This past Easter, as I studied the Savior’s death and resurrection, I was struck yet again by Pilate’s comment to Christ, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). I wonder what tone he used. How does he ask about the nature of truth? With cynicism? Exhaustion? Resignation? And why does he ask, “What is truth?” Isn’t truth important to him? To everyone?
But in my daily life, as I feel overwhelming waves of information wash over and eddy around me, I understand better: sometimes truth becomes just one more opinion in a sea of argument. What does it matter? Along that same line, my husband recently informed me that we live in a post-truth world. People choose truth—or they don’t—as it suits them. The truth of an issue may either be nice to know, or a bothersome detail, but ultimately may not play a role in decision-making.
Problem: consequences. They come with the choices. I choose the consequence when I make my choice, not the other way around. My mathematically-minded husband posited this equation:
Choice A — Consequence A
Choice B — Consequence B
Choice A ≠ Consequence B
Ignoring the Law of Gravity in my flight calculations doesn’t make it go away. I, and possibly others, will face the consequences if I persist. Sooner than later.
But here’s the rub: sometimes we don’t see the consequences right away. My family owns an ornery cow. She doesn’t want to stay in her pen. The consequences for this may be dire for her in the long run: when she escapes, starvation and death await in many unpleasant ways. Initially, though, her freedom seems sweet. She can eat whatever she finds. She can go wherever she pleases. She doesn’t have to obey anyone. No rules. But no protection from dangerous situations or those who would hurt her, no guaranteed food and water, no caretakers.
My friend confided to me that she found the best success with her teenagers when she taught them about sticks: you pick up one end, you pick up the other one too. “Being careless in your friendships will bring you loneliness.” “Eating only junky food eventually makes you feel junky and look junky.” “If you choose to lie, eventually, no one will be able to trust you—worst of all, you may even believe the lie yourself.”
So what, as Pilate asked, is truth? The Free Dictionary (thefreedictionary.com) gives an array of descriptions: reality, actuality, a proven statement, fidelity to an original, the ultimate ground of reality, etc. If a musical note is on pitch, it is true. Here in Alaska, we get concerned about true north. My true friend helps me use my plumb bob to true up the post for my cow’s fence. Truth is reliable, accurate, aligned.
We need truth: a true companion, an accurate accountant, perfect pitch, a square. Truth is all around us, but we find its richest form in scripture. Psalms 117: 2 reminds us that the “truth of the Lord endureth forever.” Christ called the Holy Spirit the “Spirit of truth,” and taught that “he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). We need direction, and we have a guide.
Prayer is a powerful tool in any search for truth. As we humbly approach the Lord, he helps us see and drop faulty perspectives. Through the gentle whisperings of the Holy Spirit, he teaches us how to divine truth.
And truth is divine. It is worth the search. Christ counsels us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you; for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt 7:7-8). As we square up what we learn in scripture to other ideas, we can become better at discerning truth. We have the standard before us, a personal guide within us, and the promise of heavenly help.
But once we know the truth, we must act on it. We cannot be like the foolish researcher who discovered the bacterial sources of cholera but died after drinking tainted water. (Was boiling water really too much trouble?) Learning truth but failing to act on it brings the same consequences as if we remained ignorant. Conversely, acting on what we know leads us to more truth.
As the waves of opinion spiral around you, which direction will you choose? “As for me and my house,” Joshua tells us in chapter 24, verse 15, “we will serve the Lord.”
Kristin Fry lives with her husband and children on a family farm in Palmer, where they care for 800 chickens, several beehives and a cow. Kristin is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.