Generally Speaking: What is truth?

By MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,

My husband Charles is now retired, but for 40 years he was in the retail business selling oriental rugs and Country French antiques.

He did not start out in rugs or antiques. He joined his parents’ floor covering and wallpaper business in the 1970s and was wise to see where the decorating trends were going.

There were no other dealers of fine rugs in Mississippi at that time, so he sought out reputable dealers in other places who could teach him about rugs.

There was so much to learn, and he says that in the beginning he thought, “How will I ever be able to tell a fine rug from a fake?”

To his untrained eye, the fakes looked pretty good.

His knowledge grew over time, and so did his appreciation of all that went into creating a fine rug.

He eventually decided to travel to India and Turkey because there were things to learn that another stateside dealer could not teach him.

From the quality of the sheep wool to the yarn dyeing to the weaving methods to the knot count to the specific designs that gave them their different names—he studied it all.

The more he studied the real thing, the more he learned to appreciate genuine quality and to recognize the true artistry that went into each rug.

It was by studying the real thing that he learned to spot the imitation. Today he would be impossible to fool. All rugs advertised as “fine” are not equal in value.

One of the United States Secret Service’s major duties is the detection of counterfeit money.

If a bank employee suspects bogus currency, he immediately calls for the Secret Service.

Both the bank teller and the Secret Service agent spend significant time during their training learning to recognize fake bills.

And do you know how they develop their quick detection skills—by handling the real thing over and over and over. They know the way the paper feels, the unique markings on a bill created at the United States Bureau of Engraving, and the precise placement of every image on both sides.

Whether we are investing in fine rugs, avoiding a counterfeit scam, or wrestling with a serious personal decision, we need to be well informed if we want to avoid a costly mistake. What is true and what is false?

Several months ago as I was watching a highly contentious U.S. Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearing, I heard one of the senators say, “That may be his truth, but it is not hers.” I could not believe my ears. I thought truth was like math —absolute.

Two plus two is four, and it is never going to be anything else.

As much as I would like for it to be five, it simply is never going to happen.

I can live with that.

The “his truth” and “her truth” really startled me. Since that day, I’ve heard that same idea numerous times as “my truth,” “conventional truth,” or “your truth.”

Although the acceptance of relativism is not a new concept in our culture, it seems to have gained a much greater foothold in the past decade or so. That fact alarms me.

The perfect example of relativism was that specific comment that caught me off guard during that Senate hearing. A simple definition of relativism is this: Relativism is the belief that there is no absolute truth, only the “truths” that a particular individual or culture happens to believe.

So, I suppose I can be a Polar Bear whether you believe I am or not. Being a Polar Bear is my truth. Do you see how silly that sounds?

And yet, that seems to be exactly the reasoning of many people in high places these days. I barely know where to begin, but let’s start here. If truth becomes a matter of one’s opinion, then chaos becomes the norm.

There was a period in the history of Israel after the death of Joshua when God’s chosen people did not live in the light of what they had been taught. 

The Bible’s Book of Judges presents a most unflattering picture of Israel, a dark era characterized by idolatry when the people did not faithfully follow the God who had delivered them from slavery and brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey.

Scripture also mentions that the younger generation had no idea about the way God had delivered Israel from the slavery in Egypt.

The older generation obviously dropped the ball there! The very last verse in the Book of Judges sounds like a tragic epitaph.

“In those days Israel had no king: everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In other words, “my truth,” and “your truth” was the norm.  It did not work well then, and it does not work well now.

Truth is still defined in most dictionaries as “conformity to fact or reality.”

To use a modern cliché, “It is what it is.” Back to my example of the Polar Bear — the unvarnished reality of fact is this: I am not, nor will I ever be, a Polar Bear.

God is the author of truth. He is also the source and ultimate standard of truth.

Such statements do not sit well with the intellectual relativism that dominates many of America’s 21st Century institutions.

From the classroom to the halls of government to the multiple platforms of communications and media, there is a constant discounting, ridicule, and open hostility toward those who hold to the belief that God is indeed the infallible source of truth.

Our culture at large has a general dislike for authority and absolutes, especially if the name of God is invoked.

Even so, in the same way that my real desire to be a Polar Bear will never turn me into one…the strident assault by every loud voice denying that God is the one true source of truth will never alter the fact that He is!

Malachi 3:6 says, “I the LORD do not change…”

His truth does not have an expiration date, and it doesn’t evolve with the culture either. As I said before, it is what it is.

In a noisy world filled with competing world-views and opinions, believers must, as never before, possess the discernment to recognize what is true from what is not.

First John 4:1 could not be more apropos than in this present day. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets, have gone out into the world.”

Test the voices against God’s truth. If you know God’s word, you will gain discernment, a most valuable quality throughout your life.

The Apostle Paul gives the best advice of all time when it comes to living daily in a secular world that is diametrically opposed to a biblical worldview.

I love his metaphor of a soldier preparing for battle as Paul explains each piece of armor necessary to face the battle. Ephesians 6:10-18 paints a memorable word picture of a Roman soldier in his battle ready uniform.

Each piece of armor protects the soldier in the event of attack by an enemy.

The first item the soldier dons is the belt of truth.

The belt was tied in several places in order to remain secure.

So, even if the soldier fell down or had to tread on uneven terrain, the belt remained in place.

It served a purpose much like an anchor. Imagine a belt with even a tiny missing segment.

The belt would be useless because there would be no way to attach it.

And so it is in our relationship with the truth of God.

Our trust and belief in His truth must be like the belt—solid and unbroken.

Truth is not something akin to a cafeteria line where we choose which portions we want to put on our plate and which items we simply ignore because we do not desire them.

All of life turns on what we decide to do with the word, “Truth.” 

It is not always the most comfortable choice, but it is always the right one.

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