Truth in Troubled Times
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
It is ironic that when Pilate asked, 'What is truth?' he was addressing the One who had earlier said to Thomas, 'I am . . . the truth', John 14. 6. Whatever else he had in mind at that time, he was expressing the scepticism that the world has always shown to what God has made known. In our times that mistrust often has become aggressive incredulity.
During these days when the residual effects of the Reformation have all but disappeared it is easy for us to forget that over two-and-a-half centuries from about 1500 A.D. a great movement of the Holy Spirit completely transformed a number of nations in the Western World. The truths of the Bible became dominant, changing lives and even statute books. Under God, these peoples often became in their heyday a powerful influence in the world. However inadequate their interpretations, the Bible was their bulwark.
Early last century what religious historians call the Enlightenment came into being. This movement in its various forms implanted an attitude of destructive scepticism in people's minds, towards objective truth generally and the truth of the Bible in particular. It has become most commonly known as Rationalism. Immanuel Kant represented its outlook quite simply as, 'Have the courage to make use of your own understanding'. G.E. Lessinc was more specific when he claimed that people had developed beyond the need for Christianity. In the thinking of many, God's truth was no longer relevant. The fact of sin was not admitted. Reason alone would cope with the issues of life. The individual decided what was, or was not true; divine absolutes were outmoded.
The New Age
However, the phenomenon of our time is that rationalism itself is being rejected! This was to be expected of course. The cynical are inevitably hoisted with their own petard. But this new movement, often (but not always) called the New Age, is no return to truth. Far from it! Characteristic of a world that has lost any sense of direction, it denies both truth and reason.
It has no headquarters or membership. It is a potpourri of heathen religions, astrology, spiritism, pantheism, Gnosticism, and the like. It is promoted by Hollywood stars, indulged by political leaders, presented by pop-groups, portrayed on cinema and TV screens, even used as part of business seminars. 'Self (be it self-awareness, self-realization, etc.) is its salvation. Physical objects, such as crystals, are used as a means of contacting spirit-guides. Reincarnation is looked on as fact- some say, by a fifth, and rapidly growing proportion of the world's population.
This satanic surge of all that is evil, for it can be no other, is sweeping the world. It is a code more universal than anything that has preceded it. There is little doubt that it is part of the final preparation for the coming of Antichrist who for a brief time between the rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ will have control over the lives of many left on earth. That will be a time when people will gladly follow 'the father of lies', John 8. 44, and when truth will be despised.
The Church's Continuing Witness
To return to the present, it is sadly true that some believers are being influenced by present-day trends. Paul described the church as 'the pillar and ground (or bulwark) of the truth', 1 Tim. 3. 15, and yet there are some amongst us who seem to be ashamed of the truth of God set out in the Scriptures. They will often seek to qualify it by referring to social conditions, culture, and the like. Perhaps this is inevitable. For years now children have been taught at school by those who, wittingly or unwittingly, have held to the theories of relativism and pragmatism. As a result we have those who are growing up without a real conception of what commitment or discipleship means. For them, absolutes, divine or otherwise, are difficult to accept.
As far as the people of the world are concerned, truth is foreign to the social climate they know. Except by the grace of God, the challenge of the gospel tends to fall on deaf ears. But increasingly a sceptical generation is asking, 'What is truth?'
Our responsibility is, as it always has been, to preach the unchanging and unqualified word of God. That stand is well stated in 2 Peter 1. 1-8 which sets out three salient facts:
(1) The Truth is centred in God and in His Son, v. 2.
it is through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, and by no other means, that people can be delivered from 'the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience', Eph. 2. 2. We have but one message - Christ, 'in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge', Col. 2. 3.
(2) The Truth is communicated through the word of God, vv. 3-4.
Peter had no doubt about the authority and power of the Scriptures, described here as 'exceeding great and precious promises'. It is only through His divine power in the world that we become 'partakers of the divine nature'. That in turn is the only way of 'escaping the corruption that is in the world through (because of) lust'. How futile it would be if we tried to disprove rationalism by reason, or mysticism by speculation!
(3) The Truth creates pure and productive lives in those who receive it, vv. 5-8.
The 'divine nature' is defined by seven Christian virtues listed here, described by one as 'a symphony of grace'. These qualities stand alone; no explanation or elaboration is needed or given. They are the product of Christ abiding in the lives of believers, the means of preserving us from 'ineffective and unfruitful' lives, v. 8, NRSV.
As those who are living in troubled times, in every quarter exposed to people who deny the truth of God, we are responsible to take our stand for what He has so clearly made known in His Son, and in the Scriptures which speak of Him, Luke 14. 27; John 5. 39. Every good thing may be under attack and the divine order supplanted by satanic confusion, but we have still but one message - the gospel of the grace of God.
And if there are those amongst us who seem to be affected by the spirit of the age, unsure of their position in Christ, our responsibility is to 'preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine', 2 Tim. 4. 2. Be it to believer or unbeliever, that is the truth, the only truth, for troubled times.