To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- John 8:31-32
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
- John 14:5-7
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
- Philippians 4:8-9
“For some, philosophy is a way to discover objective truths about the world. For German philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, on the other hand, philosophy is a personal struggle. Strongly inﬂuenced by the philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, Jaspers is an existentialist who suggests that philosophy is a matter of our own attempts to realize truth. Since philosophy is an individual struggle, he writes in his 1941 book On my Philosophy, we can philosophize only as individuals. We cannot turn to anybody else to tell us the truth; we must discover it for ourselves, by our own efforts.
“Although in this sense truth is something that we realize alone, it is in communication with others that we realize the fruits of our efforts and raise our consciousness beyond its limits. Jaspers considers his own philosophy ‘true’ only so far as it aids communication with others. And while other people cannot provide us with a form of ‘ready-made truth’, philosophy remains a collective endeavor. For Jaspers, each individual’s search for truth is carried out in community with all those ‘companions in thought’ who have undergone the same personal struggle.
“The philosopher lives in the invisible realm of the spirit, struggling to realize truth. The thoughts of other, companion, philosophers act as signposts towards potential paths to understanding.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) was influenced by two philosophers that could not be more opposite in their beliefs. Kierkegaard was a believer in Jesus Christ and Nietzsche, near the end, thought he was Jesus Christ.
Maybe that is why Jaspers’ philosophy seems to jump from one side of the relative truth issue that we suffer from today to the other side and back again. Each person has their own philosophy which they come to certain conclusions all on their own. To an extent, that could be true, although we can easily be swayed by a smooth-tongued devil, or Saint.
Then, your philosophy is only “true” if it is understood by other philosophers. It plays a trick on the word “true” that could easily lead people to the notion of relative truth, but in philosophical circles it does not. Philosophy is, at least in part, the art or science of argument. You take a stance on a topic, and you argue your way toward others: 1) agreeing with you, 2) understanding and disagreeing, or 3) a total befuddlement on the topic at hand. If you befuddle, or is it “baffle?”, the other philosophers, or as Jaspers identifies them, companions, then maybe you did not think your philosophy through to a logical conclusion. You either skipped a step in the logic or your brain ran around in circles and never got anywhere.
But even if companions understand your philosophy, there are some philosophies that are wrong. If your philosophy says that the sky is green and grass is blue, you are only correct a small percent of the time. The sky can be green if pollution or a storm that lofts tiny bits of green leaves and grass into the air. And Kentucky is known for its Kentucky bluegrass, although it is mostly green even then, just waiting for the angle of the light to be just right… But if your philosophy included blood being chartreuse, you are just wrong. I can understand these arguments. I do not believe there is truth in the arguments, no room for relative truth at all.
Since many Christian evangelism organizations face the concept of “no objective truth” in our colleges today, I have a certain uneasiness about Karl Jaspers’ conclusions. If others cannot understand our philosophy, something is wrong with our philosophy or the way in which we try to explain it. This does not mean that we simply have our truth, and we care less whether anyone else shares that truth, thus relative to me alone. But that is not what Jaspers is saying, at least I do not think so.
No, Jaspers is saying that we must be true to our own way of thinking, but our way of thinking is not truth at all if it cannot be understood by others. Thus, truth, whether accepted or rejected, is still truth in that it can be understood logically. Can that truth stand up to examination? And it should be a test of proof that something that makes no sense is either a lie (not truth) or something that cannot adequately be explained (something inane, insane, befuddled, or possibly merely incomplete).
Thus, to say that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life is an understandable statement, and saying that your truth does not correspond with it… That does not make the statement untrue, nor does it make the statement a relative truth for me alone (me and other Christians). It simply means that the person making the argument is rejecting the truth, and the Truth. Which means that they miss out on the Life. While some may reject this truth, I know this truth to be the Truth. Jesus resides in my heart and His Holy Spirit guides me each day.
What is Truth? I will let Hank Hanegraaff answer that:
“This is the very question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus. In the irony of the ages, he stood toe to toe with the personiﬁcation of truth and yet missed its reality. Postmodern people are in much the same position. They stare at truth but fail to recognize its identity.
“First, truth is an aspect of the nature of God himself. Thus, to put on truth is to put on Christ. For Christ is ‘truth’ (John 14:6), and Christians are to be the bearers of truth. As Os Guinness explains, Christianity is not true because it works (pragmatism); it is not true because it feels right (subjectivism); it is not true because it is ‘my truth’ (relativism). It is true because it is anchored in the person of Christ.
“Furthermore, truth is anything that corresponds to reality. As such, truth does not yield to the size and strength of the latest lobby group. Nor is truth merely a matter of preference or opinion. Rather truth is true even if everyone denies it, and a lie is a lie even if everyone affirms it.
“Finally, truth is essential to a realistic worldview. When sophistry, sensationalism, and superstition sabotage truth, our view of reality is seriously skewed. The death of truth spells the death of civilization. However, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn discovered, ‘One word of truth outweighs the entire world.’”
- Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book (question 42)
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.