How Can We Know What Is True?

Time: 6 Minutes

In The Republic, the philosopher Plato tells a very famous story. It’s about a man and his friends chained to a low wall deep inside a dark cave. 

There’s a fire burning behind the wall. People walk back and forth between the fire and the barrier carrying objects which cast moving shadows against the back of the cave. The man and his friends can’t see anything else, so they discuss the shadows and invent stories to explain them.  

This is all they know of reality until one day when one of the men breaks free and makes his way to the fire, and eventually to the cave entrance. He finally encounters the real world.

Soon, however, he begins to wonder whether the rocks and trees lit by the sunlight are shadows of a greater reality. If his experience inside the cave was so inaccurate, maybe this new experience is artificial as well!

The question the story asks is, “How can we know what is really true?” 


What Is True?

Plato gives a complex answer to this question—one involving geometry and long-winded conversations between philosophers. Basically, he believed that we can reason our way to what is true. But can we?

Even if our chains are broken, so to speak, and we escape the cave, how do we get from our experiences and opinions to reality?   

The Bible’s answer is that we need revelation. Revelation just means something that is revealed or shown to us. Because this world was created by God, we can know something about him from the things we observe around us. We can experience and understand a lot about God’s character, creativity, and greatness. We can taste and see that he is good (Psalm 34:8).  

Just through observation and a bit of reason, Plato knew there had to be an ultimate source of truth and beauty and goodness. He came close, but he couldn’t know that source personally. 

This world points us to realities that we can’t fully comprehend without help. We might see order and beauty in the things around us and suspect that the world was designed by a good Creator, but we cannot know who that Creator is. 


Our Darkened Hearts

What’s more troubling is that we’re prone to lie to ourselves and to create false explanations for reality or even false gods to replace the true Creator. In Romans 1:20-23, we’re warned about this tendency:

For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they [humankind] are without excuse.For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 

Not only do we have a limited perspective, but we also have “darkened hearts.” We need to be shown the way out of the cave and beyond our experience to God himself. This is why God provided us with the Bible. 

The Bible is God’s self-revelation. And not only do we have the written Word, but we also have the Word that took on flesh in Jesus, as well as his Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s Truth. 


Our Map

The Bible is our map to truth. From the very beginning, God made himself known to people by speaking. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden. He spoke to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. God’s words and his dealings with men and women were retold, recorded, and collected into what is now called our Bible.  

The Bible’s testimony is trustworthy because God inspired it. 

Let’s look at the word inspired for a moment. 

We say that artists are inspired to paint pictures and musicians are inspired to compose songs. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we are told that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” This means that God is the one doing the inspiring or “breathing” of the Bible. God supplied the “creative juices” and guided the process and prepared the writers who then sat down to pen the words, not as robots, but as people motivated, shaped, and enabled by God. God also directed the process of choosing which books belong in the Bible, and he guides the translation of the Bible.

We can trust this map. It’s accurate and reliable because ultimately we trust God, who inspired it as a means of revealing himself to us.  


Our Destination

A map leads to a destination, and the destination the Bible leads us to is a person named Jesus. We are not like Plato struggling to climb beyond human experience to reach God. God came to us as a man (John 1:14)

We learn in the Bible that Jesus was fully God, but he didn’t cling to his equality with God or his heavenly position. He laid it aside and became a servant who obeyed God in every way, even to the point of dying on a cross. By doing this, Jesus made it possible for us to be reunited with God. God has given Jesus a name that is higher than any other, and God has said that someday we will all bow before Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11). 

This is our destination. Each of us will encounter Jesus. The only uncertainty is whether that encounter will be a joyful homecoming or the judgment of continued, painful exile. The Bible describes Jesus as the “true light.” We find these words in John’s Gospel:   

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:9-13 NIV)

We don’t have to scramble out of the cave on our own, because Jesus came to us. The light broke through the darkness. Jesus offers to remove our chains and to lead us to truth—that is, himself—and he is the way to be reconciled to God. We only need to trust him.


Our Guide

If the Bible is our map and Jesus is our destination, the Holy Spirit is our guide (John 14:16, 26). 

In 1 Peter 1:10-12, God tells us that, through the Holy Spirit, the prophets predicting Jesus’ coming. The Holy Spirit also proclaims Jesus wherever the good news is spoken (John 15:26). The Spirit is constantly pointing us in the right direction and correcting us when we lose our way. The Holy Spirit provides the compass and flashlight that we need to read the map and to see our destination.  

Plato’s story is just a story, but it makes us stop and wonder. How do we know what is really true? 

If you’re asking that question, you aren’t stranded in the cave of your own experiences, opinions, or speculation. There’s a light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5). A map leading us to our destination. A Guide to accompany us along the way. 

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Will you cry out to Jesus, ask him to take your hand, and lead you out of the darkness and into reality today 

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