When my kids were teenagers, there were times when each had presented me with a need for help with algebra problems that were complex and based on mathematical formulas I hadn’t seen or used since high school.
At those times, I would try to conjure up some distant memory that might allow me to show the depth of my parental wisdom and knowledge, and impress my child by quickly demonstrating the solution. But the reality was always much more humbling (or humiliating), and I would quickly realize that I often (not always) had no ability to retrieve from my mind any methods for solving the problem at hand. Instead, I was forced to confess that I had no idea of how to solve that specific type of problem.
So what could I do when I didn’t remember the exact logic of the appropriate formula, or, more frequently, couldn’t remember the formula at all? How could I go about helping them in solving this complex equation? And most importantly, how could I ensure that I didn’t misguide them by giving them direction or suggestions that could hinder their ability to solve the problem on their own?
Too often, our own pride and the desire to have a meaningful impact on the world around us affect our objectivity, and we find ourselves providing more opinion and subjective narrative than we do truthful insight and objective perspectives.
So how can those to whom I speak know the difference? How do they know if what I speak is the truth or just my opinion? Every day they are bombarded with falsehoods and half-truths that they feel obliged to accept. How can I possibly influence them in the right way if I use only the same tools the rest of the world does?
In order to ground our investigation in truth, we have to consult the textbook. We must look together to find the relevant area of study, and read through the examples. Then, as my memory becomes revitalized by the teachings in that textbook, and after reviewing the examples for each solution, I find myself now more effectively equipped to explain the problem, and utilize the method for solving it through what’s been learned.
Because my thinking is now grounded in the truth of what is written in that textbook, I have a perspective that allows me to instruct my teenager until he, too, understands. Eventually, the light goes on, and he exclaims, “I got it!” At which point, we’d work together to complete more problems so that he can show me what he now understands to be true.
Now, it’s very important to understand that mathematics is not the invention of truths. All of mathematics and the sciences are a discovery of the truth. All the different formulas that we might use in math are simply proven methods for discovering what’s already true. Unlike history or psychology books that must be re-written as new information becomes available, math doesn’t change. Someone may, indeed, come along and discover new ways of discovering the answer, but the answer is the same for all people at all times and in all places. Mathematics is simply an organized series of methods used to discover that truth.
This means that if I don’t truly know the answer, or know how to determine the answer, I cannot simply substitute a guess as an answer based on what I feel or believe to be correct. What I believe or feel is true may not be the truth at all. And so, understanding this, I should not claim to speak the truth if I am not referencing the truth.
“What is truth?
We can “claim” to know the truth, and speak as if with authority, but we hurt others while deceiving ourselves when we speak only from our own opinions. If we have not been living as studentsdisciples of Jesuswho is the very Word of God, how can we dare claim any authority or truth in the words we speak?
…the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
Why should anyone listen to us if what they hear is only our opinion? We roll our eyes and shake our heads at anyone who speaks to us without authority or any indication that they have any truth in their words. So why should we expect those very same people to listen to us?
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”
John 8:31-32 MSG
Jesus is saying here that only by doing the things he teaches can one discover that they are true. This is because we can only know the truth by discovering it! We can certainly learn the truth in a number of ways, but we can’t know that it is true if we don’t put it to the test.
This is the entire philosophy behind true science itself. The scientific theory is founded on the principle of discovering truth through repeated tests that provide consistent results. An idea is theorized (hypothesis), and experimentation (repeatable processes) is performed until the hypothesis is proven to be true or false. There is no invention, only discovery.
In fact, the very natural laws that scientists have at their disposal in order to perform experiments are only established as laws because they have been proven to be true through repetition and observation.
So, in order for me to speak the truth, or teach something that is true, I must know that it is true. Otherwise, I will immediately stumble when challenged, and be unable to give a coherent answer. I will certainly look the fool if I cannot explain why I believe something to be true.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
1 Peter 3:15
Isn’t this a common problem for us when our children start thinking for themselves and begin questioning our authority? We fail to recognize in them their thirst for truthas they are not necessarily dismissing what we’ve taught them out-of-hand, but instead are eager to prove that what we have taught them is true!
Imagine their (and our) disappointment when we are proven to be charlatans, unable to prove substantially the truths we have taught them, allowing them to painfully discover that, for so long, we have only offered them our own way of doing things. Not because what we told them was untrue, but because we never learned why it was true. “Because I said so” is the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard, and our pride is shattered because we can’t argue the point.
Ultimately, we can see how easily the chasm opens between blind faith versus trusting confidently in something that has already been proven to be true.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
You see, without an authority that is greater than ourselves, we are lost. All of mankind is aimless and hopeless without the boundaries of truth. And though much of the world (and oftentimes you and I) may accept false truths and make vain attempts to give them credence, we are all quite painfully aware that such lies are not true. We just don’t often care enough to find out for sure.
And sadly, in the absence of truth, we will accept the lie. One of my favorite scenes is found in a Rob Reiner film with Michael Douglas entitled, An American President. In a most memorable scene, the President (portrayed by Michael Douglas) clashes with his staff writer Lewis (played by Michael J. Fox) over the people’s need for leadership:
Lewis: “People want leadership. And in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership, Mr. President. They’re so thirsty for it, they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.”
President: “Lewis, we’ve had Presidents who were beloved, who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand because they’re thirsty, Lewis. They drink it because they don’t know the difference.”
As we apply this to our discussion of the truth, we see that in the absence of it, people will grasp at the lies spoken by the loudest voice, because they don’t know the difference. Without knowing the true north of God’s Word, they can easily be steered in the wrong direction. Yet it is not that we must yell louder, but that we must be able to speak confidently from the place of true authority that comes from knowing what the Word of God says.
Ask the most faithful servant of God, and you’ll discover that their deep faith is borne from God’s continued demonstration of his love. Because God has proven himself worthy of that individual’s love and devotion, through deep trials and tribulations, that individual can respond in no other way.
So, after all is said and done, only after I have personally gained an understanding of the teaching written in that math book can I begin to instruct my student in the successful application of that teaching so that the proper solution can be reached.
I must know the truth of the teaching before I can even begin to teach it to another. And any attempts to teach something that is not founded on truth will certainly be discovered as a lie, and my trustworthiness is lost.
The world is filled with teachers leading others astray. They often do so unwittingly, because many of their “truths” are simply opinions passed off as truth that they themselves have come to believe through their own experiences, pains, hardships and misunderstandings, and the lack of a true foundation. And not just our youth, but everyone not grounded in the truth of God’s Word will be deceived. For if one is not regularly immersed in God’s Word with great familiarity, he or she cannot have any legitimate basis for truth case-making. But be careful,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
Perhaps you’d make the argument that you don’t like to read, or that you don’t have time. But is this a valid reason for not knowing Jesus? We know that Jesus is the Word of God. So how can one claim to be walking with the Lord when one doesn’t even know where Jesus is going?
Perhaps you feel you get all you need from Scripture quoted from the pulpit each week, or your favorite radio programs. Well, how do you know those passages are correct, and that what your pastor teaches is true? How do you know that a referenced passage wasn’t taken out of context?
But the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.
And besides, all the passages potentially referenced during a church service combined are only a small morsel; hardly a meal.
…man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
My friend, I urge you: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” Because unless you allow your mind to be immersed in and devoted to his Word, so that his words become integrated with the way you think and live, you will never be able to offer anything more than your own opinion.
So if you want to leave a true legacy, know the truth. Do not speak in the foolish wisdom of the world, but clothe yourself in the wisdom of God.