|There's nothing quite like a riveting, big-screen courtroom drama. The principled attorney fighting for what's right. The smug lawyer representing the other side. Tension builds during a parade of evidence, witnesses and objections. We can always expect a few twists and revelations along the way. Maybe even a world-class meltdown. Of course, the most famous cinematic meltdown on the stand occurred in 1992's A Few Good Men after Tom Cruise put Jack Nicholson's guilty-but-about-to-walk marine colonel on the spot. Questions grew increasingly direct. Tempers flared. "You want answers?" the untouchable colonel blared. "I want the truth," the young lawyer insisted. And then, one of the most quoted lines in modern movie history: "You can't handle the truth!"|
Indeed, the truth has a way of setting people back on their heels, especially when it forces us to rethink what we once took for granted. Confronted with the reality of a situation, some people really can't handle the truth. They look for some excuse to dismiss it. That's especially true (see, there's that word again) when it comes to absolute truth.
That's true for you, but not for me. "Truth" means different things to different people. There's no one absolute truth for everybody.
Have you ever had your Christian perspective dismissed with statements like those—especially by someone convinced that he's living a "good" life and has little need for a Savior? You may not walk around thinking about the nature of truth. You probably don't use words like "epistemology" in casual conversation. But in this chronically skeptical culture, we need to be prepared to explain and defend the existence of truth. Here's how.
Let's start by defining our terms. The nature or essence of truth is often described as absolute truth, ultimate truth or, as our Founding Fathers put it, self-evident truth. The biblical view of reality is one in which truth exists, can be known and is relevant for all people. Author and speaker Josh McDowell phrases it this way: "That which is true at all times in all places for all people." Nicely said. Since truth is related to the character of God, which is eternal and unchanging (Malachi 3:6; Psalms 90:2; Hebrews 13:8), the nature of truth is fixed. Truth doesn't have an expiration date. It's not up for revision or reinvention.
Spiritually, the unchanging truth is that mankind is afflicted with a sin nature that, barring redemption, destines each of us to an eternity separated from God. That fate is called Hell. Fortunately, another absolute truth is that God loved us enough to provide the perfect sacrifice by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place (John 3:16). And it doesn't end there. By rising from the grave, Jesus (who called himself the Truth in John 14:6) proved his dominion over death and secured our place in heaven.
Not long ago, some people would have called us arrogant for daring to answer the question "What is truth?" Not anymore. Now the mere assertion that truth exists earns dirty looks. The relativistic spirit of our times presents challenges for both the missions-minded Christian and the values-minded parent: How can people be convinced to turn from sin if no objective moral standard exists to be violated? And how can our children live according to biblical morals when a relativistic posture seems to be a prerequisite in social, academic and professional arenas? Fortunately, dogmatic relativism can be exposed as both flimsy and hypocritical.
Romans 1:18-22 notes that truth exists and describes the destructive end of all who willfully suppress it. But you don't need a Bible to point out problems with the relativistic worldview. Apply common sense. Next time a skeptic argues definitively that truth is relative, note the assumptions he's making. For one thing, if truth doesn't exist, then by definition his statement is also false. And how can relativists be so certain about their position if "truth can't be known"? Apparently, the only one allowed to be dogmatic is the relativist! In order to reject truth, skeptics must imply the very thing they're denying. It's what scholars call a self-defeating statement.
God hardwired our brains for rational thought. With a little practice, we can become adept at spotting error and defending truth. Our culture has become quite comfortable pontificating about the nature of reality and the absence of absolutes. Christians are chided into silence because "all beliefs are equally valid" and people are "sure that no one can be sure." Besides relativism's inherent logical flaws, the fact is, such platitudes just aren't livable. I doubt someone would remain tolerant of a bank teller who said, "You and your bank statement both say your account contains $5,000. That may be true for you, but it's not true for me." We can talk as if the world is relative, but how we live proves that it is absolute.
It's more critical than ever to share truth and instill a love of it in the hearts of our children. More than an intellectual exercise, it's a life skill. An authentic commitment to truth involves both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right action). A relationship with the One who called Himself the Truth (John 1:1, 14:6) must manifest itself in what we believe and how we behave. Truth exists. And it can be known.
Alex McFarland is Plugged In's teen apologetics expert. For more on his ministry and speaking schedule, visit alexmcfarland.com.
Published January 2011