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A Brief Testimony
Before I became a Christian at the age of 25 I had a yearning for truth. I tried to find it, of all places, at the local pub, ‘The Bull’. Not the deep truth of philosophers; just the everyday truth of belonging. Real Ale and parties and pub banter provided the backdrop for this belonging. The trouble is, it wasn’t very “real.” The conversation was aimless and repetitive: we knew it all and knew absolutely nothing.
When I reached twenty I discovered a book about Michelangelo among my mother’s books. The amazing brilliance of this artist: painter, sculptor, architect, poet, as well as his brooding persona, and his dedication to the ‘Christian’ humanist ideal, captivated me. I began to read about Art History, beginning with Vasari’s Lives and broadening out into all periods. I found the expressions of truth in Caravaggio’s mixing of serenity and menace, Brueghel’s depictions of death in the midst of pastoral beauty, the dignity of the mundane in de Hooch; Claude’s use of light, Constable’s clouds, Cezanne’s geometrical preoccupations. Men like these helped me to see that truth lay within the world around me. But for the most part, truth remained aloof.
The work of Vasari is punctuated by the presence of a man whose influence profoundly affected many of the artists Vasari wrote about. That man was a Domenican priest by the name of Girolamo Savonarola ( d.1498). Roman Catholic though he was, from the accounts of his life which I have read, it appears that Savonarola was a converted man. But putting that question aside, what impressed me about him was how his preaching in the great cathedral at Florence, brought about a real reformation in morals and a true fear of God in that Renaissance city.
Savonarola was not the only prominent man I read about. I also studied Machiavelli. The contrast between the motives of the two men; the one to make men see their answerability to God; the other to advise on the shenanigans of Cesare Borgia, started to make me see that truth was tied to motive. The martyr priest was more likely to point me to truth than the political philosopher. Notwithstanding, I did not “get religion” at that time, thinking it was a crutch and an escape. Instead I began to read authors I had run into in the history of art. I read Plato and Aristotle and Sophocles – the serious writers. After I’d had enough of them I indulged in the sarcasm of Aristophanes. From him I turned to Shakespeare, and then, for no real reason other than I liked the name, to Bertrand Russell. Again it became clear to me that even though the philosophers were brilliant and often witty, they seemed further from the truth than the poets and painters.
It was after plowing through most of Hans Kung’s Does God Exist? that I finally decided to read the Bible. My younger brother Craig had been reading the Bible for a while and now I felt I needed to do the same. I told myself that I could scarcely ignore such a book any more.
I am very glad that I hit upon reading the Gospels first. These four short “Lives” set before me the most compelling person I had ever encountered. Jesus spoke right into me. He did not “philosophize” about truth, he just spoke it; He confronted you with it! And the odd thing was, I recognized it when I read it.
I did not accept Jesus’ claims right away. There was a lot of clutter that needed to be riffled through. Besides, coming across John Drane’s doubt-filled book Jesus and the Four Gospelscertainly didn’t help. But the Holy Spirit did not allow Drane’s concessions to historical criticism phase me. I was beginning to see that Truth was not a thing – a sort of home-plate to gain. Truth was not disconnected from the world; still less from people. Truth made claims upon me. Those claims I heard in Jesus’ voice and saw in His actions. Truth was personal. It was connected to Him who said “I am the truth!”
The Claims of Truth
The Lord Jesus Christ not only brought with Him grace and truth (Jn. 1:14), but He was that Truth. His presence on our planet brought light to shine upon the darkness all around. Coming to Jesus is always a coming out of darkness into light. The light is His light just as the Truth is His Truth. By this I mean to say that there is no distinction between Him and what He brings. Since Jesus is the Truth just as much as He is the Word (Jn. 1:1-2) He must bring Truth.
It is not enough to say that He personifies truth. We must insist that truth cannot exist on its own independently of Jesus, His Father and the Spirit of Truth. Truth exists because God exists, If God did not exist truth would not exist, The idea of truth “out there”; – truth to be agreed with as an impersonal standard, is impossible. Although it is seen that way within non-biblical worldviews, truth does not and cannot be attained without contact with the personal God – who is Truth.
My earlier search for an anchor of truth to bind myself to would have been an unending desperate encountering of “truths” without a foundation. In the same way as I sensed that Savonarola and not Machiavelli; Watteau and not Fragonard; Mahler and not Wagner, had embraced some truths, so I also sensed that they found it because them embraced them. Without prolonging the aesthetic argument too much further, they included these truths in their work in the same way as one decides to include a stranger in a conversation. Truth doesn’t merely fly above us like a flag on a pole, it communicates to us.
This is why someone who claims to be a searcher for the truth cannot stand aloof from the claims of truth upon them. They will never alter truth but they must be willing to allow truth to do with them whatever it wants.
So in the world of the non-Christian “truth” is always something separate from life in the world. As such we can choose either to agree with it or disagree with it; to follow after it or to ignore it; to allow it to speak to us or to alter its message so that it speaks with our voice. There is no great advantage either way. Truth as an absolute is troublesome because absolutes cause friction and friction opposes peace. Therefore to choose truth in such an outlook is not always a “good” choice. Absolute truth is a convenience item, available to people whenever the circumstances require them to be definitive. Truth must undergo personal or societal evaluation, and once done it must be made to take itself less seriously. The claims of truth percolate down to opinion – just like everything else!
On the other hand there is biblical truth. There truth exists necessarily because the Triune God exists. We feel its grip upon our arms because we were made to do so originally and the imprint of the Maker is still upon us. Jesus told Pilate “every one who is of the truth hears my voice” (Jn. 18:37). As the original Word Jesus built Truth into the fabric of the world He made (Jn. 1:2-3). As creatures ourselves, and image-bearers to boot, we ought to recognize that the claims of truth as proceeding from Him whose name is “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11).
Abiding with Eternal Fact
In The Great Divorce a repentant liberal tells an stuffy and impenitent Bishop that, if he will rethink his pretensions about religion, he will take him to meet “Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facts.” The cleric disdainfully turned down the offer, preferring to remain under the delusion that “God” and “fact” do not dwell on the same plane of objectivity. It is a strange deception indeed which constructs a grand array of “facts” and suspends them over a bottomless chasm, but that is what sinners do with facts. They encounter them; they label and categorize them; but they attempt to ground them in the ether of a wholly impracticable worldview.
That is how I was before I met “Eternal Fact.” My dealings with Truth were occasional and, from my point of view, impersonal. And it was this impersonal view of Truth which gnawed away at me; for impersonal conceptions of Truth eventually depersonalize everything – even the viewer. They may seem impressive to our eyes for a while, but just as an attempt at landscape painting may please us until we set it alongside a Constable or a Monet, so truth without “the Spirit of Truth” gradually begins to look like a paltry thing. Truth (capital ‘T’); the kind that “shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32), springs forth from the “I AM” (Jn. 8:58).
It is hard for me to overestimate the importance that the concept of personal truth has played in my life since I became a Christian. From the first I understood that my life was either a grateful acceptance of Truth and the claims of its Source upon me, or a denial of both it and of Him. So I began to read the Bible over and over. At every opportunity, whether at work or in a traffic jam, I would snatch a few verses. For several years I kept up an average of about ten chapters a day in my pocket King James Version, so that after a few years I found that I knew it better than many believers who had been Christians for twenty or thirty years. I could not understand their dilatory attitude toward the Word of God. I confess I still don’t.
After my dad left home when I was 13 my world turned upside-down. I sank into a depression which lasted until I was about 30. Although there were good times, for the most part I was very miserable, lonely, and introverted. On countless occasions I cried myself to sleep at night. The world was two-dimensional. I felt disconnected from everything. When I came to Christ aged 25, my depression, which had become a part of me by then, did not desert me. But I knew the Way, the Truth and the Life. I heard His voice (Jn. 18:37), and it assured me. Although it felt like I was in a dark tunnel underground, I now knew that if I stayed beside the Truth, which included taking my focus off of my feelings, that I was going up, and that one day I would break the surface. I finally “emerged” just prior to going to Seminary. It was Truth – sometimes hard truth, and the God of all Truth, that brought me through. The Truth as it is in Christ was an anchor in the midst of troubled times, my counselor within the gloom, and my hope of something better ahead. It is to Personal Truth that I swear allegiance, however wavering I might be. Not my truth, but God’s truth. Because God’s very essence is the source of Truth, naturally He requires that we, His creatures install that truth “in the innermost being” (Psa. 51:6).