Pilate never heard the answer
Julius Tsai (Boston,
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
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
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
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
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.