not there truly is only one way to heaven. However, when approaching these topics I believe it is important to first come to a mutual understanding of certain terms that will inevitably arise during the course of these discussions.

Before I share my thoughts on who God is and what that means for humanity, I believe it’s important to have a clear understanding of the difference between Subjective Truth (“truth”) and Absolute Truth (“Truth”).

Subjective truth constantly evolves over time. It varies among individuals and cultures and is determined by humanity rather than for humanity by an intelligence outside our realm. A subjective truth may be true for the person who makes a judgment but that judgment is not binding on others; for example, “It’s freezing!” or “I’m happy.”

One viewpoint held by many today is that each of us should be permitted to base what we believe to be true upon our personal opinion; often without regard to the factual reality. An unfortunate byproduct of such a viewpoint can be seen in how quickly a civilized conversation turns ugly in the comment section of any online newsfeed. Despite the popular claim that all truth is personal, it has become all too common for many who assert subjective truth to verbally attack anyone whose viewpoints differ from their own. This is as true for those who claim to be Christians as those who do not.

Others think truth is decided by what the majority of a community believes at a given time. Those who hold this view, believe popular “truths” concerning important issues should be determined by the findings of focus groups, pollsters such as Gallup or, on a smaller scale, by what their peers think.

The question must be asked: Can “Truth” be subjectively determined? Can an ordered civilization be governed successfully by a myriad of personal views or even by a consensus? Has such a cultural model ever worked before?

These questions beg the conclusion that there must be more to the nature of “Truth” than subjectivity. There is. Simply stated, Truth is a proposition, thought, statement, or idea that presents an accurate description of reality. Truth is not decided, it’s discovered by examining in a critical fashion the evidence around us. I can know you’re wearing a blue shirt because I’m able to visually observe the slice of reality necessary for me to discover that simple Truth.

In the end, discovering reality rather than choosing the most attractive opinion is the ultimate measure of all truth claims.

Absolute Truth exists outside our personal experience and opinion, rendering it universal, unchanging, and transcendent in its scope and application to all peoples in all times; for example, the laws of nature.

Absolute Truth eludes many because reality, and the Truth it reflects, can at times be tough to handle. When that happens, our natural inclination is to choose an alternate reality and the corresponding truth we consider more comfortable and think works best for us. That process always fails in the end.

Why? Because even though it produces a truth we find to be personally attractive in the moment, our “truth decisions” don’t change reality and conflict is often the result. It follows then that if we are to engage others in meaningful discussions about Truth, all those involved in our conversations must first agree to analyze the relevant facts and achieve a mutual understanding of the reality that will ultimately determine the Truth they seek.

Truth is, by necessity, “narrow.” It must be discovered, not created. It is the end result of a reasoned process that eliminates all competing assertions until you reach the one that is, in fact, True. It is unaffected by emotions, desires, beliefs, or anything other than reality.

Having linked Truth to reality, the question for further consideration is how one accurately determines what is real. Multiple witnesses to an incident can have widely divergent views of what actually happened. Whose reality are we to accept? Given the physical limitations of humanity, can we answer this important question by believing we can rely exclusively upon our own observational senses? Getting this right is vital to a proper discernment of Truth. Our understanding of origin, purpose, identity, morality, and destiny depend upon it. If we conclude that our personal perception is not adequate, where do we turn?