Graph showing the relationship between truth and fact, and where various works fall on it.
Truth vs Facts
The Search for Meaning in Life
by Waitsel Smith
Regardless of our faith, most of us wonder why things aren't working better, why we aren't being more effective, why life isn't more meaningful. Like Gideon, we think that maybe, just maybe, God has forsaken us. Maybe we won't even end up in Heaven. Didn't Jesus say, "He who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father?" (John 14:12) Maybe we really don't believe in Christ because we certainly aren't doing greater works than He did. So, what's wrong?
I believe the problem lies in our misunderstanding of the nature of truth. We believe that truth is the same thing as facts. After all, when a person is sworn into court, don't they ask him, "Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" That certainly sounds to me like the court is asking him for facts, not his views on God and theology. So, why do they call it truth?
The fact is, truth and facts are not the same thing. The ancients knew this. Jesus knew it. As a matter of fact, everyone knew it up until the last century or two. (See my article, "Origin of the Word 'Story.'") You can be as factual as you like, and still be lying; and you can create a wonderful work of fiction, and still be telling the truth. So, how is this possible, and why is it important?
We live in a world that is actually two worlds in one: there is a physical world, and there is a parallel spiritual one. Heaven is not someplace "up there." In the Bible, angels are never said to "come down" when they visit people; they "appear." That's because they are already in the room with the person they were sent to visit; all they do is make themselves visible and audible. We are living in a world full of spirit beings, yet we don't even realize it. We act like God is "out there somewhere," when really He is closer than our very breath.
I contend that the reason miracles happen is because of the difference between truth and facts; and the reason they don't happen is our failure to discern that difference. Truth is something which cannot be seen, and yet is real; facts are things that can be seen. It takes faith to believe in truth; it takes nothing to believe in facts but a good set of eyes.
The reason I know this is because a novel is a work of fiction, yet it can contain more truth than any fact-based book except the Bible. No one knows if the parables Jesus told were fact or fiction; yet never have stories contained more truth. At the same time, I can tell all the facts involved in a particular situation; but if I want to deceive someone, I can misconstrue them to produce a lie. The devil, the world and even our own flesh do this all the time.
Think of fact as a light bulb, and truth as the light it produces. The light bulb is a physical object that you can touch and is confined to a certain space. But the light is something else entirely. Jesus had a physical body that was confined to a certain space. But His life of Truth was totally unconfined: it has touched billions and billions of lives.
Let me give you an example that is one of the great tragedies of our times. Jesus said that when a man lusts after a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28) So, when a man uses pornography, he is committing adultery, according to Christ. Nothing about the man's experience is factual; yet to him, it is as real as if he had actually taken someone to bed. That is the power of the human mind.
Sin does not have to occur in the physical world to be real; it can happen in the mind and heart alone. Facts, on the other hand, are bound by the physical universe. Otherwise, they are fiction. Fiction is something that may have a basis in fact, but did not actually occur in the way it has been described. It was made up by a storyteller. But that work of fiction can contain great truths, like the ones in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Even though Scrooge never lived, the story of his redemption is as real and true as if he had. Yet if he had, A Christmas Carol would not be any more memorable.
This is why stories are so powerful. It is truth, not facts, that make them so. When I hear someone say that a story does not matter because it never happened, I scratch my head. How many times have people tried to defend Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code by saying, "Why is everyone so upset. It's only fiction!" Or William Young's The Shack with, "It's just a novel!" Like the example of the porn addict, the human mind does not know the difference between fact and fiction. It thinks what it's reading is real, which is what makes it so engaging. If you want to convince someone of a lie, put it in a novel... or a movie.
I love the theory of relativity. It proves that facts are relative. Everything in the physical universe is constantly changing: the weather, people's ages, even the size of the universe. The only things that seem to stay the same are the things we have imposed artificial constructs on - like the number of hours in a day, days in a week, or weeks in a year. We say that a year has 365 days; but about every four years, we have to add an extra day, because the solar calendar is 6 hours longer than the Gregorian calendar that we use. But even the solar calendar is changing.
Truth, on the other hand, is not relative. God never changes. "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever." (Hebrews 13:8) Jesus Christ is truth. Since truth does not change but facts do, they cannot be the same. And truth is a person; facts are not. Pilate asked Christ, "What is truth?" - not honestly because he wanted to know, but cynically because he didn't believe it was possible to know. Yet, Truth was standing right in front of him, and he didn't even see it - because it takes faith to see truth.
Now, here's the point: if we will get through our materialistic, fact-filled, earthbound heads that truth and facts are not the same, and that truth supersedes facts, then when God says something to us that contradicts our senses, we will believe Him and ignore the facts. That's exactly what Daniel did when he was thrown into the lion's den; what Shadrak, Meshak and Abednego did when they were thrown into the fiery furnace; what David did when he faced Goliath; what Peter did when he walked on water; what Paul did with his thorn in the flesh; what Christ did on the cross; and what we have to do if we want to see God's power in our lives.
Building your life on facts is building your life on sand. Building your life on truth is building it on the Rock.
Christ was both man and God; therefore, he was both fact and truth. It was a fact that His body was flesh and blood and could be beaten and killed. It is true that God raised Him from the dead. It was a fact that He was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. It is true that He was the promised Messiah, the Son of God sent to save the world. Jesus dealt with the difference between truth and fact every moment of every day, which is how He was able to live in perfect balance as both man and God.
But wait: we have two natures as well: we have sinful flesh that is bound to this world and ruled by facts; but we also have God's Spirit, which is heaven-bound and ruled by truth. If we fail to discern the difference between truth and fact, we will fail to discern the difference between our sinful flesh and God's Holy Spirit. And that is exactly what we have done, and why this age is perhaps the most tragic in history. Never have so many been given so much and done so little with it.
We live religiously, but we do not live powerfully. We do things through our flesh and call it "Christian." We live by the facts, while ignoring the truth. We can tell each other every sports fact, every pop culture fact, all the latest technological facts. But what are we telling each other about God and what He is doing in the world right now that proves there is a spiritual realm of which we are a part, and that God really does love us?
Christmas is a time for truth, not facts. Please save your facts about when Christ was really born, how many wise men there really were, whether He was born in a cave or a barn, etc. Who cares? What's important are the truths of His birth. He was born to redeem mankind. All the prophecies and miracles associated with His birth are true.
Then there's the other side of Christmas: Santa Claus, Christmas trees, snow and all that. I love it. While I'm not going to get caught up in all the busyness and materialism of Christmas, I'm still going to enjoy it. But I can only do that if I focus on the truths of Christ's birth. Christmas is a time of blessedness. It is a time of grace and good will. It is a time to do what Scrooge did on Christmas morning after his night of transformation: do everything in my power to bless others.
Scrooge was a new man on Christmas morning. That's what truth does: it changes people and makes things new. You can't say that about facts. And Christmas is a time for change. Every year, God gives us another chance to change: from fact-based, earthbound creatures to truth-based, heaven-bound ones. Remembering the birth of Christ for what it truly is is what does it.
May love and grace abound in your life this Christmas season. May you enjoy the friends and family God has blessed you with. And may you share your blessings with those who are not nearly so blessed. Celebrate the Child! (Thanks, Curt!)
Waitsel Smith, December 21, 2009
COMMENTS FROM READERS LIKE YOU:
[Send me yours and I'll include them on this page. Let me know what you think.]
"I would like permission to use the article on truth vs. facts located here: http://www.waitsel.com/character/truth/Truth_vs_Facts.html, in my 'Religion in Life' class that I teach at Campbellsville University, Kentucky." - Fred, Kentucky
You got it! - Waitsel
"This is an excellent article . I will read it to my Family on Christmas Eve." - Mark, Atlanta
"Went to the link to check out the article. Booya! An awesome, very deep, insightful & spiritual Christmas time message. Very few people actually taking the time to ponder on God's reality, much less write about it. It is obvious that you have a personal relationship with that person, Truth. Hope it blesses other hearts as it did mine. Thanks, bro, and the Lord bless you in your efforts to bring him praise." - Shane
Booya to you, tooya. :) - Waitsel
"I came across your page today ('Truth vs Facts' and 'Truth vs Opinons') after doing a search on Truth vs. Judgment. They were wonderful in every respect. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about Truth vs. Judgment? Here's the context…
"I am a married man of 34 years. My wife left a year ago and said that she always felt judged and never accepted by me… never good enough. I have always felt like what I was trying to communicate was truth, not judgment and didn't realize how it was impacting our relationship. It may have been my direct style and I'm learning that about myself and working on it. In communicating with her, I was using biblical truths to express concern about things like the amount of time she was spending on personal pursuits and away from the family. She saw that as me trying to control her and not accepting her as she was. I was trapped in a maze that I couldn't navigate (still am actually). How can I share truth when she sees everything as judgment? I am leaning toward only biblical references as indications of truth but she is resistant and trapped in some very worldly thinking. More like the 'Natural Man' than a true believer.
"Any thoughts you may have are welcome." - Gene, Illinois
Hi, Gene. Thanks for contacting me.
I feel your pain, and your dilemma. At times it can be very, very difficult to share truth with family members and friends because you do not want to jeopardize your relationship with them.
Here's my rule of thumb:
If I have only one shot with a person (e.g., someone riding next to me on a plane), and they have a problem that I can shed some light on, but what I have to say will most likely offend them, I go ahead and share it.
On the other hand, if I have someone in my life that I know very well, and we will probably have a relationship most of our lives, and they have a problem that I can shed some light on, but what I have to say will most likely offend them, I wait. I wait for God either to bring this issue to their attention, or I wait for Him to open a door through which I can share with them without offending them.
As scripture says, in so many places and in so many ways, it is very, very difficult to repair the relationship of a brother whom you've offended. Better to find another way. Remember how Nathan shared with King David that he had sinned. He didn't come right out and start quoting scriptures to David from the Levitical Law. Instead, he used a story that he knew would touch David's heart.
What we are called to do in this life is touch people's hearts, not hit them over the head with scripture. Jesus did the same thing with parables. He did quote scriptures, but often it was when someone asked Him a direct question. Otherwise, He mostly taught with stories.
Try asking God to teach you how to touch people's hearts, either through your actions or with stories, rather than quoting scripture to them. I think you will find you get better results.
I am not a counsellor, but I hope that helps. - Waitsel
"Love the name, and it means so much more because of the thoughts that you've shared about waiting! It will serve as a reminder to me to wait on God. It's so easy to feel time passing away and so little happening (because she has been gone for a year) and I want to do something! I will wait… I will be still and know that God is working… even when I don't know it.
"Your insights are greatly appreciated. I have been drawn to sharing with her through stories recently. In fact, I've written her a blog that only she can see or read if she wants. I notice that she responds favorably to positive input or content. I've been hoping to write some stories of my own to share with her. Your page about how even stories like Christmas Carol can teach amazing and meaningful truth even though they aren't based on fact was very revealing to me. Thank you very much." - Gene, Illinois
"I enjoyed the article on Truth vs Fact. It aligns with what God had shown me, and therefore I try to live by the Truth and not by facts. I wonder if you realized the word fact does not exist in the King James Bible, at least it is definitely not listed in Strong's Exhausted Concordance." - John, New York
Hi, John. That's interesting. I'm a fan of the King James Bible and Strong's Concordance as well.
I'm not surprised that "fact" is not listed. We obsess over facts, but God doesn't seem particularly interested in them, as His thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways, and He is interested in the eternal, not the temporal.
Like Pilate, everyone is not going to see it - only those with eyes to see; but I find the difference between Truth and facts intriguing. - Waitsel
Thanks for all your great comments!
Text and graph © 2009 Waitsel Smith. All Rights Reserved.