Fathom Mag

Thousands of Years of Quitting on the Truth

What is truth?

Published on:
August 10, 2018
Read time:
3 min.
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Back in 2016, after another instance of police brutality, I decided to speak out in some way. Surely the truth is clear enough? It was one Facebook post. But we all know how this one goes. I anticipated some pushback; it was social media, after all. But what I didn’t expect was the onslaught of the most aggressive rhetoric and personal attacks on my timeline I’d ever experienced. Some of it, from my own family members:

We aren’t the first people to question the nature of truth or grapple with the difficulty of identifying it.

How could I support those people?

I didn’t know anything about this case, so I should just keep my mouth shut.

I’m the reason why so many police officers are killed on duty.

People weren’t considering my comment, they were attacking it. It turns out, my facebook feed didn’t defy the odds:

A recent Barna poll reports that:

  • 25% of people preferred to share social media posts not written by a reporter or published from a news source—and considered that sharing news.
  • 38% admitted to not correcting mistakes on social media when confronted with an error in the post (and that’s just the people that admitted it!)
  • 32% said they trust nobody as a credible news source, relying solely on their own instincts

We don’t really know how to get to the truth, so we rely on ourselves or the tribes who already think like we do.

But can we know what truth is, or do we just, in the words of Brené Brown, “collectively shrug our shoulders and say, ‘Whatever. It’s too hard to get to the truth, so if I say it’s true, that’s good enough’”?

We aren’t the first people to question the nature of truth or grapple with the difficulty of identifying it. A couple thousand years ago, Pilate questions Jesus about his identity as king and the conversation quickly turns to the concept of truth. Jesus ensures Pilate that he bears witness to the truth. Pilate’s response? “What is truth?” as if truth doesn’t exist.

Is truth worth the risk?

Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea, who had the authority to enact the death penalty. The Jewish authorities took Jesus to his palace for a trial, hoping that Pilate would find Jesus guilty and have him crucified. But when Pilate began questioning Jesus, he didn’t find any evidence that warranted the death penalty.

If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life I not only cognitively accept Jesus, but I actually have to follow his way and his life.

Pilate approached the Jewish leaders and told them that Jesus is innocent—he found no grounds for crucifixion, but they insisted that Jesus be crucified. In an attempt to appease the Jewish authorities, Pilate had Jesus whipped and mocked publicly.

The bloodlust and mob mentality took the pursuit of truth as its first victim, as the leaders shouted, “Crucify him!” And then, in John 19:12, their indictment of Pilate: “If you release this man, you aren’t a friend of the emperor! Anyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes the emperor!”

Now, it’s personal. If Pilate continues to defend Jesus, his own power is at risk. Pilate is forced to ask himself: is the truth worth giving up a position of authority and prestige? This is a tricky move.

And just four verses later, Pilate hands Jesus over for crucifixion. Pursuing the truth any further was too risky.

Chasing the Truth

I admit, back in 2016, I blocked a few people after that Facebook fiasco. Eventually I realized I was just creating an echo chamber and causing further divisions in my own family, church, and community. In my own way, I had given up on the pursuit of truth as an individual and as part of a community. My own modern day version of “What is truth?”

In the verse before Pilate asked, “What is truth?” Jesus says to Pilate, “Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.” Christians claim to accept the truth, which means we must listen to Jesus’ voice. Jesus proclaims that he is the way, the truth, and the life. And if Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life I not only cognitively accept Jesus, but I actually have to follow his way and his life. I have to pursue the one who bears witness to the truth and not simply accept myself or my perspective as the only one capable of true understanding when Jesus is the only one who offers that.

Melissa Collier Gepford
Melissa Collier Gepford is a deacon in the United Methodist Church, where she pastors and develops resources for local churches and pastors. She loves to dance, garden, CrossFit, read books, and laugh. You can find her on Twitter @melissagepford and on Instagram @melissacolliergepford

Cover image by Matthew Henry.

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