The Vital Difference Between Truth and Reality

In our culture, words like “truth,” “lie,”fact,” and “error,” are used on a constant basis.  These words are heard in the news, in the classroom, at the job, in church, and in the courtroom.  We insist on seeing the evidence and getting to the bottom of things.  This desire for a clear understanding of the facts or of the truth is found in both the secular and religious world.  In fact, it’s often a disagreement over the “facts” that causes irreconcilable differences between Christians and atheists, christians and other christians, creationists and evolutionists, or scientists and other scientists.  

While there are undoubtedly some important disagreements around “the facts,” I’d like to contend (along with the philosopher and sociologist Jacques Ellul) that the disagreements that exist in our society aren’t as much a result of inaccurate “facts” as they are a result of a fundamental confusion between the concepts of “truth” and “reality.”  This confusion is a product of the Scientific Age.  

Scientism, the belief that the only things that have merit are the things that we can “observe, measure, and repeat,” is pervasive in our culture.  The result is that everything that depends on words for explanation is looked down upon, while everything that can be seen (photos, videos, artifacts, repeatable research) is prioritized and given legitimacy.  The priority given to the visible even influences how people read the Bible.  Instead of seeking to understand the meaning of a passage or the moral lesson, emphasis is often placed on the literal reading of the text.  Looking at Biblical texts literally, as if they were science reports, can result in missing the primary purpose of the texts.  

Here’s the kicker, reality, that which can be seen, touched, or heard, has no meaning without truth.  Truth is the realm of the spoken word, the realm of meaning, purpose, love, faith, hope.  These are the spiritual aspects of life that can never be proven with a scientific experiment.  Truth and reality exist side by side.  Truth gives value to reality.  The realm of truth (which can be contaminated by lies, hate, doubt) also has a powerful impact on the real world.  For example, when we care about someone, that care can be seen and felt by others.  On rare occasions truth and reality fully intersect, like when Jesus came to earth, “the Word made flesh,” or when God’s kingdom comes “on earth as it is in heaven.” 

At this point, you might be wondering what “truth versus reality” has to do with health.  Well, to start with, the emphasis on reality is part of the reason the health industry is so focused on image, rather than holistic health.  The health goal portrayed by the media is that we should look like super models and that we should live a really long time.  Hardly anything is said about quality of life, spiritual well-being, or overall health down to the cellular level.  Mainstream health is all about getting “ripped,” having “a six pack,” “looking young,” or completing some obstacle course race for bragging rights on social media.  

Then there’s the lack of purpose in the health movement.  And what’s the point of having good physical health if you don’t have some greater spiritual purpose in life?  Purpose is something that doesn’t come from the physical world (reality) or science — it’s something that comes from belief or faith, which belong to the realm of truth.  According to the scriptures, abundant life comes from living with a purpose.  We were created to live freely and to live in God’s love! 

The next time you here someone talking about “truth,” ask yourself, “are they really talking about truth or facts?” If what they’re talking about gives meaning to the world around us, then they’re discussing something within the realm of truth.  If what they’re saying merely describes the world around us, then they’re just providing facts.  

For further reading on truth versus reality, I highly recommend The Humiliation of the Word by Jacques Ellul.

 

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Originally posted 2013-09-16 20:38:41.

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