Monday, February 13, 2012

Speak the Truith in Love (What is Truth?)

“What is truth?” said Pilate.
John 18:38 (HCSB)
Indeed what is truth?  It would seem easy to define truth as that which is true.  However using a term to define a term is faulty logic.  I want to suggest that there are 4 types of truth.  There may be more, but alternatives are more or less variations on these four types.  The types of truth are absolute, objective, relative, and subjective.

I like to refer to Absolute truth as divine truth or God's truth.  We tend to think of this truth as always true regardless of time, place, or person.  It is true no matter what.  I  believe that absolute truth is a person.  That person is Jesus Christ.

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
John 14:6 (HCSB)

I consider Jesus Christ to be the bodily physical manifestation of God.  He is the "Son of God" and creator of all things.

One does not have to believe in Jesus Christ to have a concept of Absolute truth.  There is a universal nature of absolute truth.  It is the foundation of all things.  It is the form of all things true.  It is always true.  It it the thing to which all things necessarily correspond to. It is unconditional reality.

The second form of truth is objective truth.  Objective truth is that which is observable and repeatable.  Math and most science tends to be in the realm of objective truth. With objective truth there is agreement between observers.  That is to say they describe observing more or less the same thing.  

Before moving to the next two let me point out a significant problem with our view of truth as it relates to these two types of truth and speaking the truth in love.  The problem is that we view our feelings and opinions as absolute and objective truth.  It is understandable why we would do this we are after all the person that is experiencing our thoughts and feelings.  The sheer intimacy with our own thoughts and feelings give an intensity to the thought "I know what I am saying and feeling is absolutely true."  However, our opinions and feelings cannot be absolute objective truth!

Next there is relative truth.  There is a tendency to pit absolute truth against relative truth.  I tend to see them as different but not mutually exclusive.  That is to say it is not true either there is absolute truth or that all truth is relative.   What is meant by relative truth?  A good description of relative truth is:
One who knows
One who observes
One to whom it is communicated to
Let me illustrate it this way.  The color of my car is silver.  I know that it is silver.  Since I have now communicated it to you then you also are aware that my car is silver.  At the same time someone passing by my car in the parking lot has just seen that my car is silver.  Who holds the true view of the color of my car?  I would say all do relative to whether they are in the know, observing, or just reading this blog.  By the way relative can also apply to two different observers.  Two people observing the same event form different perspectives on what just happened.  Which leads to the next type of truth.

Subjective truth is heavily influenced by personal history and recent experience.  This forms the basis of our opinions and perspectives of the world around us.  Personal history can have a profound effect on what we hear, observe, and think about others.  Our recent experience also colors what we think, hear, and observe. 

Let me give an example.  You have three coworkers Jeff, Justin, and Jerrod.  You and Jeff have a decent working relationship, but it is not especially close.  You both see each other doing your work, but not not much more outside of that.  Justin and you have a difficult working relationship.  He seems to always find fault with your ideas and you have reason to believe he has recently been subtly undermining the work that you do.  Jerrod is a good friend from college days.  After working where you are now for a while you recruited him to the organization.  Your wife and his wife are good friends as well.   

Someone comes to you and says, "__________ has a problem with your handling of the last staff meeting."  Your interpretation of that simple sentence will very greatly based simply on whose name fills in the blank.  Jeff- "Hmmm wonder what is wrong maybe I should go talk to him."  Justin-"He has it out for me.  I wish he would leave."  Jerrod-"I better find out what is going on.  I hope I have not messed up."  Same words, but the "truth" varies greatly based on the personal history and recent experience. 

So What?
First we are not God so we cannot make claim to absolute truth.  Even those that do not believe in a deity cannot claim absolute truth.  So we have to with great humility acknowledge the limits of what we can know (and claim to be true).   Second, most interpersonal dialogue is by is very nature non-objective.  We cannot claim objective truth since the situation that brings up problems in the relationship is nearly always in the past or in the future.  It is outside observation and very often not repeatable (as if we would want to).  So then we have to have great calmness when sharing our thoughts about what happened and with respect and calmness listen to the others thoughts about what happened.  Third since we are left with subjective and relative truth in interpersonal relationships we have to have great empathy and understanding for people whose perspectives differ from our own if we hope to then speak the truth in love.

Jesus Christ's Example
As I said earlier Jesus can make claim of absolute truth and yet...
Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 (HCSB)
In short then speaking the truth in love involves avoiding gaining personal advantage, emptying of self, humbling self, and being obedient to God. 

My next post focuses on the last part of "Speak the truth in love" and how to avoid being unloving when you talk with others.

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