'What is truth?' is question for the ages

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Pontius Pilate asked the question, "What is truth?" So have many before and after him.

How do we go about looking for an answer?

One plus one equals two. That's true in mathematics. Columbus sailed to America in 1492. That is true in history. H2O is the chemical formula for water, and that is true in scientific terms. Computers can be frustrating, and that is true in the experience of many users, including me.

But how do we define "truth" in broader terms?

Some would say, if something exists, it's true. That sounds reasonable, and can be factually accurate. However, there are those who claim that much that exists is false. In ethical terms, all evil is false.

All religious groups participate in this discussion. As each defines its understanding of truth, the tendency is to accuse those of different interpretations of following false teaching. So where is truth, in moral and ethical terms, to be found?

Let's go back to Pilate's question. It came into his mind when he heard Jesus say that He came into the world "to testify to the truth." So when Pilate responds with, "What is truth?" is he jesting, being sarcastic or lamenting the impossibility of anyone to know the truth?

What did Jesus mean?

Pilate didn't wait for an answer, and Jesus didn't verbalize one. But by his silence, standing in spotless innocence before Pilate, Jesus was the answer. The integrity of Jesus made him the judge and Pilate the guilty one. So, feeling convicted, Pilate tried to release him, but instead ended up yielding to unjust pressures. Washing his hands could not remove his guilt. He failed to obey the truth.

In the Old Testament, truth is understood as meaning faithfulness, integrity, trustworthiness and total dependability. In Jesus, those virtues were clearly personalized. So he could say, "I am the way, and the truth and the life" (John 14:6) or "I am the true and living way to the Father."

In the New Testament, truth is also understood as light, or what God has revealed. So John wrote, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

In Jesus we learn the meaning of revealed truth, the truth about humans and the truth about God.

About humans: The truth is that we are valued and loved, but our conduct falls short of God's will. We are sinners, yet God's love for us continues.

About God: As seen in Jesus, He willingly eats and drinks with tax collectors, outcasts and other sinners. Jesus portrays God as an amazingly gracious Father who welcomes home a disgraceful prodigal son, and without imposing conditions, throws an extravagant banquet to celebrate his return. This is the God who assumes a servant's role to wash the disciples' dirty feet. In Christ, He willingly endures the agony of crucifixion, suffering the judgment for human rebellion, and then leaving all sin in death's grave.

Then God's victory over sin and death is revealed when Jesus rose from the grave on the third day, a victory He won for you, me, and the whole world. That is the truth about God's grace and love as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Biblical truth is bigger than words, doctrines and creeds. It's personal, dynamic and totally trustworthy in Jesus, the living Word of God's truth. Too good to be true? Fredrick Buechner said, "Maybe the truth is that it is too good not to be true!"

Truth was standing right in front of Pilate, but he missed it. Let's not repeat Pilate's mistake.

The Rev. Randy Klassen is a retired minister of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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