Truth matters. We say so. But we lie every day and some lie a lot. Maybe most of your lies are just there to cheer some one on, “You can do it!” but you know they can’t, not really. But they need to try. And then there are the habitual and pathological lies, which flow like breathing. By January 20, 2020, the POTUS had accomplished his 16,241st lie since taking office. Over 15 documented per day. While truth may matter, evidence is not easy to find to support that. For, even if we point to someone and point out they’re lying over a dozen times a day, this is still our shared problem, we feed into it, and we participate in the lies. If we do not speak truth and challenge the spirit of deception with the Spirit of truth.
A Relationship to Truth
And the Spirit of truth is not a feeling or a position. Truth is bound up in a person.
they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Matthew 22.16
In the Greek Bible, the New Testament writers had a foundational word for “truth”, aletheia (ἀλήθεια). Aletheia is used only this one time by Matthew in his gospel. In the Gospel of John, it appears about twenty times. For instance,
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you (John 14.17)
In these days when “truth” seems weaponized, can we consider if truth is even a value any longer? When did truth and facts become such flexible, malleable, and vague terms? Did we used to know what truth was? Or, at least, were we capable of claiming our own untruths – biases, filters, preconceptions – as we sought truth?
Two Types of Truth
The prevailing ideas of truth fall into two fundamental notions or definitions of truth. There is correspondence truth and correlation truth. Correspondence truth points to something in the empirical world. Such as, it is true that gravity pulls things down. The statement of the truth corresponds to something that can be perceived or experienced in the world.
Correlational truth, on the other hand, may not have a real-world thing to point toward, but has a meaningful logic. When considering the logic of Euclidean geometry, or mathematical logic, we are using correlational truth. We all agree that 2+2=4, but none of us have ever seen a “2” or a “4” in the real world. We see things, we see two things or four things. But don’t see “2” or “4” except as a rational characteristic of a thing or a group of things. The rational logic of math still holds because it correlates, or hold true to its own set of rules.
And a Different Kind of Truth
When John’s gospel records Jesus as promising the presence of the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17), Jesus is speaking of a very different kind of truth. The Greek word used as “truth” is aletheia (ἀλήθεια). Using the vowel at the beginning implies the opposite. The opposite of aletheia is lethe, from which we get not the word “lie” or “untruth” or even “doubt”. Rather, lethe is the root of the word “lethal”. Lethe implies that which is obviated, hidden, done away with, or even destroyed. The Spirit of Truth is the opposite of lethality and hiddenness. Further, truth is not about content, but it’s effects. Truth is opposite of lethality and hidden, is it life-giving and seen.
Truth Creates, Truth is Art
In the 20th century, the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about the word aletheai (Heidegger, 1972). The truth of aletheia was that which was “unconcealed”, “disclosed”, “truth”. In further reflection Heidegger likened the process of art as this kind of truth. Art, which speaks and engages us, speaks a truth we could not otherwise know or experience. But the art emerges as a thing unconcealed. Sculpture, dance, comedy, paintings, and many other arts are the outcome of creative imagination, but are not fantasy, or unreal. They are aletheia, truth.
Truth is about life. Truth is about creation, about art.
How do we live in the power of the Spirit of Truth?
- When was the last time you engaged in a debate about the truth of a news report? How could truth as a creative life-giving power change those disagreements?
- We have heard too much about “fake news”. This seems to be a criticism of the truth or veracity of a report. How would the Advocate, whom Jesus leaves for us, help us to react in creative, loving, and life-giving ways amidst propaganda and “alternative facts”?
- The Spirit of Truth is a creative force first of all (see Genesis 1:1-2). How might we begin our days, our interactions with others, and the way we work in the power of the Spirit of Truth?