Max wondered about the distinction I attempted to make between fact and truth. His suggested context is religion. But I think the distinction exists in other aspects of human life. I’ll offer commentary on astronomy, a subject dear to me, on my marriage, and on the Bible. Then Max or others can take it from there.
It strikes me as a modern western development to be concerned about a strong degree of the absolute in religion. This occurs especially in the sciences. The modern scientific method delves deep into what can be measured, observed, described in the universe around us. By reading dark lines in the spectrum (rainbow) of far away stars, we can determine the presence of all the elements–iron, sodium, oxygen, helium, hydrogen, etc.. We know more about the interior of stars trillions and quadrillions of miles away than the interior of our own home planet. There are facts about the stars: what they are made of, how old they are, if they have planets. And if they have planets, whether any of those globes might possess conditions ripe for life.
I can walk to a mountaintop, and on a clear night behold a few thousand stars. My eyes cannot detect the presence of iron or hydrogen. Nor can I see planets circling these stars. I see the spread of the universe. As the stars move, I “feel” the turning of the Earth and perhaps I feel a sense of wonder. There is no fact in the sense of wonder. But there is a truth in it. I am a small person standing on a small planet, and I take a deep breath and perhaps I am glad I’m not in charge of it all. If I am a religious person, I ponder God’s agency. But if I am more like my friend Max, I take it all in and think about the vast expanse above me. I’m not reading an astronomy text book for facts, but I am experiencing truth.
The easy commentary on marriage is that in some courthouse in Iowa, there is a piece of paper that reports the fact that my wife and I were married in some church before two witnesses and a priest, on some date in 1996. These are facts, and they do happen to be true.
What is also true is that I love my wife, and in our moments of intimacy, we share thoughts and feelings and make our love more real. More truthful if you will. Such moments are not recognized by the state. They are not recorded in anyone’s book or file. But they are a truth. They are factual for nobody else. She or I may forget the particulars, but that does not obscure the truth of human love.
Turning to the Bible, unlike our friend Dick, I do not read the Scriptures of my faith for facts. It is less important for me that Jesus said this specific thing to these particular people. That Jesus told a story about unscrupulous or timid people doesn’t give me license to cheat on invoice slips or to maltreat people who bury money in the ground. Parables are true stories, but they are not factual accounts.
I think it was Max who brought into some recent discussion a theologian who suggested that the events of John 4 didn’t really happen. That is irrelevant to me. Because whether or not Jesus had an encounter with a woman at a Samaritan well (image credit) is unimportant. This is because the account is true.
It is true because it demonstrates the Lord as a listener. Jesus listens, probes, but does not condemn. He calls the sinner to discipleship. And more, because the woman is moved to serve in the role of an apostle: she speaks to others about Jesus and they are convinced. This is how faith works and is passed on. Samaritans are not converted to traditional Temple worship. They are converted to Christ. They are not converted by returning to Jewish source material on how God should be worshipped. They hear the personal testimony about a personal encounter with someone who looks, observes, and knows.
It can be difficult to step away from the culture of the West. It can be difficult to see things with different eyes. Apart from religion, there are truths in things such as love or in wonder that cannot be quantified as fact.
It is a fact when I drive up a mountain and the odometer on my car clicks off. My marriage license is a fact in some office in Black Hawk County, Iowa. But there are deeper truths involved with these facts.
Faith works no differently. As a man of faith, I would say that faith operates even more strongly in the realm of truth.
Other comments? The thread is open.