We Don’t Hold the Truth, The Truth Holds Us

Answering, "Who are you to claim you’ve got the one truth for everyone?"

By Tom Gilson Published on November 2, 2017

Arrogance in action: That’s how a lot of people view Christianity these days. “Who are you to claim you’ve got the one truth for everyone?” Their charge against us would be right — if we really thought our truth was true for everyone. Then we would be arrogant indeed. But we don’t. In fact, when we say, “I know the truth,” we’re taking a stance of humility. 

That statement might surprise some people, I know. It’s common in our culture for people to develop their own personal truths about religion and ethics. They build their truths to fit themselves, to make sense for themselves. These “truths” are personal truths. They belong to that one person, so it would be wrong to impose them on others.

But Christians don’t see it that way at all. Our truth is not our own; it’s not personal truth. We don’t create it for ourselves. It’s a reality to be discovered. It’s truth that holds true whether we like it or not. Christians don’t own the truth, we submit to it.

Christians don’t own the truth, we submit to it.

Which Is More Arrogant?

And which is more arrogant: to think we can build our own personal truth, or to submit humbly to one that’s bigger than ourselves?

“But you must have an open mind!” say some. G.K. Chesterton, one of the most sparkling writers of the 20th century, answered that this way: “The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.”

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I’ll illustrate what I’m saying from the life of C.S. Lewis. A firm atheist, he was at Oxford when he decided to study the evidence for God. It led him in a direction he did not choose:

“You must picture me alone in [my] room … night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet… That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me … I gave in and admitted that God was God and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

There was no arrogance in that. There was giving in and admitting. He submitted to something greater than himself.

Contrast that with the idea that we can all develop our own truth. Isn’t that awfully bold? Isn’t it spitting in the face of reality? Isn’t that like saying, “Hey, Reality, step aside! It’s up to me to decide what’s true and what isn’t!”

Who’s being arrogant here?

Christians know that we are constrained by reality. Though we don’t always put it this way, we don’t believe we hold the truth. We believe the truth holds us.

Against the Currents of the Age

It would be so simple to ride with the flow of the age, to relax and let go of the truth about abortion, gay marriage, sexual freedom and so on. We can’t. If we bow before the truth, we must be led by it, even if doing that costs us.

“The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid.” — Chesterton

I have spent years studying viewpoints contrary to Christianity. I continue to find that God’s word is solid and nourishing, and ultimately makes more sense than the alternatives. The truth holds me. As Martin Luther said (or was reported to say, at least), “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” (“Here I stand, I can do no other.”)

Recognizing What We Know and Don’t Know

Honestly, I wish the truth held me more. No Christian practices it fully, even as far as he or she understands it. None of us grasps it all. Even the simple commands, to love God fully and to love our neighbor as ourselves, have a depth beyond reaching.

And we don’t always know how to apply it. Our age has come up with new questions that require us to work out anew how God’s word applies. Issues like genetic engineering, genocide, end-of-life decisions and global environmental issues. 

These are all reasons for humility. But we do know the basics. We do see what’s really there. It would arrogant for us to deny that. I’m reminded again of Chesterton: “What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place,” he says.

Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason.

He’s encouraging believers to be confident of the truth we know.

A Very Good Truth

Now if we’re submitting to the truth, does that mean we’re stuck in some dark corner where there’s no freedom to move? Not at all! C.S. Lewis also wrote of Joy (he always capitalized it) that led him toward Christ and flowed out of his relationship with God.

The truth in Christ is not some cold, abstract principle, but a Person of infinite love and grace. The Bible tells us to “speak the truth in love,” and clearly implies that we should smile when we speak it.

We can smile because we’re inviting people to encounter reality. Not their own reality, but real reality.  For it is what it is, not what anyone makes it up to be.

And it is a very good reality we’re inviting all to see, to acknowledge and to enter into. We’re inviting all to let go of your made-up “truths,” and let this real truth, this good truth, hold you.


Adapted from an article originally published at Thinking Christian. Used by permission.

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