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What is Truth

I—Pilate's Question

Every truth has two sides. At least two sides. It may have many sides. We are apt to overlook this aspect of truth and, having examined one side, to accept it or reject it without taking the trouble to examine the other side. The only wise course is to examine both sides by the light of our Reason and choose the one that appears to be the more reasonable of the two. This process is continually going on in every well-regulated mind. And the conclusion of the whole matter is that there is no such thing as Absolute Truth except God himself, and that all other truth is relative only. It is no wonder, then, that Pilate was puzzled, and asked, "What is Truth?" or, as some have translated the question, "Which Truth?" Because a certain truth has two sides, and because the two sides are different from each other, people are apt to jump to the conclusion that one must be right and the other wrong, that one must be all good and the other all bad. Here is a simple illustration. I am asked: "Which is the road to Oxford?" I answer: There are at least six. Choose for yourself. "But which is the best?" Well, each is good in its way and each is bad. For instance, one is level but rough; one is smooth but steep; one is long but clean; one is short but muddy. You can go by road, by river, by rail, or across the fields. "But which is the right road?" All are more or less right because they all lead to Oxford. So we may say of all the different religions of the world: They are all more or less right because they all lead to God, the one Absolute Truth. Man is a free agent and must choose for himself. God compels no one to go any one particular road. Christ chose His road and stuck to it. His teaching was, in effect: "My Father knows well all these roads that lead to our common Home, and I have deliberately chosen for myself the one that He tells me is the best. It is by no means the easiest, but I am satisfied that it is the best because my Father says so. Therefore I say to you: Follow me without question."

But Christ did not say this to Pilate, and His silence is significant. The reason is obvious. Pilate's question received no answer, because in effect it had been answered already. Pilate knew perfectly well the road that Christ had chosen, but did not believe that it was the best. Otherwise he would have followed Christ without question.

II—Pilate's Position

We have seen that Pilate's last word in that memorable interview with Christ was a question to which no answer was vouchsafed. The silence is significant, onerous, pregnant with meaning, and calculated to make one think. It is like a long pause in the course of a musical composition—an "unresolved discord "—which, far from breaking off the subject, startles and arrests the hearer's attention and raises it to an attitude of intense expectation for the coming climax and crown of the work. In this case there falls on the ear as a climax a silence more eloquent than speech. The device has served its purpose. It has set the whole world a thinking, and instead of an answer from Christ we have, as it were, His endorsement of a question which every individual must answer for himself. It is evident that Pilate's idea of Truth was not Christ's idea, and probably no amount of argument would have convinced him that he was wrong and Christ was right. Evidently there were in Pilate's mind two sides to the question, and therefore two answers. There was Christ's side and his own side, Christ's position and his own. And therefore two points of view. So that, practically, in Pilate's mind, the question was which of the two sides was the more reasonable? He felt he was free to choose either, and that one or other he must choose. Christ's position, so clearly apparent in His Life and Teaching, has already been suggested as having been well known to Pilate, and hence the silence. Let us now put ourselves in Pilate's position and try to imagine what his rejoinder would have been to Christ's answer had one been vouchsafed. Would it not have been somewhat as follows?—I do not doubt your sincerity. I have seen a little of your life's work. I have heard from many mouths of all the good and kind things you have done, of your self-denial, and generally of the noble aim of your mission. In short, you profess to be a Teacher sent from God. My idea of life is success. I believe in success. And one can only measure success by results. Now, comparing my life with yours, as I understand yours, it seems to me that I, who am "only a heathen," have been more successful than you. You see I am at the top of my profession. My life has been eminently successful. Your life seems to be far from successful. For instance, your claim to be a King is disputed, and the highest ecclesiastical authorities of your own nation—the most religious nation of the world—have accused you of speaking blasphemy, which, according to their law, is punishable by death, though, strangely enough, they try to shift the responsibility by asking me, a Roman, to condemn you to be crucified after the manner of the Roman law. And now you are in the lamentable position of a felon under condemnation, and I, a free man, am appointed to be your judge. In short, your life appears to me to have been a failure from beginning to end—a life not worth living. And yet, in the face of all these facts, you expect me to believe that you are right and I am wrong. You speak of Truth. Surely I, as a professed minister of justice, ought to know what Truth is, and yet, I must confess, I am utterly perplexed. Evidently your idea of Truth is not mine, and so I am still puzzled to know what you mean by Truth. And so the discussion would have been endless. Whether Pilate ever lived to see the Light who can tell? As regards ourselves, who live in the Light of the 20th Century we are in the happy position of seeing spread out before our eyes, as on a map, not only the life and teaching of Christ, but the answers of all the wisest men of all the intervening centuries, to that very question of Pilate's; and what is "marvelous in our eyes" is this fact: namely, that the net result of these combined answers is substantially in accord with the pure and simple life and Teaching of Christ as recorded in the Gospels, namely, that so far as real Life is concerned, the Truth—the one Absolute Truth—is God manifesting Himself in the Human Heart.

Govern the lips
As they were palace doors, the King within;
Tranquil and fair and courteous be all words
Which from that presence win.
Sir Edwin Arnold in The Light of Asia

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W. H. Gill

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