One of the greatest epiphanies of my life happened when I came to understand the nature of truth. It started when Jesus was presented to me in an “either-or” kind of way. I had heard the Gospel before. I had heard about Jesus many times before. But this time, it made sense as a claim that I couldn’t just brush off!
That simple shift in perspective got me to investigate Christianity in ways I never did before, while I saw Jesus as simply one choice among many good options.
A while ago my son had a conversation with friends at school about religion. One friend said he believes in a different story, and not the story of Jesus that our family believes in.
Of course I’m aware that the term “story” could have been used to make things much easier for this child to grasp, and there is a sense in which what Christians believe to be true, is also a story.
But I couldn’t help but feel that in this case, what was meant is the popular idea that our religious beliefs are no more than a nice-sounding story. If that’s the case, then we should just respond by choosing the one we most prefer, or the one that’s most familiar because we grew up hearing it.
Since that idea is so common, it can be hard to notice that different beliefs actually do make different claims about reality. We don’t often see that these are conflicting, and realize that therefore they can’t all be true. I know I certainly didn’t.
I want to help my son to make those connections. I think they are essential to clear thinking, and living well. Keeping the distinction between preferences and reality in mind will be foundational for him in framing his beliefs, and critical for being able to believe what’s true.
What is truth, anyway? It is when you say that something is, and it actually is. Or when you say that something isn’t, and it actually isn’t.
Recently, my son and I had this kind of discussion about truth. I used a cardboard box and a sweet to illustrate. The conversation went something like this:
When I say, “There is a sweet in this box,” I am telling the truth, because there is in fact a sweet in the box! Truth matches with reality.
What if no one believes me when I say that there is a sweet in this box? Is what I say still true? Yes, of course. Truth is true even when no one believes it.
What if I put the sweet in the box secretly, and nobody ever saw it or knew about it? Would it still be true that there is a sweet in the box? Yes, of course! Truth is true even when no one knows about it.
We talked about how things that are true in this way, are always true no matter what. There is nothing anyone can do to make it false.
We then brainstormed together about things that are true in this way. For example, the fact that the sun rises in the east, or that bullying is wrong, or that God exists and we exist.
Now that he can see how objective truth works, I want to also round out the picture by explaining subjective truth to him, and how we need to be careful not to get the two mixed up. That will be the topic of my next post.