What is Truth?

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Recently Lorelei and I found ourselves in a lovely conversation with a dear old friend of ours from years back – although we only knew each other for a brief time before he left the state for a career move, it only took a few minutes of conversation to be right back in the thick of it. Why do we get along with this friend so well? Because he is open to exploring life. He is open to seeing something from multiple perspectives. He is open to disagreeing, and not having to be right. You see, in this way, we all get to share why we think something is the way it is, and then we look at that thing from as many vantage points as possible without feeling the need for everyone around the circle to think the same thing. Man, I really love doing this. In fact, a hallmark of my dearest friends in life is the proclivity to do just this, to look at something deeply and to investigate it from as many sides as possible. It’s really fun!

So what does this have to do with Truth? Well, first off, what is Truth? During this lovely conversation a nice set of analogies were presented to define Truth (I keep capitalizing the word for a reason, to indicate the ultimate “what is”). Here in our lives, in our physical world, we see things and we think about things, and we form opinions of things – man, do we form opinions about things. But do our thoughts and opinions equate to “what is”? Just because we think a certain way about something, does that mean we actually know “what is” about that something? I don’t think so.

We got to talking and came up with three analogies that I really liked. The first one I must credit our friend – thank you friend (you know who you are if you’re reading this). The first is this: multiple people are looking at a table. One person sees a yellow shiny surface and describes these said features. The other person sees a black rough surface, and describes these said features. But they’re both looking at the same table, how can this be? Easy. They are looking at the same table from two different vantage points, one where the sun is hitting it making it look shiny, the other where shade is hitting it making it look dark and rough. Each person’s perspective describes some aspects of the table, it gives a glimpse of the table, but not the comprehensive view.

The second analogy I can credit Lorelei for bringing up, but not for inventing. The second is this: multiple blind men are feeling an elephant – not knowing it is an elephant – and trying to figure out what it is that they are touching, without of course their sense of sight. One person who is touching the trunk concludes he is touching a tree trunk. Another person who is touching the ear concludes he is touching a sheet of leather. Another person who is touching the tail concludes he is touching a snake. And on and on, each man concluding he is touching something else depending on what part of the elephant he touches.

The third analogy I can thank myself for bringing up, but not for inventing – for that I can thank Catholic RCIA class, where the seven sacraments were likened to the seven main colors of light when refracted through a prism. Here in this analogy we have light, the source in which all the wavelengths are found, that spread out into the different colors we see, all a portion of the whole of light prior to its passing through the prism. To take this analogy farther, and as a result of listening to St. Thomas Aquinas describe God as “that than which no higher thing can be thought,” I find it beautifully satisfying to liken all of creation – every thing that has being – as a wavelength of the ultimate source of light: God.

OK, so what to make of all this? The common theme of each of these analogies is the notion that we see only in part. One application note from this is to consider this when forming an opinion and deciding how strong to hold to it. Can you see it from another perspective? I challenge you to try; trying to see it another way has made life very intellectually stimulating for me for about 9 years now. The second application note is this: how do we ever know the whole of the matter, Truth? How do we know Truth, “what is?”

The answer to “what is Truth” is shocking, for the answer is knowable, and that is shocking enough. But what’s even more shocking is the adjustment to the question it causes; we now also can answer “who is Truth?” Answer to both of these: Jesus Christ. Let this sink in. That is what he claimed. He claimed to be God – God is Truth. He also said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He didn’t say he knows the way, the truth, and the life; he said he is the way, the truth, and the life. Let this sink in and the scene in the Gospels where Pontius Pilate has Jesus standing in front of him and asks “what is truth” will likely never be the same for you.

Truth was standing right in front of him!

-John Paul

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One thought on “What is Truth?

  1. I haven’t read much Aquinas. Is it a corollary of, “God is that than which no higher thing can be thought” to posit that which CAN be thought of isn’t God (since something higher than that can exist)?

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