There is a phrase that has been growing in popularity, one you may or may not have heard, but one you most certainly will hear if you are paying attention. I am uncertain of the origin or first use of the phrase “post-truth,” but it seems to have gained momentum with the Oxford Dictionary’s choosing it as their 2016 “Word of the Year.”
The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” With the post-truth mentality fully embedded, we live in a society in which many view adherences to truth as less virtuous than our arrival at a desired end or outcome.
Post-truth is a logical extension of post-modernism, a belief system which professes the denial of objective truth as a reality. From this position, post-modernism claims an absence of absolute reality, which is a self-denying proposition. If there are no absolutes, then we cannot say (absolutely) that there are no absolutes.
Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines truth as “Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be…”
When the Roman Prefect, Pilate, asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38), he was asking one of the most vital questions our society can ask. If we cannot know what is true or untrue, what is real or unreal, then Jesus’ very reason for taking on flesh and coming to the earth is a proposition of insanity.
For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.. – John 18:37b, ESV
If Jesus came to testify to the truth, but there is no such thing as truth, then Jesus’ entire purpose was an exercise in futility, and he is arguably a nutball. 1 John 3:8 says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, the one Jesus says “is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Jesus seems pretty clear on the idea that there is truth, and there are lies.
In his book The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and deception in contemporary life, Ralph Keyes says, “At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false.”
Isaiah and Jeremiah describe the current-generation attitude toward truth well, saying “truth has stumbled in the streets” (Isaiah 59:14). “Truth is nowhere to be found…” (Isaiah 59:15). “Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips” (Jeremiah 7:28).
Keys points out that deception is now called “spin,” and lying is merely “misspeaking,” or “remembering differently.” Bold-faced lies are now considered “casual dishonesty.” We also participate in this reclassification carnival, characterizing lies in news broadcasts not as lies, but as “fake news.”
“This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit” says Keyes.
Amid such societal chaos, a voice ringing with truth and clarity is a welcome boon.
Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. – John 18:37b, NIV – 1978
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” – John 14:6a, ESV
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:32, NIV-1978
The apostle Paul confirms the reality of truth and absolutes, saying that men “suppress the truth” in their unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), and that the god of this world has blinded the world against the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4). He describes the church as a “pillar and buttress of the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4).
John tells us that both grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). One key apparatus in the armor of God is the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14). The indwelling Holy Spirit of God is called “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). Paul describes one who surrenders to Christ for salvation as one who has “come to a knowledge of truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
We cannot treat the abandonment of objective, absolute truth as a small matter. It is not. Indeed, this is a matter of utmost importance. Life itself depends on our view of truth.
I’ll close with this exhortation from the apostle Paul to the believers in Thessalonica. Notice, especially their refusal to believe the truth. It’s not that they did not see it. They refused it.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-13