Characteristics of Truth

There is a saying, “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” That is all well and good if you are looking for a duck. But what if you are searching for truth? What does truth look like? Truth has certain characteristics that distinguish it, and set it apart from theories, ideas, opinions, faith, and of course, untruth and lies. Christianity asserts certain specific truths, starting with the existence of God, the Father of Jesus Christ. If we Christians know the characteristics of truth we will be more able to both understand our own faith and communicate it to others. Also, we will be more able to understand the attacks on the Christian faith, and not only defend it, but hopefully win over our adversaries. After all, since the universe is based on truth, a faith based on truth makes sense to the mind and fulfills the soul.

As we of Spirit & Truth Fellowship have studied and examined the subject of Truth, we have come to recognize six characteristics that it has. [1] These six characteristics of truth are: absolute, correspondent, coherent, universal, exclusive, and objective. These characteristics are not totally separate. In fact, they dovetail into each other and overlap each other. Nevertheless, they define truth in distinctive ways that help us understand it and recognize it.

Absolute

When something is absolute, it means that it is not dependent upon anything else. We can better understand absolute if we understand its opposite, “relative.” Something that is relative has a necessary dependence on something else. For example, we tend to think of the passage of time as absolute, that one minute is the same for everyone everywhere. However, scientists can now show that time is relative, and that time for an object depends on the speed of that object. For any given object, time slows down as it approaches the speed of light. Thus time is relative, it is dependant on something else. However, truth is not relative; it is not dependant on anything else. An example of a truth is that God exists. He exists everywhere for everyone. He is not a different God at differing speeds, or with or without a gravitational field, inside or outside of a church, or for different people. He is the same for everyone, everywhere, for all time.

At this point we should note that not all truth is immediately evident to everyone. The fact that many people do not recognize the existence of God does not mean His existence is not a truth, it just means that they have failed to perceive the truth. Truth is absolute, not relative, so truth does not depend on people recognizing it for it to exist and be true. God does not have to be known or believed to be God.

Correspondence

Truth is absolute, so it corresponds to reality, the way things really are. Because truth exists, “reality” is what corresponds to truth. We understand this when it comes to true and false statements. A false statement is false because it does not correspond to reality. Police use the principle of correspondence to determine whether a person is lying. Does what someone say line up with, or correspond to, reality?

Christians must understand that people’s beliefs and perspectives, although real to them, may not be true. Douglass Grothius correctly observed that, “…we all have differing perspectives (which can be biased, prejudiced, ignorant, arrogant, uninformed and so on), but our perspectives only affect our sense of what is true; they do not determine truth. A perspective may be partially true, largely true, or mostly false…” [2]

We live in a world that elevates man’s ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. In fact, some people consider it rude and uneducated to assert that another person’s beliefs are wrong. They would be correct in their assertion if there were no such thing as truth, because then everyone could be correct no matter how widely their beliefs differed. However, there is truth, and because of that, people cannot hold inherently contradictory views of something (i.e., there is a God and there is not a God) and both be correct. In fact, because there is truth, the value of any given perspective depends on how accurately it corresponds to reality, to truth.

What makes lies and untruth dangerous is that they lead us from the truth. We see this in the world around us all the time. A lie or untruth about what is good to eat, or is a good medicine to take, can leave a person sick or dead. Sadly, the consequences of believing a lie about God and Jesus (such as they do not exist, or Jesus is not important for salvation) will leave one just as dead, but the death will be everlasting. Thus untruth and lies about God and Jesus are dangerous indeed!

Coherence

Coherence is internal cohesion and consistency. Truth cannot contradict itself internally or externally. In the debates between science and religion we occasionally here someone say, “Well, that may be true in religion, but it is not true in science.” Truth is truth in every category pertaining to it. It is not true to science that God does not exist, but true to religion that He does. Similarly, Evolution is not true in science while Creation is true in religion. When it comes to a single subject, there must be one absolute, internally consistent truth, and that truth will then correspond to the reality of the situation. In some cases we can observe something and have differing opinions about it, but in the end we will find that there was only one truth.

It is important to understand that truth is internally consistent when it comes to obeying God, and it is one reason that logic plays such an important role in faith. If God could be internally inconsistent, then we could not use logic as a tool to understand God or our faith. Logic is what allows us to extrapolate from the rules and regulations in the Bible to practical use in our world today. [3]

Understandably, the concept of internal consistency can cause Christians to be uncomfortable, because there are so many denominations on the earth today, each with somewhat differing beliefs. No matter how we try to explain it away to minimize our differences, there is not a different truth for different Christians. God asks Christians to get to the point “…that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:10b). The way to get there is not by compromising what we believe, but by much prayer along with careful, diligent study of the revelation that God has given us about Himself: His Word.

Universal

Truth is universal in that it applies equally to everything, or every person, within a specific set of parameters. Another way to think of the universal characteristic of truth is that it is not provincial, parochial, constrained, or petty. Truth is ecumenical, broad, sweeping, and ubiquitous. Truth is not trendy or superficial. Because truth is universal, no one can escape it. For instance, in today’s world, death is a truth for all mankind, and there is a coming Judgment that no one will escape. No one that lives can avoid it or escape it, especially by simply not believing that it applies to them. No one can change the truth about death and the Judgment by deciding not to think about it. The danger in not recognizing that truth is universal is that some people act as if it does not apply to them simply because they do not believe it. That will work until it actually comes upon them, at which time the scripture will be fulfilled that says, “…there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12).

The universal nature of truth should drive each one of us to seek it until we are confident we have found it. Being content or comfortable with where we are and what we believe is not good enough. Many people say they are “content with what they believe,” but that does not make them right, and it can be a dangerous place to be if what they are content with turns out to be an untruth. God expects us to seek Him, and He promises that if we seek we will find. Interestingly, sometimes finding God actually makes us uncomfortable, because we may find that God has more for us to do than we are comfortable doing, or we may find that the evil in the world marshals against us in a way that makes us uncomfortable. That is when the truth of the next life becomes a true comfort.

Exclusive

While the universal aspect of truth describes its broad nature, the exclusive aspect of truth describes its narrow and specific character. Truth always “draws a line in the sand” in the sense that anything contrary to it is false, or error. Truth excludes anything that is contrary to it. It is the exclusive nature of truth that causes people to think of those who embrace it as “narrow-minded.” Since God created both the physical world and the spiritual world, it makes sense that they would both reflect the exclusive nature of truth, and they do. The exclusive nature of truth is built into the fabric of the material world in which we live. Romans 1:20 points out that God’s creation points to the Creator, and the “narrow-mindedness” we see in nature would naturally be a reflection of the exclusive nature of truth.

Examples of the exclusive nature of truth, which show up as inherent narrow-mindedness in Creation, are all around us. It may seem “narrow-minded” to use only gasoline (or substances with similar combustible properties) in our gas tanks, but when we pour our leftover soda pop into the gas tank, the car stops. Thus, drivers are all very “narrow-minded” about what they put in their gas tank. In fact, we are very “narrow-minded” about almost everything in our lives. We do not burn the kid’s old plastic toys in our fireplace, even though they will burn, and we certainly do not burn our used glass jars and tin cans, because they are so “narrow-minded” they will not catch on fire. We are very “narrow-minded” about what we eat, and pass up all sorts of free things (like grass, gravel, and our old clothes) and pay lots of money for “food.” If we are boating on the ocean, we are so “narrow-minded” that we will allow ourselves to get thirsty rather than drink the ocean water all around us.

Could it be that the God who created inherent exclusiveness, or inherent “narrow-mindedness” into His physical creation would then not have such exclusiveness in His spiritual creation? As Christians, it should occur to us that God is no less “narrow-minded” about spiritual things and His spiritual Creation than He is about His physical Creation. God wove it into the nature of truth to be exclusive, and there is no way around that. It should not upset us when non-Christians call us “narrow-minded” because we are, and that is the nature of truth. The fact is that many people are wrong when it comes to what they believe about God, and our not being willing to confront that, or hoping to “include everyone” will not change the nature of truth. It will only help keep people from coming to terms with the way reality, and God, really are.

Objective

The word “objective” means in the realm of experience but independent of a person’s thoughts or perceptions. Truth is not dependant of any person’s desires, beliefs, or emotions. Truth is not subject to man’s control, determination, or veto. No one gets to decide what truth is; it is not subjective, subject to man. It is objective, outside of man. It must be revealed to man, because man cannot make it or change it. There are people who think in terms of “their own truth,” but thinking that way is contrary to the nature of truth. If everyone could have his or her own truth, then truth would not be true, but would be only a personal experience or belief.

When it comes to God, the objective nature of God seems obvious. We do not make God, nor can we change Him. Nor does it modify Him if we do not believe in Him or believe something false about Him. It is our job, as created beings of God, to discover the truth that lies outside us, and discover, and develop a relationship with, our Creator. There are religions that teach that we must discover God “inside us.” Those types of teachings have been around a long time, and their fruit is consistent: each person ends up with a somewhat different view of God. God is not inside us, nor can we find Him by looking inside ourselves. The Bible guides us to read and learn about God in it’s pages, and from there develop a personal relationship with Him.

Conclusion

As we examine the characteristics of truth, that it is absolute, correspondent, coherent, universal, exclusive, and objective, many things about God, the Word of God, the Son of God, and life itself, come into clearer focus. For one thing, we become more acutely aware of the spiritual battle raging around us. A primary weapon of the Adversary is lies and untruth, but a lie cannot be seen for what it is if no one believes in truth. No wonder the Adversary has such an intense campaign going on against the existence of absolute truth. If he can get people to believe that all that matters is “what is true for them,” or “the truth they find inside themselves,” he will succeed in his mission to “steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).” People will meet God at the resurrection and find that “their truth” was just a lie they were comfortable with while on earth. At that time the scripture that says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12 and 16:25; said twice for emphasis) will be seen to be “the truth,” but it will be too late for those who did not seek God and get saved.

As Christians, we should believe the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the Word of God is the truth (John 17:17), and we should labor hard to understand it, believe it, and teach it to others. At the end of time, the only theory, idea, concept, ideology, or belief that matters will be those that are actually true, that correspond to the reality that God has set in place. We need to honor God, and bless ourselves and others by discovering truth and communicating it to those around us.

Endnotes

[1] There are a number of good books available that examine the concept of truth. A few books with helpful information are Truth Decay by Douglass Grothius, Whatever Happened to Truth? by Andreas Kostenberger, and The Truth War by John MacArthur.
[2] Douglass Grothius, Truth Decay, p. 108.
[3] It is often stated that the Hebrew word “torah” means “law,” but it really means “instruction.” God cannot tell us everything to do in life. But He gives us instructions that we can then apply to the world in which we live today.

3 comments

  1. I especially gained insight in the section on “Exclusive”.

    The illustrations certainly made it vividly clear that everyone is absolutely exclusive in the physical world with their actions. Thus we are all very narrow minded on many if not most of the things that we do. I will definately keep putting gasoline in my car and not any other liquid.

    Great article on the atributes of “Truth”. Thanks for writing and posting it.

  2. Amazing presentation and very deep on the subject of what is truth. Well documented.

  3. I scour many resources to find the best answers to give my grown children who have wandered away from their faith in God and Truth. I found such a wonderful explanation of Truth in this article, and I will share it with them. Their generation cannot even think clearly in examining absolute truth and God’s existence. The truth of Christ’s work on the cross is lost to their ears and thinking because the Enemy of God has put a veil of lies over all the earth, covering up what is real and keeping them from hearing the Spirit of God. Thank you for your wisdom in this writing that will be a vital instrument in trying to lead my children back home.

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