Truth and how it’s communicated
There is an age-old question, the answer to which is earnestly important to all of us at all times: “What is truth?” There are those who would define it as a relative term—those who would say that what is commonly thought to be true by the constituted authorities of any particular time or place is true for that time or place.
That is to say, what is generally believed to be true today is true for this day. But to say this is also to say that what was believed to be true yesterday was true yesterday.
In other words, if a man stands in the pulpit or at the marketplace or in the classroom and proclaims what he and his generation believe to be the truth, it is said by some that he is telling the truth. This sounds very plausible until we reduce it to specific cases. There was a generation that believed and proclaimed that the world was flat.
They were sincere in this belief, and they thought they were proclaiming truth, but that didn’t make the world flat, and the truth was and is that the world was not and is not flat. And so we could go on multiplying examples of what people have believed and have not believed, suddenly to come to the realisation that no matter what men at a given time happen to believe, if it isn’t true, their belief doesn’t make it true.
Truth cannot be made or unmade by arbitrary authority, nor by the belief or unbelief of any man or any generation of men. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But a falsehood or an error couldn’t make a man free. Indeed, it would shackle him with chains of ignorance. And so, we must come to the conclusion that truth is not an unpredictable variable but a determinable constant.
Popular conception of what constitutes truth can change, but not truth, for “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” And it doesn’t matter where it is found or who discovers it, it is the common property of the whole universe.
Our knowledge of it may increase; our ignorance concerning it may be profound; our willingness or unwillingness to accept it may vary, but what is fundamentally true today will always be true.
Truth is eternal, and never shall we be called upon by that God whose glory is intelligence and whose first law is order, to discard any fragment of truth, scientific or religious or whatever men may call it, but assuredly we may expect to be called upon to discard a good many of our theories and opinions.
There is a sentence from one of the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge that suggests a deeply significant subject: “Veracity,” he said, “does not consist in saying, but in the intention of communicating truth.”Too often it is assumed that the truth has been told if someone simply says the right words.
Too often it is assumed that a person has told the truth when actually he has told a half-truth and withheld the other half. But a person hasn’t told the truth when he has deliberately left a false impression, no matter what words he has used or how he has used them.
Men may mislead other men by the inflection of their voices, by insinuation and innuendo, by gesture, by what they suggest rather than by what they say, and by what they leave unsaid.
They may say so much and imply much more, and then hide behind the literal limits of language. In many such ways men frequently falsify and often we could not legally prove that they had perpetrated an untruth, yet morally we may know that they intended not to tell the truth.
There are those who, as Isaiah indicts them, “Make a man an offender for a word”those who resort to slick, legal loopholes, those who insincerely rely upon the letter of the law and ignore every intention of honour and honesty.
Words can be wonderful, but whatever our words we shall ultimately have to answer for the broad intent of our actions and utterances not merely for legal terminology or technicalities, not merely for the letter of the law.
The whole intent of a man, what he means to do and what he means not to do, what he means to say and what he means not to say, what he thinks in his heart, what he is in, his soul, are all involved in “telling” the truth; for which we are all accountable before our fellow men and before our eternal Father.
God grant that in our time we may hear and know and speak and write and live the truth, not rely on tricky technicalities or, legal loopholes or ambiguous utterance that is a mere mask for falsehood.