Is Religious Truth Attainable?
IN Sweden a spiritually inquisitive man in the university town of Uppsala decided to study the beliefs of the different religions in his town, even visiting their places of worship. He listened as their clergy preached, and he interviewed some members. He noticed that only Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed convinced that they had “found the truth.” Considering the variety of religious opinions that exist, he wondered how the Witnesses could make such a claim.
Do you personally think that it is possible to attain to the truth regarding religion? Would it even be possible to determine what might be called the ultimate truth?
Philosophy and the Truth
Those who have studied philosophy have developed the view that the ultimate truth is not within mankind’s reach. You may know that philosophy has been defined as “the science that endeavors to explain the origin of existence and life.” In actual fact, though, it rarely goes that far. In Filosofins Historia (The History of Philosophy), Swedish author Alf Ahlberg wrote: “Many philosophical questions are of such a nature that it is not possible to give a definite answer to them. . . . Many people are of the opinion that all the metaphysical problems [relating to first principles of things] belong to this . . . group.”
Consequently, those who through philosophy have endeavored to find an answer to the vital questions of life have often ended up dissatisfied or in anguish. In his book Tankelinjer och trosformer (Lines of Thought and Religious Faith), Swedish author Gunnar Aspelin said: “One thing we see is that nature is no more interested in man than in the butterfly and the mosquito . . . We are powerless, absolutely powerless, in the face of those forces that play their game in the cosmos and in our inner world. This is the outlook on life that has so often appeared in literature toward the end of a century in which men have put their faith in progress and dreamed of a better future.”
Is a Revelation of Truth Needed?
It is obvious that human efforts alone have not succeeded in finding the truth about life, and it seems that they never will. There is good reason, then, to conclude that some kind of divine revelation is necessary. What many call the book of nature provides some revelation. Even if it does not give conclusive details about the origin of life, it does show that there is something far more satisfactory than a purely materialistic explanation of life. A blade of grass that grows upward actually follows laws other than those governing a pile of rocks in a crumbling hole. Living things in nature build and organize themselves in a way that dead things do not. A noted student of law and religion thus had a basis for concluding: “[God’s] invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made.”—Romans 1:20.
But in order to find out who is behind all this building and organizing, we need a further revelation. Should we not expect such a revelation to exist? Would it not be reasonable to expect that the One who is responsible for life on earth would reveal himself to his creatures?
The Bible claims to be such a revelation. In this magazine we have often presented good reasons for accepting this claim, and many thinking people have. That the men who wrote the Bible were anxious to make it clear that what they wrote was not their own is in itself quite remarkable. More than 300 times, we find the prophets of the Bible using such expressions as, “This is what Jehovah has said.” (Isaiah 37:33; Jeremiah 2:2; Nahum 1:12) You likely know that men and women who write books or articles are usually quite anxious to sign their works. Yet, those who wrote the Bible kept themselves in the background; in some cases it is difficult to determine who wrote certain parts of the Bible.
Another aspect of the Bible that you may find significant is its inner harmony. This is really remarkable, considering that the Bible’s 66 books were written over a period of 1,600 years. Suppose you went to a public library and chose 66 religious books that had been written over a period of 16 centuries. Then you had those individual books bound into one volume. Would you expect that volume to have a common theme and a harmonious message? Hardly. That would require a miracle. Consider this: The books of the Bible do have such a common theme, and they do corroborate one another. This demonstrates that there must be one mastermind, or author, who directed what the Bible writers recorded.
However, you will find a feature that proves the divine origin of the Bible more than anything else. Prophecies—information written in advance about what definitely would occur in the future. Expressions such as, “It must occur in that day” and, “It must occur in the final part of the days” are unique to the Bible. (Isaiah 2:2; 11:10, 11; 23:15; Ezekiel 38:18; Hosea 2:21-23; Zechariah 13:2-4) Many hundreds of years before Jesus Christ appeared on earth, prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures gave details about his life—from his birth to his death. No other reasonable conclusion can be reached than that the Bible is the source of the truth about life. Jesus himself confirms this with the words: “Your word is truth.”—John 17:17.
Religion and the Truth
Even many who profess faith in the Bible believe that absolute truth is not attainable. U.S. clergyman John S. Spong commented: “We must . . . move from thinking we have the truth and others must come to our point of view to the realization that ultimate truth is beyond the grasp of all of us.” A Roman Catholic author, Christopher Derrick, gives one reason for such negative views concerning finding truth: “Any mention of religious ‘truth’ implies some kind of claim to know . . . You imply that somebody else may possibly be wrong; and that would not do at all.”
As a thinking person, however, you would do well to consider some pertinent questions. If truth were not attainable, why would Jesus Christ say: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”? And why would one of Jesus’ apostles say that God’s will is that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth”? Why does the word “truth” occur over a hundred times in the Christian Greek Scriptures in connection with faith? Yes, why, if truth is unattainable?—John 8:32; 1 Timothy 2:3, 4.
Actually, Jesus not only pointed out that the truth is attainable but showed that finding it is required if our worship is to be approved by God. When a Samaritan woman wondered what the true form of worship was—the worship practiced by the Jews in Jerusalem or that practiced by the Samaritans on Mount Gerizim—Jesus did not answer by saying that truth is unattainable. Rather, he said: “True worshipers will worship the Father with spirit and truth, for, indeed, the Father is looking for suchlike ones to worship him. God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24.
Many people claim, ‘The Bible can be interpreted in various ways, so one cannot possibly be sure of what truth is.’ But is the Bible really written in such a vague way that you cannot be certain how it is to be understood? Granted, certain prophetic and symbolic language may be difficult to grasp. For example, God told the prophet Daniel that his book, containing much prophetic language, was not to be completely understood until “the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:9) And it is evident that certain parables and symbols need to be interpreted.
It is clear, though, that as to basic Christian teachings and moral values essential to worship of God in truth, the Bible is very straightforward. It leaves no room for conflicting interpretations. In the letter to the Ephesians, Christian faith is spoken of as being “one,” showing that there were not to be several faiths. (Ephesians 4:4-6) Perhaps you may wonder, ‘If the Bible cannot rightly be interpreted in many different ways, why are there so many different “Christian” denominations?’ We find the answer if we look back to the time shortly after Jesus’ apostles had died and an apostasy from the true Christian faith had developed.
‘The Wheat and the Weeds’
Jesus foretold this apostasy in his parable of the wheat and the weeds. Jesus himself explained that “the wheat” represents true Christians; “the weeds” represent false, or apostate, Christians. “While men were sleeping,” Jesus said, an “enemy” would sow weeds in the wheat field. This sowing began after the apostles had fallen asleep in death. The parable shows that this confusing of true Christians with false would continue until “the conclusion of the system of things.” Thus, throughout the centuries, the identity of true Christians has been obscured because the religious field has been dominated by those who are merely nominal Christians. However, at “the conclusion of the system of things,” a change would occur. “The Son of man” would “send forth his angels” to separate false Christians from true Christians. This meant that the Christian congregation would then be easy to recognize, having the status it had in the apostles’ time.—Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Both Isaiah’s and Micah’s prophecies foretell such a regathering of true worshipers “in the final part of the days.” Isaiah says: “It must occur in the final part of the days that the mountain of the house of Jehovah will become firmly established above the top of the mountains, and it will certainly be lifted up above the hills; and to it all the nations must stream. And many peoples will certainly go and say: ‘Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will instruct us about his ways, and we will walk in his paths.’” A clear-eyed look at the facts shows that Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled in our time.—Isaiah 2:2, 3; Micah 4:1-3.
The growth of the Christian congregation, though, is not occurring through some human effort. Jesus foretold that he would “send forth his angels” to do a gathering work. He also indicated a very special purpose for it: “At that time the righteous ones will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matthew 13:43) This shows that an enlightening, or educational, work would be performed worldwide by the Christian congregation.
Jehovah’s Witnesses see a fulfillment of these prophecies in the educational work that they are carrying out in 232 lands today. By comparing the Witnesses’ beliefs, standards of conduct, and organization with the Bible, unbiased people can clearly see that these harmonize with those of the first-century Christian congregation. The Witnesses speak of their faith as “the truth” but not out of some presumption of personal superiority. Instead, they do so because they have extensively studied God’s Word, the Bible, and they follow it as the only standard by which religion can rightly be measured.
The early Christians referred to their faith as “the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Peter 2:2; 2 John 1) What was truth for them must also be truth for us today. Jehovah’s Witnesses invite everyone to make sure of that for themselves by studying the Bible. We hope that by doing so you will also experience the joy that comes not only from having found a religion that surpasses others but from having found the truth!
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SOME PHILOSOPHIES VERSUS THE TRUTH
POSITIVISM: The view that all ideas of a religious nature are unverifiable nonsense and that the object of philosophy is to unite the positive sciences to form a whole.
EXISTENTIALISM: Its advocates were very much influenced by the horrors of World War II and therefore came to have a pessimistic view of life. It stresses examining man’s anguish in the face of death and the emptiness of life. Existentialist author Jean-Paul Sartre said that since there is no God, man is abandoned and exists in a universe that is absolutely indifferent.
SKEPTICISM: Holds that it is impossible through observation and reason to reach any objective, universal knowledge—any truth—about existence.
PRAGMATISM: Estimates the true worth of our convictions solely by their practical bearing on human interests, such as in reshaping education, morals, and politics. It does not consider that truth has any value in itself.
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Page 3: Second from left: Courtesy of The British Museum; Right: Sung Kyun Kwan University, Seoul, Korea