Each year as we gather for the Readings for Holy Week services, I find that one or two verses stay with me for days and weeks after Easter. This year it has been Pilate’s probing question during his interrogation of Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38a)
Indeed, what is truth? It is a question which is as relevant and urgent today as it was two thousand years ago. When called to testify at a trial, one is required to swear or affirm to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Is truth limited, then, to statements that are admissible in a court of law? Hardly. There are many things we know in our lives which cannot be proven true or false by the standards of our justice system.
Neither is truth simply the recitation of facts. To be truthful facts must be accurate; but without context, plain facts can be deeply misleading. As an example, consider the old Cold-War-era joke regarding a foot race between the top U.S. runner and his counterpart from the U.S.S.R. The American won the race. The next day the Soviet newspapers reported that their runner had come in second, and the U.S. runner had finished next to last. The facts are accurate. The manner of stating them is contrived to convey a false understanding of the results of the contest.