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 (Manna 23: The Household of God)
Pilate Never Heard the Answer
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Pilate never heard the answer

Julius Tsai (Boston, U.S.A.)

The Cock had just crowed.

Pilate was visibly annoyed as he strode into the praetorium. Being governor of Judea was not exactly the cushy foreign posting that he had envisioned. Well, here he was now, being roused from his slumber to listen to the odd words of a man whom the people were accusing of reason.

“So you are a king?”

“You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice.”

High words for a carpenter! Pilate thought. Where do these people get their crazy ideas from? He looked at the mob gathered before him, and suddenly felt very weary.

Looking back at the prisoner, he spread his arms and asked, “‘Truth? And what is truth?”

Pilate never heard the answer.

 

TODAY, many people believe in some notion of truth, especially religious people such as Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Many philosophers and scientists also share the general view that there is some kind of truth to be discovered, although for them it is primarily through the use of reason and experimentation. On the other hand, there are those who deny that there is a fundamental truth to be arrived at all. Many of the Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu thoughts, for example, are based on such beliefs, which are also the preoccupation of much modern philosophy, from the nihilists to the deconstructionists.

Many in both of the above camps hold that our notions of truth are only provisional paradigms that serve us until we discover something that works better. Ptolemy believed that the earth was the centre of the universe, as befits humanity’s exalted status. For centuries, astronomers painstakingly invented elliptical orbits and complex systems simply to make the evidence fit that assumption. Copernicus came along with a different view of things, and then it was time to head back to the drawing board. Is that what truth is like?

How do we orientate ourselves in this ocean of alternatives? This essay will not as much evaluate the above positions as attempt to set forth the distinctive way that we Christians view truth - what it is, what it is based upon, and how it affects the way we live our lives.

What is Truth and why is it so hard to arrive at?

OUR FIRST TASK is to clarify what we mean by truth. If we really think about it, do we not mean truth to be the way things really are? Truth, in its broadest sense, is simply reality in its untarnished form. Ultimate reality, some people call it. To Christians, it means God, and the existence of a world beyond the one that we currently experience.

Now, if this tentative definition is acceptable, we may move on to the next step. And that is we do not have within ourselves access to the truth, to ultimate reality. Why is this so? An initial reason is the simple fact that we are mortal beings, that we are creatures rather than the Creator, that we have five senses and not more, that we cannot even tell what will happen to us tomorrow or even in an hour. We are inherently limited beings, and although we have built telescopes to gaze upon distant galaxies, have stood upon the moon, descended to the depths of the ocean, we are still mortal and quite finite indeed. Whatever reality is in its totality and ultimacy, we can see but a portion of it. Paul says it is as if we are looking into a mirror dimly (1 Cor 13:12) when he describes our present glimpse of the world and of God.

The Bible gives us the first important due as to why we find ourselves in our current situation of imperfect possession of truth. As the First Parents hid, trembling with shame among the orchards of the Garden, God asked, “Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:11) This story is all too familiar. Humans were originally in a paradisaical state, in which they had a harmonious relationship with God, hence with truth and ultimate reality. They talked to God directly and experienced first-hand the wonders of the Garden, the site of human union with the divine. But with the first act of disobedience, we see failure and the introduction of sin and death into the world. Thus, in the post-Edenic world, we have only intimations of a former world in which we had a direct apprehension of universal reality. Wordsworth’s “Ode to Intimations on Immortality” well captures the idea that there is something that we have lost, that “celestial gleam” from which we have been banished for a time and must strive to return to one day. Paul also expresses the sense of alienation that humanity faces, for the imperfection, the sin is carried down throughout the whole human race; just as David wrote in his Psalm, we are with sin from our mother’s womb (Ps 51:5).

            … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph 2.12)

It turns out that our own human frailties, both those that come with simply being a human being, and those failings that are very personally ours, impede our access to truth.

So what is the truth? We can give a provisional answer now. The truth is that we came from God, and must return to God.

Truth, then necessarily involves an act of spiritual transformation.

The return to truth through Christ

            He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. (1 Tim 3:16)

As THIS VERSE, and the beginning stories indicate, it is Christ who is the basis of our understanding of truth. While much of human faith is the human effort to transcend itself through an act of the will, our Christian faith is based on the reality of Christ, not only historically but today as well. Being the Son of God, lie effectively bridges the gap between the human and the divine, and makes what was unknown known.

Christ’s death and resurrection provide the means through which we may enter the truth, to put on our rightful status as the children of God. This is accomplished through the sacrament of baptism, in which we, through our faith, coupled with the working of the divine spirit, become beneficiaries of the blood of Christ, which takes away our sin and guilt so that we rise, as Christ rose, to a new life.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6) He is the way because He leads us to God. He is the truth because He makes us know our human condition and how to overcome it. He is the life because through Him we receive the life that is everlasting.

We have reached a higher understanding of truth. Knowing the truth entails spiritual transformation.

Truth transforms us

AFTER BAPTISM, we continue to live a life of constant transformation through the Word of God in the Bible, the Spirit of God, and the accompanying testimony of our living experience of the divine presence. We live up to Christ’s command to love God and neighbour.

Loving God means living a life with God as the centre, doing all things for the glory of God. Besides our formal worship, living a life of truth means always striving to keep the consciousness of the divine in our hearts every moment, so that every goal that we set, every action that we perform is done with the knowledge of who we are as God’s children, and where we are ultimately going after this short life on earth is ended.

Truth means living with the welfare of our neighbour in our hearts. When we are baptised into Christ, we become part of the body of Christ, which is the church. Our neighbours are our brothers and sisters who are now part of this body with us. Thus, there is love in the church as the transformation of our inner self brings us a new family with whom we live out the life of faith.

Living out the truth also involves transforming the lives of those beyond the church. For Jesus, it meant being with the poor and the afflicted, the outcasts of society. It means no less for us today. We need to constantly struggle against complacency and the building up of sheltering cocoons around us that would blind us to the reality of suffering in the world around us. Truth is seeing people who are homeless and hungry, who are marginalised by society, and making them our brothers and sisters through our deeds.

Truth does not necessarily demand that we give up all we have, but that we look seriously at what we do have, and use our resources to change society, to love others, and not merely keep them for ourselves and our own small communities. This requires us to step outside of our family, church, race, and even social boundary to embrace all humanity who are the ultimate expression of God’s creation.

What would Pilate have learned had he tarried to converse with his prisoner that morning? He would have learned that truth is a spiritual transformation centred around Christ. And not only are we transformed individually, but those around us, and ultimately, all of creation. Thus, we do not claim the mantle of possessing truth lightly. We embody the truth, not only in our rhetoric on the pulpit, but in our actions. With humility, we constantly seek to be worthy of God’s truth in our lives.

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Author: Julius Tsai
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