A View of Truth

Neal A. Maxwell
(The Smallest Part, p.4-6)

We live in an age that is flooded with facts and issues, big and small. But, ironically, in some respects men are, as never before, ". . . ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth," or of the real issues. The poet, e. e. cummings, described one view of learning when he wrote: "All ignorance toboggans into know and trudges up to ignorance again," a process which would be a reflection of futility as much as humility. Much of the flood flowing from the frontiers of knowledge is very valuable, but in the deluge of data there are also many insignificant truths. There are also isolate truths which are, in many respects, like the isolate individual-- both wander in perpetual search of companionship and meaning. Some research is actually undertaken in reaction to the human condition-- not to alleviate it. President John R. Silber of Boston University has observed:

"One can forget the meaninglessness of his own existence by occupying himself with scientific experiments of dubious import. Countless scientists and scholars spend their lives in the search of truths that are irrelevant to them."

Something can be both true and unimportant. Therefore, just as there are, in Jesus' words, "the weightier matters of the law," there are "weightier" truths! We must not only distinguish between fact and fancy, but know which facts are worthy of fealty.

The gospel of Jesus calls our attention to the reality that there is an aristocracy among truths; some truths are simply and everlastingly more significant than others! In this hierarchy of truths are some which illuminate both history and the future and which give to men a realistic view of themselves-- a view that makes all the difference in the world.

In this context, one can see how being "learned" (by simply indiscriminately stockpiling a silo of truths) is not necessarily the same thing as being wise, for wisdom is the distillation of data-- not merely its collection and storage.

So far as is known, the question Pilate put to Jesus, apparently without expecting the Savior to answer—  "What is truth?"— has been answered only once: the Lord later said, ". . . truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come." Truth is a knowledge of reality of "things." Some realities are transitory and inconsequential; some realities maintain themselves everlastingly, or longitudinally, over vast spans of time. In the hierarchy of truth, therefore, some truths describe those realities which persist from age to age—which are more significant than fleeting facts. A knowledge of such central realities as the existence of God and his presiding and purposeful role in the universe, the great rescue mission of his Son Jesus Christ, and of man's co-eternality with our Heavenly Father is sovereign sense! Other gradations of truth reflect knowledge of those things which are often important, but passing and proximate.

In point of value, longitudinal truth, when compared to truth which reflects reality as it exists in only a portion of one of the three great time zones—past, present, and future—is like the Bible when it is compared with the single issue of a newspaper. Telephone directories are useful, but inevitably obsolescent reflections of reality. Many of us still store in our memories old phone numbers, and veterans usually know their military service serial number. These are once useful but now useless facts.

Knowing how, through the process of irrigation, land can be made more productive is actually very useful—proximately—but in terms of ultimate utility, man's need to know about soils does not compare in importance with that knowledge which concerns souls!