What Is Truth?

When the Savior stood before Pontius Pilate, accused of treason, He explained to the Roman governor that His kingdom was not about worldly power:

To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice (John 18:37).

In response, the governor replied disdainfully, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

In a world of conflicting voices, it’s easy to become frustrated in our search to know the truth. If we’re not careful, that frustration can crystalize into cynicism. We can begin to doubt whether it is possible to know the truth. We might even wonder whether there is such a thing as objective reality.

Unscrupulous people try to foment that kind of cynicism in order to manipulate us. Consider the following:

  • Sherem: “No man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come” (Jacob 7:7).
  • Korihor: “Behold, ye cannot know of things which ye do not see; therefore ye cannot know that there shall be a Christ” (Alma 30:15).

The strategy is simple: convince your audience that there is no objective reality or at least that they have no hope of detecting it, in hopes that they will abandon their search for truth.

In 1833, Joseph Smith received by revelation a concise definition of truth:

And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24).

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Jacob provided a similar definition:

The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be (Jacob 4:13).

In a way, it seems strange to define truth. It’s such a simple concept: It’s just the way things are. But in a world where the concept of objective truth is regularly attacked, it is sometimes important to return to first principles.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson has warned that moral relativism, which he defined as “the view that ethical or moral truths…depend on the attitudes and feelings of those who hold them” can cause us to ignore our conscience.

He described his own experience as the law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, who presided over the trial of the Watergate burglars and who ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over his recordings of relevant White House conversations. As President Nixon’s involvement in the crime and subsequent cover-up became clearer, Elder Christofferson wondered how the president had allowed this to happen.

He concluded the following:

The life lesson I took away from this experience was that my hope for avoiding the possibility of a similar catastrophe in my own life lay in never making an exception—always and invariably submitting to the dictates of conscience. Putting one’s integrity on hold, even for seemingly small acts in seemingly small matters, places one in danger of eventually losing the benefit and protection of conscience altogether. I’m sure that some have “gotten away with it,” in the sense that they acted dishonestly or illegally in business or professional or political life and have never been made to account (at least in this life). But a weak conscience, and certainly a numbed conscience, opens the door for “Watergates,” be they large or small, collective or personal—disasters that can hurt and destroy both the guilty and the innocent (“Truth Endures,” Address to CES Religious Educators, 26 January 2018).

Today, I will continue my search to know the truth. I will recognize that there is an objective reality, independent of the opinions and arguments which I read and hear. I will not allow the confusion in the world to prevent me from following my conscience and working diligently to identify and understand the truth.

4 thoughts on “What Is Truth?

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  1. 4th verse of hymn 272…

    Then say, what is truth? ’Tis the last and the first, For the limits of time it steps o’er. Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst, Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst, Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

    >

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