In Pursuit of Truth-with-a-Capital-"T"

Here is the long-promised post on the Nature of Truth…

Truth-with-a-capital-“T”–that is, the whole Truth, God’s Truth–is a gigantic concept.  It’s bigger than me, and it’s bigger than you.  It’s got infinite layers expanding infinitely in an infinite number of directions.  Truth is so vast, so all-encompassing, that the human mind will NEVER be able to fully comprehend it–not in its entirety, not in its fullness, not at its purest level.

What’s more, our thoughts are limited by the imprecise nature of human language; therefore, even if it were possible to understand Truth with pinpoint accuracy (and I believe, at this stage of our eternal development anyway, it is NOT), we would still be unable to express it adequately.

In fact, even the Lord Himself spoke in parables, so as to encode “hidden meaning” and profound truths through STORY–because there are some concepts that are simply not expressible in words alone.

Therefore, whenever you hear a teacher espousing truth, you must understand that everything he says is colored by his unique perspective, his prejudices, his experiences, his experiments, and his rationale.*  What’s more, these same teachings are then interpreted differently by each of his students and hearers.  In other words, your beliefs are filtered not only through the lens of your own biases and experiences, but through the collective lenses of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of people’s biases and experiences, as each person passes on some sort of “interpretation” that is then assimilated into the realm of general wisdom.

Can you see why Truth, then, is such an elusive concept?

Thousands of years of human history prove this point.  Sit a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Buddhist together in a room and ask them same question about God.  You’ll get four different answers.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Sit four Christians together–an Evangelical, a Mormon, a Quaker, and a Catholic–and ask them the same question about God.  You’ll get four different answers.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Sit four Mormons together in a room, or four Evangelicals, or four Quakers, or four Catholics, and ask them the same question about God.  The fact is, you’ll get four different answers.  It’s simply the way it works–because that’s what it means to be human.

Here are some additional points about truth I’d like to make…

1)–An Understanding of Truth Comes through the Spirit. So does all this mean truth is not knowable?  Well, yes and no.  In the sense that we will never be able to comprehend all that God comprehends–at least not in this life–then yes.  I feel quite confident saying that “Truth” is not knowable.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t comprehend truths–or snippets of Truth–in mortality.

This understanding comes through the Spirit of God, and my experience has led me to believe that it comes to different people in different ways.  To some, it comes as visions.  To others, it comes as thoughts, feelings, or impressions.  To me, it comes as ideas and an internal sense of clarity and peace.   Universally, this experience is associated with “the fruits of the spirit:” or love, joy, peace, longsuffering , gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

I believe it is the obligation of each person to seek out this source of wisdom and ask questions and receive answers and make choices based upon their level of understanding.

It also means being tolerant of others who “receive” a different answer than I’ve recieved, which leads me to my next point…

2)–It Is Important to Be Charitable of Others’ Worldview. This can be one of the most confusing concepts of all–one that many Mormons (and all deeply religious people, for that matter) would do well to remember.  After all, if I came to one determination of truth that I believe was sent straight from God, how is it possible for another person to have a different understanding?

Many religious people will tell you it’s because the “other” worldview is a lie from the devil himself.   (Heck, history is replete with “inspired” men and women murdering each other because they were so confident the “others'” beliefs were sponsored by Satan.)

I reject that philosophy and take a much more nuanced approach…

Because Truth is so vast and so complex, and because we humans are so small and so simple, chances are, we’re all playing with that same mixture of truth and error, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff as best we can.

Fortunately, it’s not mine to judge.

I trust that most people are a lot like me, in that their struggle to make sense of mortality is just as messy and just as complicated as mine–and that God knows the thoughts and intents of each of our hearts, and will deal with us accordingly.  Hell, there are lots of people who I’m sure will be more correct than I am when all is said and done.  That’s why I’m glad it’s not a race.  After all, God saves us individually, and by His grace–not by what we do or don’t know.

Which brings me to my next point…

3)–Knowledge or Understanding Does Not Save You: Christ Does. This is one of the most incredible breakthroughs I’ve ever had in my spiritual life–one that has allowed me to forgive others–and myself–for misunderstandings or teachings that I feel are destructive, abusive, or flawed.  The truth is, EVERYONE holds beliefs that are wrong, because we are human beings–and human beings are inherently flawed.  Isn’t that the lesson we take from the Garden of Eden?

But fortunately, we’re not saved by our works, or our beliefs, or our doctrine, or our understanding.  Instead, we are saved by Christ.  He loves us, flaws and all, and through His grace makes us one with Him, whole, perfect, and without blemish.  Of course, it’s nothing WE’VE done to attain this level of holiness.  Nope, we are 100% reliant on Him to make us this way.

That doesn’t mean we don’t constantly strive to do better and learn more about Him and His Truth, filtering out the error as we go–but it DOES mean we don’t have to panic if we don’t “get it all” right now.  We’re saved by grace, NOT by knowledge.

4)–It Keeps You Humble. When you understand everything that you DON’T understand, there comes a sense of humility and teachability into your life.  You talk less.  You listen more.  You ask questions.  You become less offended or afraid of differences, because they no longer threaten your worldview.

One of the most profound lessons I’ve ever learned is to become comfortable with these three words: “I don’t know.”  Before, they used to terrify me.  Now, they open me up to the world and the people in it.  When you realize that there’s so much you don’t know–and that even what you DO know is probably incomplete–you are able to glean understanding from everyone you meet and from everything you experience.

Interestingly, it is my experience that the people who more readily admit their lack of understanding are the ones whom God is able to teach more.

All right, so there are my thoughts on the elusive nature of Truth-with-a-capital-T.  What do you think?  What did I get right?  What did I get wrong?  I welcome all feedback on this absolutely HUGE concept!  🙂

*With the exception, perhaps, of the teachings of Christ–as He IS the embodiment of all Truth.  But even then, His students (us) certainly color and distort what He tells us through the lens of our own flawed understanding.

About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on October 4, 2008, in Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Katie,

    Wow… lots to think about here. This was a very philosophical post. 🙂 I have a couple of thoughts for now. I was thinking about how you said Christ is the embodiment of Truth. He is the one that promised “ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Trusting in His words, I believe it is possible to know the Truth. I agree that the Holy Spirit is involved in revealing to us God’s truth, but I believe He does this through the “word of truth” (Eph. 1:13) and a person does not even receive the Holy Spirit until after they have heard the “word of truth” and have believed in Christ (Eph. 1:13). In the context of telling believers that they would know the truth, Jesus prefaced this by saying “if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” – I think knowing the truth is connected with knowing His word. This is evident in many other scriptures as well (II Timothy 3:16, II Tim. 2:15-18).

    “It Is Important to Be Charitable of Others’ Worldview” – what about when Jesus and the NT apostles sharply rebuked others for teaching false doctrines? (i.e. Matt. 23:13-39, John 8:44, Galatians 2:11-14, 3:1, etc.)

    “Knowledge or Understanding Does Not Save You: Christ Does” – if knowledge has no place in conversion, then why did Christ command believers to “teach all nations” about Christ and what He has done (Matt. 28:20)?

    You said we are saved by grace, not knowledge, but Ephesians 2:8-9 says we are saved “by grace THROUGH faith” – Romans 10:17 says faith comes “by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I think knowledge of God’s Word clearly plays a role in faith which is why believers are admonished to “[hold] forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:16)

    Also, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “the way, the truth, and the life” and said no man could come to the Father except by Him (John 14:6). This is pretty exclusive, but Jesus said it. He is the one who rebuked His disciples for not believing “ALL” that the prophets had spoken (Luke 24:25-27).

    “After all, if I came to one determination of truth that I believe was sent straight from God, how is it possible for another person to have a different understanding?”

    Jesus said that false prophets would arise and would deceive many (Matt. 24:11).

    “I reject that philosophy and take a much more nuanced approach…”

    I don’t think that’s a philosophy. It came from the embodiment of Truth Himself…

    Well, Katie, those are some of my thoughts/reactions for now. I just wrote a post over on my blog regarding the place of Biblical prophecy in God’s revelations and where I believe Joseph Smith fits in with Bible prophecy. If you are interested in reviewing and commenting, please feel free.

    Have a great day! 🙂

    Jessica

  2. –“Trusting in His words, I believe it is possible to know the Truth. … In the context of telling believers that they would know the truth, Jesus prefaced this by saying ‘if ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed’ – I think knowing the truth is connected with knowing His word.”

    I would wholeheartedly concur with this assessment. Christ has told us that when we ask, we shall receive; when we knock, it shall be opened. As I stated in my post, I believe it *is* possible to discern truth. But as His ways are not our ways, and as He is infinite and perfect, and we are finite and sinners, I don’t think it’s possible to know ALL Truth–and by that I mean to comprehend all that God comprehends. At least not in this life. 🙂

    But we can certainly “continue in His word” and discover more and more about the Truth of God as we follow the disciple’s path. We Mormons refer to this as learning “line upon line.” And as we continue in His word, more and more of His Truth is opened up to us.

    –“It Is Important to Be Charitable of Others’ Worldview” – what about when Jesus and the NT apostles sharply rebuked others for teaching false doctrines? (i.e. Matt. 23:13-39, John 8:44, Galatians 2:11-14, 3:1, etc.)

    I’ve had a lot of thoughts about this of late, and have actually added a new post to address this question.

    –“If knowledge has no place in conversion, then why did Christ command believers to ‘teach all nations’ about Christ and what He has done (Matt. 28:20)?”

    I didn’t say knowledge has NO place in conversion, as you must have a basic knowledge or understanding about that in which you are exercising faith. What’s more, I think it’s imperative that each of us to continue to seek out Truth.

    My point is that each person’s knowledge is limited due to the constraints of the Fall, as we are cast out of the presence of God. Therefore, the idea that you must wait until you have a “perfect understanding” of Christ before He will save you is akin to mistaken Mormon teachings that claim you must keep “all” the commandments before you can be forgiven. One, I don’t think it’s POSSIBLE to have a “perfect understanding” of anything, even Christ–otherwise why would He command us to continue seeking His word? And two, Christ saves us, imperfections and all, as we exercise faith in Him–even if our understanding is limited by the frailties of mortality.

    –“Jesus said that false prophets would arise and would deceive many (Matt. 24:11).”

    Agreed. There are false prophets. Everywhere. My point was not that people aren’t deceived, but that it’s not mine to judge the thoughts and intents or the hearts of others. Surely there are areas in which *I* am deceived (as are each of us), and so my primary concern is on eliminating those errors in my life. The beam and the mote come to mind…

    That’s not to say I can’t judge/discern whether or not I think others are in error–but it is simply “beyond my jurisdiction” to determine how that affects their eternal salvation. Casting people to hell is God’s job (thank goodness!) not mine.

  3. “Therefore, the idea that you must wait until you have a “perfect understanding” of Christ before He will save you is akin to mistaken Mormon teachings that claim you must keep “all” the commandments before you can be forgiven. One, I don’t think it’s POSSIBLE to have a “perfect understanding” of anything, even Christ–otherwise why would He command us to continue seeking His word? And two, Christ saves us, imperfections and all, as we exercise faith in Him–even if our understanding is limited by the frailties of mortality.”

    This is an interesting point, Katie, and I have been doing some thinking about it. I wonder what you consider “a basic knowledge or understanding about that in which you are exercising faith”

    Jesus said, “If ye believe not that I AM, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). He declares again in John 8:58 “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM” (claiming the Divine name of YHWH as used in Ex. 3:14)

    So, we see from this passage that a belief in Christ as the eternal YHWH of the Old Testament is central to our salvation. Now, Mormonism teaches that Jesus = YHWH of the OT whereas Elohim = God the Father, am I correct? Jews and Christians do not see a distinction in the OT between YHWH and Elohim. They are both divine names for God. YHWH is God’s personal name and was revealed after His name Elohim according to His nature of progressive self-revelation. Jews who do not believe in Jesus still hold to a firm belief in “one” God as declared throughout the Old Testament (this is part of their reason for not believing that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah). However, Isaiah 9:6 declares that the Messiah would be called “the mighty God” and “the everlasting Father”

    An example of where YHWH and Elohim appear to be the same God is Deut. 32:3 where they are joined in a Hebrew parallelism.

    Those who believe Jesus fulfilled the OT Messianic prophecies and see Him as the Messiah of the world are left with how to reconcile the fact that He claimed to be the “one” God of the OT. I do not see how the Mormonism teaching reconciles the “one” God teaching.

    So, what are your thoughts on this? Based on John 8:24, it appears our salvation IS dependent on whether or not we believe what Jesus has declared concerning Himself or if reject what He Himself has declared as the truth because of our allegiance to the teachings of men.

  4. As my favorite theologian once said, “…with a capital T that rhymes with P that stands for pool!”
    😉
    I heart Katie.

  5. And I heart Jeanne. Thanks for stopping by!! 🙂

  1. Pingback: Rules of Engagement: How to Participate in Charitable Religious Discourse « Standing, Sitting, Lying Down

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