What is Truth?

One of the core beliefs of many Christians is that they have the Truth. While I certainly believe in the truths about God revealed through Jesus, I often wonder what Truth (capital T) would look like. I mean, doesn’t every religion put a claim on Truth? Are all other religions wrong, or is there truth in all of them, like a mosaic or puzzle that can only be fully understood when seen as a whole? Several years ago I when I was the newly appointed pastor in San Luis Obispo, I was visited by a young man who had left the church for another faith community. His reason, as I understood it, was his faith was not being nurtured where I was now appointed to serve. When he showed up at my office I invited him in and we had a wonderful conversation. I knew, however, that he was there to test me, to check me out, to see if perhaps there was the possibility of some faith nurturing in this newly appointed pastor. At one point in the conversation he said something like, “Well, we have the Truth.”

I responded, “Funny thing about Truth. In order to receive the Truth one must be willing to have ALL they hold to be true to be turned upside down.”

“Let me explain,” I said, and then asked him why there was a need for a New Testament? (And I would add why would the people of the New Testament include the Old Testament as their Bible?) I then told the story about my Old Testament professor from seminary, Dr. James Sanders, who was one of the only American scholars at that time (1973) to be asked to translate one of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered hidden in a cave near the Wadi Qumran near the Dead Sea in the Jordanian Desert in 1947. The Bedouin Shepherd who found the sealed jars took them to a friend and shopkeeper in Bethlehem. The shopkeeper also happened to be an amateur archeologist. When he opened the jar he realized something of great value was inside and called upon a friend, a Methodist minister studying Hebrew in Jerusalem who came to look at them. What he read was the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. This was an incredible discovery and it turned out there were thousands of pieces of scrolls in several caves. Over the last forty years they have been painstakingly opened and translated.

“So,” I went on to tell the story of Dr. Sanders, “James went to Jerusalem and was given an unopened scroll to translate. Mind you, it had not been opened for two thousand years! It took him two weeks to open it up. It was about ten feet long. And when he began to translate from Hebrew to English, GUESS what he read!?” My visitor waited. “Psalm 151,” was my response. Now you might not realize the significance of that answer, but my visitor clearly understood.

You see, there are only 150 Psalms in the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Christians believed for a long time, centuries in fact, there were ONLY 150 Psalms, but Jim Sanders was reading a new Psalm, one no one knew about. Psalm 151.

To this day, when I see my friend from SLO and we catch up on matters of our faith journeys he will remind me at some point of the need to  be seekers of the Truth and not to fall into the hubristic belief that we somehow have a firm grasp of it.  He simply says, “Psalm 151.”

“What does the Lord require of you but to Act Justly, Love Tenderly and Walk Humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8