You may have observed what Steven Pinker has dubbed the "euphemism treadmill." A euphemism is the substitution of a mild or vague expression for one that is perceived to be blunt or offensive (for example, the replacement of "to die" with "to pass away"). The euphemism treadmill is the process by which, over time, a common euphemism becomes so identified with the word it has replaced that it loses any power to shield from offense. One example cited by Wikipedia as an illustration is the phrase "concentration camp." This euphemism was originally used by the British in the early twentieth century to make a camp of civilian prisoners sound mundane. During the Second World War, the phrase became so inseparably linked to the Nazi death camps that it lost all euphemistic value.
Philosophers have a way of discussing truth in abstraction. Such discussions are helpful and do have their place, but they are often out of the average person's reach. The impression often given is that knowing truth is a complicated matter. In other discussions, truth seems equally unknowable.
The Bible is a book that thankfully does not argue its case for truth purely at the philosophical level. Yet it offers answers to the very questions that human beings cannot escape: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? The Bible compels our attention because it addresses issues of real life in the structure of a story and a historical setting. It begins its exposition by assuming the existence of God in its opening words. If we, therefore, turn to the Bible for addressing issues of truth, we will find ourselves facing the God of Scripture!
In such a quest, it is appropriate to examine the words the Bible uses to describe the idea of truth. Notably, the Hebrew words for truth, faith, and faithfulness all spring from the same root. This particular association of words immediately suggests important connections that we cannot afford to ignore. Truth is not just the characteristic of a statement or proclamation; it is the character of the very being of God. "Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies" proclaims the psalmist in 36:5. God is true because He is faithful to his Word and the character He has revealed. And rightly, we relate to Him by being faithful to his call to draw near.
This language study quickly demonstrates the tremendous moral and practical implications for words that are to be understood beyond conceptual and cerebral terms. The Hebrew shows no dichotomy between belief and behavior; the believability of God's objective truth revealed by Him and through his Word is matched by his moral behavior, which is equally trustworthy. At the same time, we can see that the New Testament writers are straining to express something of truth that is not simply conceptual, but reflects the total character of God and those who believe in Him. Hence, Paul's use of the Greek word "pistis" goes well beyond simple belief, but also describes a response on the basis of belief.
Scripture brings to light a quality of truth that is all too often lost in abstract discussions or in popular gnostic descriptions. Truth at the conceptual and content level must not be separated from truth at the practical level; the objective and verifiable must always be set alongside the existential and experiential. In other words, the answers we seek to questions of truth must satisfy our hearts even as they stimulate our minds.
The truth of God's being and character is far more than a set of creedal principles. This truth can transform our lives in terms of a loving and free relationship. From this God and his Word, we can receive true answers to the questions that are inherently raised within us. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? The answers God provides us are simple enough for a little child to understand and yet so profound that the deepest quest of the most sophisticated philosopher can be satisfied.
L.T. Jeyachandran is executive director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.
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