Pilate’s famous question during his interview with Jesus—“What is truth?” (John 18:38)—likely voiced not an honest search for answers but a cynical resignation to the ultimate unknowability of truth. To be sure, most people long for insight and meaning by which to make sense of life. But the natural hostility of the human heart to God means that we are now “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil” (Westminster Confession of Faith 6.4). Apart from the regeneration and illumination of the Holy Spirit, people live “in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:17–18). Whatever longing for guidance and meaning we may experience, left to ourselves, when confronted with the truth of God, our reaction is not to embrace it joyfully but to dismiss it cynically. It is convenient to deny even the possibility of knowing any such thing as universally binding, absolute truth. Indeed, those who embrace the idea of absolute truth are often seen as objects of suspicion and fear.
Of course, the obvious moral judgments that lace such criticisms require a known moral standard by which to judge truth claims. The assertion that moral absolutes are dangerous and wrong is itself an assertion of a moral absolute. Moral sense without ultimate truth upon which to found it is an impossibility, and even the cynical non-Christian must presuppose some objective moral standard greater than himself simply to function in the world. Even in the denial, unbelievers are confronted with truth and thus are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The great tragedy of Pilate’s cynical question was that Truth Himself stood before him in the person of Jesus Christ. He had a direct audience with the One who proclaimed Himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), yet he did not see it. Could there be a clearer portrait of the universal spiritual blindness of which Paul spoke than this (see Rom. 1:18–32; Eph. 4:17–18)?
Yet for all whom God calls in the gospel, the truth of God made known in Christ becomes a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). When we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in Jesus, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). We are sanctified by the truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). When we confess that “God is a Spirit infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his . . . truth” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 4), we are acknowledging the scriptural assertion that God Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the True One, whose promises never fail and whose character is constant in holiness. We are affirming that the triune God is right and is Himself the standard by which rightness is measured. And, though our understanding of His truth will always be imperfect, by His enabling we can say that we know the truth and the truth has set us free (John 8:32).