Like Pilate Said, “What is Truth?”

I grew up in a military family as my father was career Air Force. There was never any doubt in my mind that I too would be entering into the military; it was just a question of which branch. After looking at the four branches—Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corp—I weighed my options as well as a 17-year-old high-school senior who wanted to leave home could. In the end, I joined the United States Marine Corp. I spent twelve plus years in the Marines, and, while I left early for personal reasons, I never regretted the decision to join. I am very proud to have served, and I look back on my time in the Marines as a defining time in my life.

As a veteran, I was deeply saddened by the incident at the Capitol building when the joint session of Congress was meeting to ratify the duly filed electoral votes of the 2020 Presidential election. I, along with the rest of the world, watched as a mob stormed the Capitol building in rebellion against the constitutional practices of the US elections, causing wanton desecration and destruction of government property, and the deaths of five individuals.

This event brings to my mind an interchange between two military officers in the 1992 film, A Few Good Men. The film revolves around the court-martial of two Marine officers in the death of a third Marine at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. In one courtroom scene, Lt. JG Daniel Kaffe (Tom Cruise) is interviewing—almost badgering—the witness, Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson). At one point, Lt. JG Kaffe loudly demands, “I want the truth!” to which Col. Jessup responds, “You can’t handle the truth!”

This, I believe, is where we find ourselves today. We are being bombarded by news services and social media on both sides of the political and ideological spectrum. For the most part, people are making decisions on their interpretation of the truth according to the reports that they hear or read, as well as curating what they see due to their pre-existing biases.

Earlier this year, Lauren Cuthbert wrote a blog entitled “Is Truth Subjective or Objective? Here’s What Science Has to Say.” She begins with a description of scientific and subjective truth drawn from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

…scientific truth is objective, confirmed by proof, and is—or at least, ideally should be—universally accepted. Subjective truth, on the other hand, is dependent upon opinion and perspective—that’s where things get tricky, particularly for brands who are attempting to control the facts around their company online.

She concludes with the following apropos statement,

We all have our own personal truths. Your orange is my peach. My tolerable is your terrible. Millions of cyber citizens believe ardently in their subjective truth. The idea of a digital falsehood loses meaning when so much of what we call “truth” is defined by our subjective worldviews.

As believers in Yeshua, seeking and knowing the truth is paramount. The psalmist David asked HaShem to “Guide me in Your truth, and teach me, for You are God, my salvation, for You I wait all day” (Psalm 25:5).i Rav Shaul wrote to the believers at Ephesus, “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all ways into Messiah, who is the Head” (Ephesians 4:15). But even as one seeks the truth that is found in the Word of God, there are differences in the “the truth” pulled from its pages. Many well-meaning, spiritually gifted men and women throughout the centuries who have read and studied the same passages and come up with diametrically opposed “truths.” A simple search on the Internet, reveals Yeshua-believers on both sides of the political spectrum basing their firm stance on Yeshua’s words, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)!

How can we respond to the cacophony of voices claiming to possess the truth in this, or any other, discordant situation or circumstance? For me, two keys are found in Rav Shaul’s closing words to the believers in Rome. Before you ask, I realize that the context of his comments deal with food and ritual observances. However, the principles are valid in other situations as well.

Who are you to judge another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand… Let each be fully convinced in his own mind… But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you too, why do you look down on your brother? For we all will stand before the judgment seat of God (Romans 14:4, 5, and 10).

The first key is in vs. 5, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” In order to be convinced, one must search out and study the information—all of them, not just those that fit ones preconceived notions or political agendas. The second key, found before and after the first key, concerns not judging our brothers or sisters if they do not agree with us. The Tosefta, Yevamot 1.3,ii records a relevant story about Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai,

The school of Shammai promulgated their own regulations with reference to the many laws of the Torah. The school of Hillel held their own opinions opposite to those of Shammai’s disciples. Yet they were friendly each to the other and respected each other’s opinions. Their families intermarried, they ate at each other’s tables and never sought to mislead one another as it is written: “Love ye both truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).

This rabbinic story could be said to exemplify Yeshua’s words, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yeshua did not say that people will know we are his disciples by our agreement on all things or our unity of focus on how things should be done; he said it is by our love for one another.

History may not show that our personal views concerning the 2020 US election or the takeover the Capitol Building on January 6th is objective truth or subjective truth. But, even if the “truth” were known, many of us may not be able to “handle the truth.” What we can handle, what we must do is to follow the exhortation that Rav Shaul commanded Timothy,

Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people—for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. He desires all men to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Added to that are these words that Peter wrote to his community in the Diaspora,

For the Lord’s sake, submit yourselves to every human authority—whether to a king as supreme, or to governors sent by him for the punishment of those who do evil and the praise of those who do good. For this is God’s will, that you silence the ignorance of foolish men by doing good. Live as free people, but not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Rather, live as God’s slaves. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:13-17).  

We have the option of being instruments of HaShem’s shalom sowing love and care for one another, or we can sow further seeds of doubt, discontent and dissension. The choice is ours.

This article was written by MJTI Registrar Rabbi Michael Hillel. For more by Rabbi Hillel, read about whether or not we could have Christmas without Hanukkah, how to stay focused on the goals in difficult times, or about the Jewish calendar and the blessing of rain.

i Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

ii English translation is from The Talmudic Anthology edited by L. J. Newman. New York, Behrman House Publishers, 1945, p 312.

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