Think Again: Timeless Words | 25.2

Posted by Ravi Zacharias on February 23, 2017

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A few months ago I was in India when the prime minister called the country’s leading bankers to an 8 PM meeting. There he announced to everyone’s utter shock that all 500 and 1000 rupee notes would be rendered nonnegotiable by midnight that same night. (Those are the biggest notes of currency and used for most daily expenses and all major purchases.) The leaders were stunned, as was the nation. The resulting financial earthquake plunged millions into chaos and confusion. The next morning before dawn the lines in front of every shuttered bank and ATM machine told the story in human fears. My colleague and I spent two days in our rooms as we couldn’t change our foreign currency.

Value has to have a referent. Yet, at the whim of one man, everything that purportedly pointed to value was suddenly reduced to nothing. What was once “true” was now “untrue,” all to expose a lie masquerading as truth. So much for the statement of assurance, “You can take that to the bank.”

Ironically, a few days earlier, the Oxford Dictionary compilers recognized “post-truth” as the new Word of the Year. Demonetization is one thing, yet devaluing truth and truthfulness is another and is systemically unlivable. A soft side to the meaning of post-truth suggests that objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than are appeals to emotion and personal belief. But the hard meaning of the word is that in this culture we willfully and justifiably convey something false because it accomplishes a personal or end goal: the end justifies the means, which do not need to justify themselves.

Now we have to ask ourselves if we can believe it when a post-truth culture tells us it is a post-truth culture. Interestingly, the media, which flirts with untruths, and the academy, which never hesitates to replace absolutes by postmodern relativism, have come together to give our culture a new word. Their explanation is not so much that they are coining a new word as that they are affirming a reality—a truth about the way we coddle the lie, the ultimate self-defeating statement.

Post-truth as a phenomenon is not new, however. Just as postmodern is neither post nor modern but existed in the first conversation at creation’s dawn—“Has God spoken?”—so also post-truth is actually rebellion right from the beginning. “Has God given us his word?” The answer to that question spelled life or death.

Truth is primarily a property of propositions where words present objective reality as it really is. Even manipulators of the truth know that truth is only subjective when one has victimized others and needs a fabrication. Once we remove God and decide instead to play God, truth gives way to fiction. It used to be said, “If a Cretan tells you all Cretans are liars, can you believe him?”

With the death of truth, the unique capability of Homo sapiens for abstract reasoning and language is now taken to the morgue and all language is meaningless. Indeed, we have so extinguished the light of truth in our halls of learning that it is possible for a Harvard student to say, “I can believe anything I want, so long as I don’t claim it to be true.” Ideologues masquerade as reporters and intellectuals use the academy to spread the lie that all truth is relative. Religions are represented falsely because it suits the politician. Life is devalued because it suits our convenience. Definitions once held dear are erased and truth is mangled at the altar of our proclivities. Cherished values and institutions are destroyed and new meanings assigned by our post-truth culture. What option do we have but to say “Truth is dead”?

The German philosopher Nietzsche warned us that since God had died in the nineteenth century, the twentieth century would become the bloodiest century. A universal madness would break out and the time would come when lanterns would have to be lit in the morning hours. That day is here: the year 2016 when the dictionary tells us that it can be truthfully stated that we are a post-truth culture.

And yet! And yet! The tug of reality is ultimately unbreakable.

The formal announcement of a new word has shown the Bible to be true, an incredible unintended consequence. The Scriptures tell us that professing ourselves to be wise we have actually become fools; that the lie by which we live, in turn, lands us in death.

As I have said, we think the atheist buried God, but in fact, we see in the opening pages of Genesis that the very first in the created order wished to bury Him too. Did God speak? Is it true what He says about good and evil? Are we going to believe the truth, or are we comfortable with the lie because of the power it promises to give us? The enemy of our souls counters the claims of God not merely by questioning them but also asserting that by dis­obeying God’s commands we can enjoy true autonomy and power.

Yet deep within the human heart is the hunger for meaning, reason, purpose, and value—and secular belief systems simply do not have either the answers or the explanatory power to make it possible to build a life on the foundation they offer. Law, philosophy, love, education, justice are all are built not on reason alone but on moral reasoning; again, value has to have a referent outside itself.

Consider, for instance, our longing for justice. Justice counts on the truth. Without those two realities, civilization will die. The Bible says, “The law came through Moses, but grace and truth through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Both were needed; the law, and therefore grace and truth. For the follower of Jesus, there is also hope, that hope expressed in the verse known by more people than any other: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

When you unpack that simple verse, you find that its timeless words incorporate everything we need by which to live:

The starting point is filial

The giving is unconditional

The reception is volitional

The range is eternal

The core is judicial

At the heart of existence is a moral law. That law had dare not be violated. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

True freedom is not the liberty to do as we please; rather, to do as we ought. For that we need the truth. The grace of God is our only hope to enable us to live by the truth. No culture can survive without this. “Thy word is truth and abides forever.”