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Truth is the Way

Truth is the Way

By Soren Kierkegaard

See Also:
Two Ways of Reflection

Truth is not something you can appropriate easily and quickly. You certainly cannot sleep or dream yourself into the truth. No, you must be tried, do battle, and suffer if you are to acquire truth for yourself.

It is a sheer illusion to think that in relation to truth there is an abridgment, a short cut that dispenses with the necessity of struggling for it. With respect to acquiring truth to live by, every generation and every individual must essentially begin from the beginning.

What is truth, and in what sense was Christ the truth? The first question, as is well known, was asked by Pilate (Jn. 18:38), and it is doubtful whether he ever really cared to have his question answered. Pilate asks Christ, "What is truth?" That it did not occur to Pilate that Christ was the truth demonstrates precisely that he had no eye at all for truth. Christ's life was the truth (Jn. 14:6). To this end was Christ born, and for this purpose did he come into the world, that he should bear witness to the truth.

What, then, is the fundamental confusion in Pilate's question? It consists in this, that it occurred to him to question Christ in this way; for in questioning Christ he actually denounced himself; he revealed that Christ's life had not illumined him. How could Christ enlighten Pilate with words when Pilate could not see through Christ's own life what truth is!

Pilate's question is extremely foolish. Not that he asks, "What is truth?" but that he questions Christ, he whose life is expressly the truth and who at every moment demonstrates more powerfully by his life what truth is than all the most profound lectures of the cleverest thinkers.

Though it makes perfect sense to ask any other person, a thinker, a teacher, or whoever, "What is truth?" to ask Christ this it is the greatest possible confusion. Obviously Pilate is of the opinion that Christ is just a man, like everyone else.

Poor Pilate! Pilate's question is the most foolish and confusing question ever asked by man. It is as if I were to ask someone standing right before me, "Do you exist?" How can that person reply? So also with Christ in relation to Pilate.

Christ is the truth. "If my life," he might say, "cannot open your eyes to what truth is, then what can I say? For I am the truth."

As with Pilate, in our day Christ as the truth has also been abolished: we take Christ's teaching – but abolish Christ. We want truth the easy way. This is to abolish truth, for Christ the teacher is more important than the teaching. Just as Christ's life, the fact that he lived here on earth, is vastly more important than all the results of his life, so also is Christ infinitely more
important than his teaching.

Christ is the truth in the sense that to be the truth is the only true explanation of it; the only true way of acquiring it. Truth is not a sum of statements, not a definition, not a system of concepts, but a life. Truth is not a property of thought that guarantees validity to thinking. No, truth in its most essential character is the reduplication of truth within yourself, within me, within him. Your life, my life, his life expresses the truth in the striving. Just as the truth was a life in Christ, so too, for us truth must be lived.

Therefore, truth is not a matter of knowing this or that but of being in the truth. Despite all modern philosophy, there is an infinite difference here, best seen in Christ's response to Pilate. Christ did not know the truth but was the truth. Not as if he did not know what truth is, but when one is the truth and when the requirement is to be in the truth, to merely "know" the truth is insufficient – it is an untruth. For knowing the truth is something that follows as a matter of course from being in the truth, not the other way around. Nobody knows more of the truth than what he is of the truth. To properly know the truth is to be in the truth; it is to have the truth for one's life.

This always costs a struggle. Any other kind of knowledge is a falsification. In short, the truth, if it is really there, is a being, a life. The Gospel says that this is eternal life, to know the only true God and the one whom he sent, the truth (Jn. 17:3). That is, I only know the truth when it becomes a life in me.

Truth is not a deposit of acquired knowledge, the yield. This might have been if Christ had been, for example, a teacher of truth, a thinker, one who made a discovery. But Christ is the way as well as the truth. His teaching is infinitely superior to all the inventions of any and every age, an eternity older and an eternity higher than all systems, even the very newest. His teaching is the truth – not in terms of knowledge, but in the sense that the truth is a way – and as the God-man he is and remains the way; something that no human being, however zealously he professes that the truth is the way, dare assert of himself without blasphemy.

Christ compares truth to food and appropriating it to eating it (Jn. 6:48–51). Just as food is appropriated (assimilated) and thereby becomes the sustenance of life, so also spiritually, truth
is both the giver and the sustenance of life. It is life.

Therefore one can see what a monstrous mistake it is to impart or represent Christianity by lecturing. The truth is lived before it is understood. It must be fought for, tested, and appropriated. Truth is the way. And when the truth is the way, then the way cannot be shortened or drop out unless the truth itself is distorted or drops out.

Is this not too difficult to understand? Anyone will easily understand it if he just gives himself to it.

Source Credit: The Kierkegaard quote is taken from Provocations, Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard, compiled and edited by Charles E. Moore, Plough Publishing, Copyright 2002.

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