Contemplations about the Nature of Truth
Humanity has grappled with the question about the nature of truth for millennia — probably for its entire history. Verbal and physical wars have been fought over what is truth. Groups and individuals like to believe they are right in what they believe the truth is and consider those that see things differently as wrong. So can anyone know what is truth?
A story is told about five blind men who encountered an elephant. One touched the beast’s leg and concluded that the animal was like a tree trunk. Another touched the ear and thought the animal was like a fan. The third handled its tail and felt that the animal was like a rope. The last two men came to yet other conclusions. Who was right? They all were, even though they all contradicted each other. They each simply had only a part of the whole truth. Human understanding of truth is relative to and limited by individual beliefs. We all only see a tiny aspect of the picture – perhaps comparable to a handful of dirt from a tall mountain!
Grasping the truth about life can be compared to watching a photograph in the developing process or putting together a jigsaw puzzle – it is always a little here and a little there. Only when enough aspects of the whole have emerged, one can get an idea of the picture. Aspects of truth are the same – the more pieces we understand, the clearer our picture is. Even then, however, it is only a picture – an approximation in words and concepts – and not the total reality which cannot be described or even fully experienced in this life.
Truth as perceived from our limited human perspective is often full of paradoxes – seeming contradictions and logical impossibilities. However, spiritual truths do not have to follow human logic – God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and the universe functions according a different, divine, logic (cf. Bible, Isaiah 55:8-9). Scientists have recognized paradoxes even in the physical universe and developed the concept of quantum logic, realizing that everything is indeed relative to human perspective.
Through their faculties as well as through inspiration, humans can discover much truth for themselves. It is a process of exploring, observation, thinking, reasoning, and thereby growing in knowledge, understanding and wisdom. At any time, certain things are considered to be true, but the understanding may change as time goes on. A classical example is the belief held for centuries, that the earth was flat, as well as being the centre of the universe. And certainly from the human perspective it seemed to be so. A broader and higher perspective, however, changed all that. So truth is always a matter of perspective.
Therefore, if others see things differently from ourselves, even in the opposite way to how we perceive them, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that their perception and perspective is not necessary wrong, but rather another aspect of the total, humanly unfathomable, ocean of truth from which we each experience just a drop or two. And perhaps we can even learn from them and gain a richer understanding ourselves.
I found the following paraphrase about peace, truth, and paradox meaningful:
Peace, the Hebrew shalom, means wholeness and completeness. Peace is not when all agree, for this is impossible. It is the ability to realise that all the various perspectives, even if contradictory, are only partial perspectives of the whole picture. The truth is greater than the sum of those parts. The path to paradise is really paradox and we need to make peace with the apparent conflict. One perspective can never be the be-all and end-all for understanding the ultimate truthand therefore should not be taken too seriously – though it is a partialaccurate view of reality. From a higher perspective, it will realised that there were no contradictions, but rather different perspectives of one complete truth.
Some ideas were adapted from: Rabbi David Aaron, The Secret Life of God: Discovering the Divine Within You.
Here are some pithy quotes about truth.
With time, we may explore such themes as
- Relative truth versus absolute truth
- Our beliefs versus reality
- Beliefs and culture
- Discovery and revelation
- Development of religions: Christianity
- Sacred texts – the Bible
- Religion and spirituality