“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Freedom and truth. Could we possibly get two more loaded words?
This week, we are exploring freedom – what it is, what it calls us to. But before we get to that, I want to stop and notice one way Jesus says we get to freedom.
There are often three ways people relate to truth. One is objective truth. That which is true is only that which can be proved empirically. What is true is what we can taste, see, smell, hear, touch, and prove.
Second, is subjective truth. Subjective truth means truth is only in the eye of the beholder. Subjective truth teaches us that we all approach and experience truth in different ways. What is true is based on my experiences and feelings. So what is true for me, may not be true for you. When pushed it its limits, this makes truth almost non-existent because truth is not something which is universal. Each person constructs their own version.
Both of these have some value. Objective truth helps us realize that truth does need to be grounded in our lived experience. Truth is not simply “out there.” Subjective truth shows how we do experience truth in different ways based on who we are as people. Subjective truth shows the relational nature of truth.
Yet neither fully engages us in truth. Truth has both an immanent and transcendent nature. In other words, truth is something we experience in actual time and space, yet it is also bigger than us. Beyond us.
Truth is also a real thing. Truth is not something we invent. Truth is something which exists and we must pay attention to and which makes claims on all of our lives. Yet we do experience it in different ways. Since truth is beyond us, there is mystery. We don’t fully experience or know truth, so we each have different experiences.
Another problem with both of these ways of looking at truth is that questions of morality, values, and ethics do not matter. What is good and right should not affect objective truth. And what is good and right is a matter of opinion for subjective truth.
Then there is yet another way of relating to truth. Often people assume truth is something which is possessed and protected. A group of people, usually “our group” possesses the truth. The only way to get to truth is by being a part of this group and following “our” rules. Then this truth is radically protected. The group lashes out at anything which is different from “truth” and suppresses any conversation which might question this notion of truth.
What is interesting here, is that if something is true, won’t it remain true even if other people disagree? Do we really need to protect something which is true? Perhaps the protection comes not from a sense of pursuing truth, but pursuing the groups own self interests.
So what does Jesus say in all this? Jesus speaks of “knowing truth.” The word “know” here is not simply an “intellectual ascent.” It is an experience. It is relational. “knowing” your spouse or best friend is not being able to recite facts about them. It is an experience where you connect on deep levels. You will experience truth in relationship.
Truth is a primary concern in the Gospel of John. Look at the first chapter. This abstract thing called “The Word” becomes flesh. Truth is incarnated. Truth that is “out there” now becomes accessible in time and space.
If you want to know what truth is, look at Jesus. Jesus embodies truth. A pursuit of truth is a pursuit of a person. We experience truth in the values, ethics, actions, and life of Jesus.
So what happens when we see truth in this light?
You see when we see truth as immanent and transcendent, when we see truth as relational, when we see truth as mystery, and when we see all of these things embodied in a singular person in time and space it changes how we view truth.
Truth is not something to protect, it is something to relate to. To pursue.
And any true pursuit of truth requires questioning and doubt and re-thinking and re-orienting. It allows us to fail. It allows us to be human. It allows us to experience truth in one way for a season, and then radically alter how we view truth in the next. Because it is not about having all the answers and doing the right things. It is about orienting your life towards a person. The one who is truth.
Objective truth limits truth to what we can prove. Jesus truth gives us the freedom to open up to the spiritual dimensions of life and to mystery and transcendence.
Subjective truth limits truth to our own finite and selfish perspectives. Jesus truth frees us to experience truth in new ways through those who are other and frees us up to re-imagine and re-create our relationship to truth. Jesus truth frees us to be responsible to other people in how we encounter and engage that which is true.
Possessive and protecting truth limits us to never question or doubt and to never explore beyond certain boundaries. Jesus truth gives us the freedom to call everything into question, and to doubt, and to fail, and to pursue. Because what we are doing when we doubt and question and fail is we are working towards something. We are working towards better understandings of truth and Jesus. If we aren’t asking questions and doubting, we aren’t moving forward.
What we find when we pursue truth as embodied by Jesus is the most full and life-giving explanation of reality, and a way to relate to truth which bring true freedom and full humanity.