Tom Gilson

Your Truth is Too Small

A 69 year-old man in the Netherlands has asked a court there to lower his legal age to 49. He feels 49, and his doctor says he’s got the body of a 49 year-old. Undoubtedly that much is true. But his truth is too small.

Skeptics point out the Old Testament’s restrictions against eating shellfish, and demand to know why Christians “don’t really believe what the Bible says after all.” Their reference to that restriction is true, but their truth is too small.

Single-payer health care advocates insist it’s a failure of equality and justice if someone can’t get their medical needs covered at a price they can afford. This may be true in many cases, but it’s too small a truth.

The gay man who says marriage should belong to all assenting couples is right to see marriage as a good thing, but his view of marriage is too small, so the truth he knows about it is also too small.

A boy at school feels more comfortable being treated as if he were a girl. His parents may be right if they see his feelings as perfectly real and genuine. It’s true, but its truth is too small.

Materialist scientists point to the success of science based on naturalistic assumptions, and they conclude therefore that the world is strictly natural. Their observations are true, but their truth is too small.

Atheists who tell us we’re too far advanced to think there’s any wisdom in a “2,000 year-old holy book” are right to recognize the truth of humankind’s growing knowledge, but it’s too small a truth.

Activists see racism as America’s fundamental evil. It is entirely true that racism is evil and a cause of considerable harm; but their “truth” that it’s our fundamental evil is too small to be true truth.

Truths That Ignore Wider Truths Are Too-Small Truths

There are at least two kinds of too-small truths. One is the truth that is true but ignores the whole scope of reality surrounding it. The Dutch 69 year-old is an obvious example. He may look and feel 49, but reality is a heavily looming, obdurate thing, unimpressed by his appearance and feelings.

The Old Testament reference on eating shellfish is real, but it ignores the context (in Mark 7 and Acts 10 and 15, several passages in Paul’s letters, and Hebrews 10 and thereabouts) whereby Christians reach an entirely reasonable and rational conclusion that we can ignore that instruction today.

The atheist who says we should discard ancient wisdom does so based on a true perception of our technological advances, but fails to notice how little our poets, novelists, playwrights, and moral philosophers have advanced over Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Plato, much less Jesus and the prophets.

The activist who latches on to one piece of the economy or one ill in our society is probably exactly right to suggest there is a problem there; but they fail to consider the full scope of human complexity, so their truths, too, are too small.

Individual “Truths” Are Too Small

Too-small truths also appear in the form of “truths for me.” Moral and spiritual relativism is rife with “true-for-me” beliefs, as is the new wave of gender self-determination. Reality is what it is; it doesn’t care whether we agree with it or not. Only one Person is large enough to subsume and encompass truth within himself: God himself.

Too many of us try to manufacture our own moral and religious positions, a god-like right to arrogate to oneself. The result is a menagerie of small gods isolated in small worlds with small truths.

Whose Truth is Big Enough?

So whose truth is big enough? Not mine. Not yours. Only God’s. We all err through too-small truths. We know next to nothing of what our own neighbor’s experience is like, much less the person from another race or culture in our own city, and even less of the person on the far side of the world.

We know too little of our own selves, even. The other day I was trying to understand how to file a whole series of “sadnesses” in my life. I couldn’t do it; it was overwhelming — until I realized some of my sadness was a mask for anger I was feeling instead. Interestingly (but no surprise to counselors), once I named it for what it was, most of its power faded away from me. But that’s only one easy, within-reach example. I’m sure my truth is too small in many ways, especially interpersonally. There’s so much I don’t know, and what I do know is tainted by self-serving “truths.”

The Truth of God in Jesus Christ: Infinitely Capacious

When it comes to skeptical challenges against the Christian faith, though, I find an interesting thing going on: Without exception, as far as I can recall, they’re based on small truths, partial truths.

These skeptics read Ephesians 5:22-24 and think the Bible is sexist; they don’t recognize it as commentary on the verse that precedes it, Eph. 5:21, telling all to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. They don’t see the further commentary in Eph. 5:25-28, where the man is told to live a life of loving self-sacrifice toward his wife. They have no clue of the cultural context wherein this was absolutely revolutionary for the freedom and equality it gave women. They don’t see the further context of, say, 1 Cor. 7:3-5.

I find that the larger one expands his or her awareness of truth, the more it points to the reality of God. His truth is capacious: it holds all other truths. It ‘s true truth, so it rejects lies, deceptions, and falsehoods, including partial truths, too-small truths that don’t live up to his full reality.

We all live lives of too-small truths. No remedy is ever complete in this life; in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the business of eternity will be continually enlarging our awareness of God’s infinite truth. I for one want to be pursuing that business even today, with whatever limited success I may find in it.

4 thoughts on “Your Truth is Too Small

  1. Shall we say that the 69-year-old “identifies” as 49? And why not? Why let physical reality get in the way of our own version of reality. I wonder whether there are obese people who “identify” as slim. That could prove awkward when they shop for clothes. “I asked you to bring me something in my size, but the label says ‘extra large’”.

  2. Single-payer health care advocates insist it’s a failure of equality and justice if someone can’t get their medical needs covered at a price they can afford. This may be true in many cases, but it’s too small a truth.

    Not sure what your point is here re health care. If by “too small a truth,” you mean there are other social issues that are also important, well of course. But it doesn’t follow from this that we should, or should not, have single-payer health care or any other type of health care system. We need to have a health care system, and the salient questions are what type and why.

  3. My point was just that this truth is too small. I agree with you on the follow-up issues, which I wasn’t trying to solve. I just wanted to point out it’s a bigger question than some (not all!) advocates seem to recognize, that’s all.

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