“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Thus begins the second paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, stirring words worth fighting for.
But did the framers of these words fully believe these “self evident truths?” After all, “men” did not appear to include women, who certainly weren’t considered to have those same rights (liberty), not to mention the growing slave population. This is an example of why, when we speak of truth, we also have to speak of context.
The sun revolves around the earth. This was a self evident truth until not that long ago, the 1500s, when Copernicus thought otherwise. Throughout most of history, for crops to grow, rain to fall and healthy children to be born, blood sacrifices had to be offered to gods. This was accepted truth in other times and contexts.
Philosophy, religion and science, along with our ever-evolving understanding of what is real and how the world works, have completely changed our context and altered what we define as truth. This is why all of us must speak with humility before the vast mystery of life.
Be careful about those who loudly and arrogantly proclaim to “know” the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We still have a lot to learn, much to explore. There is objective truth, but in our finite understanding, what we think is true is subject to change.
If something is genuinely true and can be totally relied upon, then it is true all the time and it is true everywhere. Science discovers and faith reveals, and both are in search of truth. Importantly, both are better when using words like “Right now, in this context, I believe this to be true.”
And so I share what I believe to be true:
- God has come uniquely among us in Jesus who is full of grace and truth.
- You can’t go wrong (and you’ll be helpful) if you speak the truth in love.
- I cannot always be certain about what is true, but I can usually sense what is loving.
- Love will always win, though it may take awhile.
To me, and to countless others, these truths are self evident — and enough to go on.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Coates is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at 770-534-7354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.