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BELIEVING IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
By RICHARD E. STEARNS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013World Vision
All rights reserved.
The Meaning of Life and Other Important Things
At the deepest level, every human culture is religious—defined by what its inhabitants believe about some ultimate reality, and what they think that reality demands of them.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.
A few years ago a new word came into our lexicon that characterizes our human preference to bend the truth to accommodate our desires. In 2006, Merriam-Webster selected the word truthiness as its Word of the Year. The word was coined by Stephen Colbert on his late-night political satire show in order to describe how politicians could bend the truth to support their actions. Here is the Webster definition:
truthiness, n. the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true
When announcing that truthiness had been selected, beating out candidates such as google and terrorism, Merriam-Webster president John Morse commented, "We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs. 'Truthiness' is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue." Important indeed.
What Is Truth?
Two thousand years before Stephen Colbert, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus perhaps the ultimate question: "What is truth?" Jesus had been brought to Pilate because, as the Roman governor, only he had the authority to order Jesus' execution. Pilate didn't know what to do with this political hot potato. He ended up having a conversation with Jesus and asked him just what kind of king Jesus was claiming to be. After all, it was dangerous, and perhaps a little bit loony, for someone to call himself a king under the nose of Caesar, especially a man standing in shackles in front of a Roman governor. Jesus said to Pilate: "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
This prompted Pilate, perhaps a cynical politician, to reply with his timeless question, "What is truth?"
People today are still asking that same question. Many more seem to be asking the question that comes before that question, "Is there any such thing as truth?" This is not a book on philosophy, so I won't endeavor to make the lengthy philosophical argument required to fully answer this question. Rather, I will just appeal to your common sense. Of course there is truth. How can you make the statement "There is no such thing as truth" and then assert that your statement is true? It is virtually impossible to live our lives at all unless we make some assumptions about what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Most of us live our lives based on our understanding that some things are true and good and other things are false and wrong.
Why is this matter of foundational truth so important? Because truth has implications. For example, if you believe human life to be of little value, you might become a murderer. Why not? But if you believe that human life is precious, you might instead choose to become a doctor. Every choice you make will be based on the foundational truths you have embraced. Everything in this book and, in fact, everything in almost every book that has ever been written, deals in some way with the ultimate question of truth and the meaning of life. Writers either speak directly to life's meaning, or they base their writing on some underlying assumption of meaning. Certainly every religious leader in the world represents his or her understanding of the true meaning of life to his or her followers. But the meaning of life is not a question only for religious leaders. Every talk show host, political commentator, journalist, schoolteacher, comedian, celebrity, politician, mother, father, and bartender in the world bears witness to some definition—their definition—of the ultimate meaning of our lives. In fact, as I will try to demonstrate, every person who has ever lived has been confronted with the question "What does it all mean?" and has answered it one way or the other.
We all build our lives on some foundational assumptions about truth and reality, and those assumptions matter a great deal. If we build on a weak foundation, then what we build won't stand firm. Jesus warned of this very thing in Matthew 7:
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matt. 7:24–27)
Building our lives on the wrong foundations has consequences, disastrous ones. That is why this first chapter is so important. It will become the foundation for understanding where we fit in God's overall plan. So before we jump into a more specific discussion of the Christian worldview and its relevance in our world today, we need to have a first-things-first conversation about this meaning-of-life question that every person grapples with.
We believe that things like freedom, kindness, love, justice, and the dignity of human life are good and right. Don't we even value honesty and truth-telling itself in a person's character? We form friendships with other people because we believe friendship is good. We work to earn a living because we judge that it is wrong to steal. We sacrifice for our children because it is the right thing to do. Our entire legal system is based on the notion that some things are true and right and others are false and wrong. How many tortured prime-time crime dramas spend their full sixty minutes painstakingly seeking to determine the truth that will decide a person's guilt or innocence?
People who say there is no truth are phonies; they actually live their lives based on things they believe to be true. And let's dispense with the notion that something might be true for you but not for me. That may be accurate when describing why we prefer different foods or different music but not for ultimate issues. The law of gravity is not true just for me but not for you. And when it comes to God you can't have it both ways. God either exists for both of us or God doesn't exist at all. Both can't be true.
The really annoying problem with the truth, though, is that it is true. And things that are true put boundaries around us in ways we don't always like. Truth is stubborn. Truth has implications. The law of gravity dictates that we can't jump off buildings without consequence. Moral truths require us to control our behavior. Who wants that? Human beings don't seem to like anything that acts to impose restrictions on our behavior. Wasn't that Adam and Eve's problem with the apple?
Pontius Pilate nailed the key question: "What is truth?" Truth was up for grabs two thousand years ago, and it is up for grabs today. And, yes, it is a very important issue.
One of my guilty pleasures is collecting comic books from the 1950s and 1960s. I sometimes troll around eBay, seeking to reacquire that special comic I once owned fifty years back, long ago discarded
Excerpted from UNFINISHED by RICHARD E. STEARNS. Copyright © 2013 by World Vision. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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