December 12, 2017

Cliff's Edge-Truth, Absolute Truth

In various (written, spoken) venues, I’ve recounted the experience when, at 21-years-old, I ran smack into an idea that I could be utterly certain of, an idea that I could not possibly have been wrong about. Which was . . .?

That truth, absolute truth, had to exist.

I mean, there is something instead of nothing, right? The world, the universe, whatever is the case—it exists. And because it exists, it has an explanation. And that explanation, whatever it is, is the truth; and if it explains all existence, everything, completely (which something must), then it is the absolute truth.

Hence, truth, absolute truth, exists.

Suppose, for example, that our experiences are illusions. As in the Matrix, we’re only brains in vats, brains connected to electric wires that give us the sensations of an external and internal world. (What are our experiences, anyway, other than sensations in our heads?) Headaches, other people, the Crab Nebula—these were all just neurons being artificially stimulated. If so, then fine. The explanation of brains in vats, and the sensations they create—that’s absolute truth.

And I dare anyone to show me how I could be wrong.

Or suppose we don’t exist as flesh and blood, but are merely part of a computer program created by an advanced race of aliens with high-powered PCs? Instead of being what we think we are, we’re just byte-hungry versions of Super Mario, Laura Croft, and the Prince of Persia. Again, if so, then that’s absolute truth.

Or suppose that the universe has always existed, that it had never been created? That is, instead of having been originated at some time in the past, the universe has been eternal, a brute fact—the most brute of all facts because, being before everything else, it is the explanation of everything else. Again, if so, then the eternal existence of the universe is absolute truth.

Or suppose that the Lord God, the God of Israel, was the Creator of all that exists, the One in whom “we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28)? Or suppose our universe came from nothing, and then, through the natural process of physics and chemistry, life on earth arose by chance? “The universe,” said one scientist (very unscientifically), “is just one of those things that happen from time to time.” Or suppose this one Ancient Near Eastern creation myth, in which one god squashed the body of another god and created the earth with the dead god’s corpse, is how we got here?

When I was 21 years old, the issue for me was not what the absolute truth was. Are you kidding? I hadn’t gotten nearly that far. What it was wasn’t my immediate concern; that it was, that it had to be—this was my issue. The heart-thumping realization was that, because something did exist, then absolute truth, the explanation of that something, had to exist as well.

How ironic that my cogito moment (google Rene Descartes and cogito ergo sum to know what I mean) would come in the mid-1970s, when luminaries like Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Richard Rorty railed against the possibility of the idea “absolute truth”—the same idea that I knew I couldn’t possibly be wrong about. Amid the discourse about “regimes of truth,” “deconstruction,” and “anti-representationalism,” each an attempt to dethrone truth from any transcendental and universal realm and burst it into fleeting, contingent, and changing bits of linguistic, cultural, and political shrapnel—I never got the message. Even with this intellectual static buzzing in my ears, I knew that truth, absolute truth, had to exist.

And I dare anyone to show me how I could be wrong.

Now my realization that truth, absolute truth, had to exist, was a complete separate issue from the question of whether I, or anyone, could ever know it. From the apodictic realization that absolute truth existed, it did not follow that this absolute truth could be known by, or found by, or revealed to anyone, including me. I knew that it had to exist; I also know it was possible, probable even, that I could never know it.

However, once getting over the shock that it existed, I wanted to know the truth—no matter what it cost me, where it led me, or what I had to suffer (if need be) to find it.

And, well, voila! Three years later I became a Seventh-day Adventist.

Already I can hear incredulous voices crying out: Are you saying Seventh-day Adventism is the absolute truth? Of course not. Absolute truth is found only in the triune God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit—the Creator and Sustainer of all that was created and is sustained (Gen. 1; John 1:1-4; Heb. 1:2; Col. 1:15-17; Acts 17:28; 1 Cor. 8:6; Job 38:33-37) and, thus the explanation of all that exists.

What I am saying, though, is that, of all the organized bodies in the world, none have been given the understanding that Adventists have been about absolute truth, however limited and subjective that understanding remains. The light, so graciously poured out upon this church, reveals more of that absolute truth to it as opposed to those who haven’t been given, or haven’t accepted what we have been given and have accepted.

The issue isn’t who’s saved, who’s lost; that’s God’s prerogative. The issue is truth as opposed to error. And, with all due respect, most other Christians don’t even have the Ten Commandments right. Or they’re evolutionists. (Think of the darkness that belief alone shrouds them in!) Or they believe in an immortal soul; or in a Secret Rapture; or that Satan is nothing but an ancient myth. How many believe that the dead are looking down at them from heaven now; or that God had predestined, before the world began, millions, even billons, to eternal-hell fire?

I could go on. But my point remains: once I realized that truth, absolute truth, had to exist, I wanted it, regardless of the cost. And all I know is that of all the ways I could have gone, of all the paths I could have taken, I ended up with the Seventh-day Adventists. And, after 38 years, I’m more convinced than ever that this church has light that, better than can be found anywhere else on earth, points closest to that absolute truth, which, decades ago, I knew had to exist, wanted (if possible) to find, and surely have.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide. His latest book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, is available from Pacific Press.