Anyone reading me over the decades wouldn’t need to be too perspicuous to have picked up on my interest in philosophy, particularly metaphysics. This is big-picture stuff, i.e., the basic nature of reality; things as they are in and of themselves apart from how they are parsed by three and half pounds of tissue, blood, water, and spunky neurotransmitters. Or, as expressed by R. B. Haldane: “The ultimate reality into which all else can be resolved and which itself cannot be resolved into anything beyond, that in terms of which all else can be explained and which itself cannot be expressed in terms of anything outside itself."1 Wow! My neurons go ecstatic over this stuff. In contrast, ethics, aesthetics, and political philosophy are too narrow and limited by the chemical contingencies of the human mind.
Which means, of course, I’m a Plato (c. 428-348 B.C.) groupie, enthralled by—if never accepting—his famous doctrine of the Forms. This is his notion that our world, our material world, is a mere shadow, a flawed, corrupted, and waning reflection, like a faded black-and-white photograph of the full-color realm of pure, perfect, and eternal forms. Or of eternal truths even.
To use Plato’s own metaphor, we’re like beings trapped inside a cave, faces to the inner wall, seeing only the shadows cast on the wall by objects outside the cave. The shadows on the wall are the only reality that we can see or experience. For instance, any triangle we make here, or see here, is a poor reflection of the perfect triangle that exists among the forms. Everything here, from physical things even to our concepts and ideas of goodness, all are flawed, fleeting representations of their eternal form.
Though Plato never did quite explain where these eternal forms were supposed to have existed, I had always been enthralled by the idea of pure, absolute a priori truth. How I would have loved to have ascended to the realm of the pure forms and see them for myself!
Then it hit me: the forms, that of pure, absolute, and eternal independent truth, do not exist in some ethereal nonphysical dimension floating around the cosmos. No; instead, pure, absolute, and eternal independent truth came down to our earth in the Person of Jesus. The forms, in a sense, were personified in Jesus. He is Perfection, He is Truth, He is Goodness. Truth, pure truth, is not found in some abstract ontological dimension but in a Person, a flesh-and-blood Person. Talking about Jesus, Hebrews said that He was “the brightness of His [the Father’s] glory and the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3).2 What better way to reveal to humanity truth, perfection, goodness, everything that we should know and do and be, than by embodying it in another human being?
I once did a study on the Hebrew word emet, translated “truth” in the Bible, and found that ’emet comes from ’aman, which means “firm, faithful, sturdy, steady.” It is also the root for “Amen.” Though I was expecting some abstract metaphysical revelation from that word in the Word of God, that’s not what I found. Instead, ’emet, “truth,” is often used in conjunction with and parallel to the Hebrew word khesed, meaning “good, kind, loving kindness.”
“There is no ’emet or khesed or knowledge of God in the land” (Hos. 4:1). “And now may the LORD showkhesed and ’emet to you” (2 Sam. 2:6). “All the paths of the LORD are khesed and ’emet” (Ps. 25:10). “I have not concealed your khesed and your ’emet”(Ps. 40:10). “God shall send forth His khesed and his ’emet (Ps. 57:3). “Oh, prepare khesed and ’emet, which may preserve him! (Ps. 61:7). “Do they not go astray who devise evil? But khesed and ’emet belong to those who devise good” (Prov. 14:22). “Let not khesed and ’emet forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Prov. 3:3).
Loving kindness, khesed, how we treat others, that’s the ’emet, that’s what truth is about, not metaphysical abstractions floating in a platonic realm of pure triangles and squares. Truth is what we do, how we live, which is why Jesus, as the embodiment of khesed and ’emet, is our perfect example, the forms in the flesh. Sure, propositional truths exist—i.e., the Sabbath is the seventh-day, Christ died for our sins, the dead know nothing—but truth is not so much what we believe but how we live. Truth only believed, that is, truth as head knowledge alone—that is shadowy, ethereal, fleeting, empty. In contrast, truth lived out in the flesh, truth made manifest in khesed, that’s closest to the forms, closest to Jesus.
And as the Creator (John 1:1-3), as the Sustainer (Heb. 1:3), as the Redeemer (Titus 2:4), and as the express image of the Father’s Person (Heb. 1:3), Jesus is the great metaphysical truth that I have always been fascinated with, “the ultimate reality into which all else can be resolved and which itself cannot be resolved into anything beyond, that in terms of which all else can be explained and which itself cannot be expressed in terms of anything outside itself.”
I just didn’t expect it in a Person, that’s all.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Risen, is soon to be released by Pacific Press Publishing Association.
1 Quoted in Mary Calkins, The Persistent Problems of Philosophy (Macmillan, 1929), p. 4.
2 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright ã 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.