I grew up at a time when the authorities in my life—most of whom were kind, gentle and loving toward not just myself, but to nearly all they engaged—spoke of “truth” with propositional certainty. Themselves shaped by the Enlightenment’s dissolution of mystery and necessity for observable proof.
At the same time, I found myself amidst a generation who questioned the very reality of anything certain. Ourselves carried upon the waning tide of a postmodern rebuttal which would maroon us upon unknown shore. Is truth sure or is it relative? Is that even the right question?
I am no philosopher, so for those more aptly bent that direction, please both forgive my lack of sophistication and consider the entirety of my discourse before checking-out. While I claim ignorance, it is not from lack of familiarity. Rather, there is a question that has jabbed at my endeavors for knowledge, tirelessly elbowing me in the side as I wrestle with and for truth.
The question comes from the stories of faith I inherited. One story in particular comes to mind, one of Jesus with his friends the night before he would die, imploring them to love one another and to be united together with he and his Father as he sent them someone to help them do so. Here, in the midst of a strolling conversation, Jesus makes a statement that has poked at my pursuits:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
“The way” I get; a path to follow. “the life” I understand; breath in my lungs, temporal and eternal. But “the truth”, what is that? And more importantly, how is Jesus the truth?
The issue that caused both propositional certainty and philosophical relativity to never settle within me was the very nature of Jesus himself as truth. I seriously doubt that Jesus was saying he was truth that could be read and recited to win an argument as the opportunity arises. Nor was Jesus claiming himself as a disembodied truth as his correction of Philip in the verses that follow indicate.
There was something profoundly different about Jesus as truth, an incarnation of what is true. After all, even the beloved John recognized that the propositional correctness came through Moses but grace and truth through Jesus (Jn. 1:17).
Could the truth then be captured in a way of life? Between way and life quite literally! Did Jesus haphazardly throw out this claim of being “the truth”? Even the least religious in history, while dismissing the miraculous, have nonetheless acknowledged the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching and his positive contribution to the progression of humanity. And, those that followed Jesus called him “rabbi”, a title only for the learned, and were amazed at his teaching. Such descriptions are not for one who was prone to flippancy.
So why include truth in his claim? Perhaps truth was to be ascertained not through experimental proofing nor (semi-) independent proclamations; but rather through living truth.
The apostle Paul has helped me think of truth differently, even in the middle of my generational tug-of-war. He offers an often misappropriated exhortation in his letter to the Ephesians. He says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love,” and a few verses later again we are all to “speak the truth with his neighbor.”
When truth is propositional, we define it as simply speaking what is true; the dogmas and doctrines which are so dear but rarely described as full of life. When truth is relative, we read only an affront to our own sense of truth or the others we are talking with; so a speech with little energy to aid in our humanity.
Yet the truth Paul expounds in the chapters preceding is relational: who we are in relation to, namely Jesus, and …what Jesus has done in order that we might relate to him, to the Father, to one another and even the world we inhabit. Likewise the truth that Paul illustrates in the chapters proceeding is immediately relational: how we live with one another as neighbors, spouses, families, co-workers…in Jesus.
There is a somewhat common but modernly forgotten translation of Paul’s exhortation that I think captures the lived truth I am advocating. It reads: “truthing in love”. The idea captured here is a life of truth, and life inevitably includes speaking, but not solely so.
Paul is saying what Jesus said of himself, that there is a way of living that is true. A truth in relationship. After all, was Jesus’ strolling conversation that fateful evening not all about relations?
Truth is relational if not relative! Embodied and observed, not just argued. Accessible in relationship. A way of living in relationship that takes into account the manifold wisdom and forgiving of one another, eternal purposes and mutual submission.
Perhaps your pursuit of truth, like my own, might best be discovered between way and life. In the relationship between the path of following Jesus and the ordinary stuff of today and tomorrow which he invades. Maybe truth will become something more mysterious than a statement and yet more physical than a philosophy. A living truth.
 Peter T. O’Brien. The letter to the Ephesians, 311.