It’s awkward being a Christian these days. We claim to know the truth about God, morality, and host of other contested things. We believe this truth is unique and applies to all people for all time. We believe that where other so-called truths contradict the one we hold to, those other “truths” are wrong and ours is right. We believe that the truth is so tied together with Jesus Christ that he could claim, “I am the truth.”
For many people, that’s nothing but arrogance in action: “Who are you to claim you’ve got the one truth for everyone? There might be some things that are true for everyone and for all time in mathematics, but that’s about all. Scientists know how often the ‘truths’ of one age are later corrected or replaced. To claim you have the truth in morality and religion is arrogant, unaware, and intolerant. It’s just plain wrong.”
A Humble Approach to Truth
But things are not as they appear. If we really thought our truth was true for everyone, we would indeed be arrogant. But that’s not reality. In fact the reality is entirely the opposite of the appearance. When we say, “I know the truth,” we’re not claiming superiority, we’re taking a position of humility.
It’s common in today’s culture, you see, for people to develop what they consider their own personal truths regarding religion and ethics. They build their truths to fit themselves, to make sense for themselves. These “truths” are personal truths.
If Christians’ truths were like that, it would indeed be incredibly arrogant to think our truths were true for everyone. But they’re not. Our truths are not our own; they are not personal truths. The transcendent truth we accept has never been ours to create or build for ourselves, it is a reality to be discovered. It’s truth that holds true whether we like it or not. Christians do not own the truth, we submit to it.
And what is more arrogant: to think we can build our own personal truths, or to submit humbly to one that’s bigger than ourselves?
I’ll illustrate what I’m saying from the life of C.S. Lewis. A firm atheist, he was at Oxford when he decided to study the evidence regarding God. It led him in a direction he did not choose:
“You must picture me alone in [my] room… night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet… That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me… I gave in and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
There was no arrogance in that. There was “giving in and admitting.” He submitted to something greater than himself.
We Don’t Hold the Truth, the Truth Holds Us
Contrast that with the idea that we can all choose our own truths. Isn’t that awfully bold? Isn’t it spitting in the face of reality? Isn’t that tantamount to saying, “Hey, Reality, step aside! It’s up to me to decide what’s true and what isn’t!”
Who’s being arrogant here?
Christians know that we are constrained by reality. Though we don’t always put it this way, we don’t believe we hold the truth. We believe the truth holds us.
Standing Against the Currents of the Age
It would be so simple to ride with the flow of the age, to relax and let go of issues such as abortion, gay “marriage,” sexual “freedom” and so on. We cannot. If we bow before the truth, we must be led by it, even if it leads us into unpopular territory.
“But you must have an open mind!” say some. Another sparkling writer of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton, answered this way: “The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.”
I have spent hours studying viewpoints contrary to Christianity. I continue to find that God’s word is solid and nourishing, and ultimately makes more sense than the alternatives. The truth holds me. As Martin Luther said (or was reported to say, at least), “Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders.” (“Here I stand, I can do no other.”)
Recognizing What We Know and Don’t Know
I wish the truth held me more. Any Christian would be deceitful to pretend he or she practices it fully, even as far as he or she understands it. It would be just as bad to say we grasp it all. Even the simple commands, to love God fully and to love our neighbor as ourselves, have a depth beyond reaching.
Although many aspects of the faith are clear, for instance, the basics, that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh and supported his claim by his life, death, and resurrection, there are other sides of Christianity that remain mysterious or difficult. Our age has come up with new questions (genetic engineering, genocide, end-of-life decisions, and global environmental issues, for example) that require us to work out anew how God’s word applies. This, too, is reason for humility.
I’m reminded again of Chesterton at this point, though:
“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.”
He’s encouraging believers to be confident of the truth we know.
A Very Good Truth
Now if we’re submitting to the truth, does that mean we got stuck in some dark corner where there’s no freedom to move? Not at all! C.S. Lewis also wrote of Joy (he always capitalized it) that led him toward Christ and flowed out of his relationship with God.
The truth in Christ is not a cold, abstract principle, but a person of infinite love and grace. The Bible tells us to “speak the truth in love,” and clearly implies that it should generally be accompanied with a smile.
Those who deny there is such a thing as truth may find it hard to see that smile. We’re offering it. It’s not a smile that says, “Whatever you do, whatever you believe, is fine,” for that would be a denial of the truth — Jesus Christ — who is also love. Instead it’s an invitation to encounter reality for what it truly is. For it is what it is, not what anyone makes it up to be. And it is a very good reality we’re inviting you to see, to acknowledge, and to enter into. We’re inviting you to let go of your made-up “truths,” and let this real truth, this good truth, hold you.
Reposted from February 27, 2006; re-dated from June, 2009. For years my blog’s tagline was, “We don’t hold the truth, the truth holds us,” so in many ways this is my signature message in apologetics. I like to keep it in the forefront of what I’m saying here on this blog. I’ll be speaking on this topic at Ohio State University this evening, so it seemed like a good time to move this blog post to the front page again.