What Is Truth?

As a Christian I believe truth exists but I also find that there are many interpretations and varied opinions of what is truth.

What is the truth?

As Christians we believe in truth. It is one of the things that distinguish our faith from many of the other religions and faiths around the world. I have found as I travel across the country and the globe that I can go almost anywhere and have a very civil, even encouraging, conversation with almost anyone about God. The problems, controversies and frustrations arise when the name Jesus enters into the conversation. The perception is that God is comforting and unifying and Jesus is controversial and divisive. Statements like “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and “No one comes to the Father but through me,” only add to his reputation as a troublemaker.

As I have been engaging in conversations for the past decade around the topic of contextualizing the Gospel for Navajo (and other indigenous) culture(s), I have often had to wrestle with the question of Truth. As a Christian I believe truth exists but I also find that there are many interpretations and varied opinions of what is truth. Some lean far in one direction and argue that the Bible contains only truth and everything can and needs to be interpreted literally and truthfully. While other are at the opposite end of the spectrum and argue that there is no Truth, but everything is relative. Either of these extremes can lead to problems. Just look at the Family Radio ministry leader Harold Camping who uncovered the “truth” of when Christ will return’ by doing some pretty impressive “Biblical Math” and then went on to spend 100 million dollars warning the world to prepare for his return at 6 PM on Saturday May 21, 2011. That truth didn’t quite come about as he expected, and, I would say, he needlessly tarnished the name of Christ as well as the reputation of his bride, the church.

Another thing that made Jesus so controversial was that he was extremely contextual and relevant. I love the descriptions found in the Gospels of Jesus walking throughout Israel with his 12 disciples. Time after time he began his teachings with the phrase “the Kingdom of God is like…”, and then he would go on to draw many different comparisons with whatever he could find in his current context. In this way, Jesus used any means and methods available to him to help the people of that time better understand God. Jesus was constantly on the look out to find things that his followers understood to help them gain a clearer picture of what they didn’t understand. To fishermen he said, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” To tax collectors and community leaders he used images of a “Great Banquet.” To those who chased him around a lake and sat with him in an open field he used farming analogies and images of sheep herding.

In the book Bruchko, Bruce Olson describes his work with the South American indigenous tribe, the Motilone. Bruce had spent years working to gain relationships and integrity within their communities by living with them and like them, participating in their culture and speaking their language. Eventually some of the tribe became Christians and began building their own relationships with Jesus. One project that they undertook was to translate the New Testament into the Motilone language. Bruce describes the long discussions they would have as they sought the right words and images to use to translate these Holy Scriptures.

One passage in particular that he talks about is the parable of the wise man who builds his house on rock and the foolish man who builds his house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). This passage made absolutely no sense to the Motilone people. They lived in the jungles of South America where the ground was soft and unstable. Their houses were not built on a foundation of rock but rather were secured by long bamboo poles that were anchored deep into the ground. In the jungle, if you built your house on the rocks it would be unstable and could be easily swept away or destroyed. So in order to translate this parable they had to ask the question, “What is truth?” Is the truth that the words of Jesus are the rock and all wise men build their houses on the rock? Or is the truth that Jesus’ words are sturdy, reliable and strong and that is where the wise man builds his house? They decided to go with the latter, so in the Motilone Bible it reads that the wise man built his house on the sand and the foolish man built his house on the rock.

I do not think this is type of translation is heretical or even untrue; it is contextual. The truth is not the analogy, but what the analogy was meant to convey. Jesus’ words are where someone with wisdom will build their house; his words are strong, sturdy, safe and secure. To some cultures they are like a rock upon which you can build your foundation, and to others they are like deep, soft sand into which you can anchor your bamboo poles.

And that is the truth.

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