Welcome to the first installment of "Philosophy Fridays!" In the interest of all of our very precious blog time, let's get right down to it.
"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate's words as recounted by St. John (18:36) tell us just as much about the man who asked them, and are just as much a searching of his own troubled heart, as they are about the God-man, Jesus Christ, who stood accused before him. Pilate, in his questioning of the accused and the accusers (the Jews), became even more troubled when, after he had Christ scourged, found out exactly why the Jews were so violently adamant about having this seemingly innocent man not only scourged and publicly humiliated but executed in a way reserved for the most horrible of criminals: crucifixion; "by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God. When Pilate heard these words he was even more afraid" (John 19:7-8).
Catholic Professor and Theologian Peter Kreeft, in his recent book Jesus Shock, retells a story by the Chinese Christian writer Watchman Nee that I think captures the properly ordered relationship between fact, faith, and feelings and what happens when that relationship gets out of whack:
Fact, Faith, and Feeling are three men walking on a wall. Fact goes first, Faith second, and Feeling third. As long as Faith keeps his eyes ahead on Fact, all three stay on the wall and make progress. But as soon as Faith takes his eyes off Fact and turns around to see how Feeling is doing, Faith falls off the wall, and Feeling follows, while Fact walks on."The point is obvious," Kreeft adds, "the object of our faith is not feeling but fact, not subjective experience but objective truth." That, in a nutshell, is what it's all about.
Whether it is pop psychology, science, or what I like to call "feel good faith," the world offers so many ways (and so-called experts) to boost that subjective experience by giving us temporary, here-and-now answers, but do any of them ultimately satisfy our deepest longing for that eternal, outside-ourselves Truth?
Well, let's look at it with another analogy. Imagine a play. The key actors, in the hundredth or two hundredth casting and finding themselves somewhat removed from the original casting of the play, begin to wonder what the point of the play was in the first place. Why was it written? What message was it meant to convey? In other words, what is the point? Assuming the playwright/producer/director is still alive and very much active in the play, although not in a way that the actors can explicitly perceive, wouldn't it make sense for the actors to take those questions to him? What if they didn't? What if they instead began to ask the question of each other (through speculation), of the set (nature), or even of the script (history) that has been lined out, crossed through, and highlighted in odd places by previous performers? Could they reliably turn to any of these sources for the answer to the question that only the author himself can answer?
That turning inward and refusal to take the question to the author (and take his word for it--literally, since he sent his Word to us in the flesh) is exactly what we do when we refuse to take our longing to God and instead fill the desire that he leaves with other "stuff." We substitute our own limited experience, perceptions, thoughts, etc. that leave us unsatisfied--our "truth"--for the Truth that never fails to satisfy.
Pilate probably didn't realize that the question he asked, he may as well have asked on behalf of an entire human race desperate to know the Truth. He probably also didn't realize that the Truth was right there, standing right before him, who had already declared that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6). His question had already been answered, and in a manner so generously, infinitely inconceivable that it could only be perceived with the eyes of faith and not feelings or the senses.
To be continued in Part Two.