Look carefully at Neo's response when Morpheus tells him that his world has blinded him to the truth: "What truth?" Not what is truth, which implies there might be an answer, but what truth, suggesting that any number of responses might work. National research by the Barna Group tells us that the great majority of Americans, and almost everybody born after 1970, believes that absolute truth is a thing of the past. Allegedly, truth can't be known, and we hear it all the time: "What's true for you may not be true for me."

We're beginning to see the sunshine of our civilization sink into a dark sea of moral chaos, from Columbine to Enron. Earlier this year my son David Kinnaman, vice-president and strategic leader for the Barna Group, found an appalling absence of conscience among both nonreligious and religious young people: "Fewer than 1 in 10 teenagers believes that music piracy is morally wrong."

Relativism, though, is relatively foreign to the rest of the world. Lamin Sanneh, a native of Gambia and professor of Mission and World Christianity at Yale, writes,

The West, viewed broadly as a cultural system of ethics, images, music, literature as well as science and technology, has reduced the mystery of God to a cultural filibuster. [The West holds that] truth cannot be known with certainty, and one can be certain of that.

Sociologist Alan Wolfe has written an entire book about this phenomenon, that American society is the first in human history to believe there is no such thing as objective, absolute truth. Wolfe shows how, carried to its logical conclusions, the belief that there are no moral absolutes is philosophically indefensible. Though Wolfe cites a number of peculiar (and often bizarre) consequences of living in a truth vacuum, like any good American he makes no judgment about what's right or wrong with this kind of world, concluding that the jury is out and only time will tell if our society can survive.

Christian leaders continue to argue for "the truth," correctness of belief in a world that simply doesn't care. Because so many people believe truth is relative, religious appeals based on truth can seem irrelevant. Worse yet, we live in a culture of contradiction, where people are increasingly intolerant of intolerance. Most of our social indicators, everything from teen suicide to divorce to prison population, are shouting that we are a rudderless ship in a perfect storm.

Centuries ago the Hebrew prophet Hosea identified the primary cause of social disorder:

[Because there is] no acknowledgment of God in the land ... there is no faithfulness, no love.... There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away.

RETHINKING TRUTH

The polarized lines are drawn. Is there an answer? Can we know with certainty that some things are true and some are not? Is there hope? Certainly not in the rhetoric of the right or the left, both of whom are convinced they're right (even though the left cannot be absolutely right).

Instead, our hope is in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the source of abundant life on the pathway to truth. But hold on to your hats, "this ride is going to take a sudden turn. Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye." When Jesus describes himself as the truth, we world-minded, rational-thinking Westerners jump straight to the linear conclusion that he means something like math. Or doctrine. Or religious correctness. Well, he did and he didn't.

Jesus was full of truth, but the richer meaning of the Greek term for "truth," alétheia, is startling and can free us from our obsessive-compulsive need to make our point. Alétheia (and its family of derivative words) doesn't exactly mean "true" in the sense of "mathematically correct," or like a true/false exam. It carries a broader meaning as expressed by the following ideas: "truthfulness, dependability, righteousness, honesty, genuineness, authentic, the real deal." Alétheia is "reality as opposed to mere appearance."

This is precisely the way John uses this term when Jesus calls himself "the true light," "the true bread," "the true vine," and when he calls his Father "the true God." Jesus is the real light, the real bread, the real vine, and the God of the Bible is the real God. In John, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that the heavenly Father is looking for "real worshipers," that is, "those whose religious exercises are in actual fact and reality an approach to God, and not a shadowy ritual which either counterfeits or at best merely symbolizes the approach to God."

Thus, in the following quotations from John's writings, wherever the word truth is used, read the verse using the phrase true reality: