You’ve likely had the experience of being stopped at an intersection next to a bus and the bus starts to move before you do. For just a few seconds, you’re not quite sure if the bus is moving forward or you’re moving backward. Momentary panic ensues. Your body feels stationary but your eyes are telling you that you’re moving, triggering a stomach-turning dizziness. Instinctively we try to end the disorientation by locating a fixed point of reference. Maybe a streetlight, a building, a mailbox. When we find that fixed point of reference, the panic goes away and the confusion is cleared.
But imagine if the streetlight, building, or mailbox were also moving like a river. With no fixed points of reference, it simply wouldn’t be possible to alleviate the confusion. Culturally speaking, this is our present situation. The Oxford Dictionaries appropriately selected “post-truth” as 2016’s Word of the Year. We now live in a time when many believe that truth exists objectively, but our subjective feelings and opinions matter more. In other words, truth is often subordinated to preference in this post-truth age, meaning feelings take precedence over evidence, sound arguments, and even logic. No one is immune to this way of thinking. It can affect politicians, voters, pastors, philosophers, parents, and scientists alike.
Such thinking is actually quite ancient, dating back to the dawn of humanity. Our first parents in the Garden of Eden bought Satan’s lie and allowed their feelings and desire for autonomy to usurp the truth of God’s single command. Centuries later, Pontius Pilate made a similar mistake when he dismissed Jesus—Truth Incarnate—with a cynical flourish (John 18:38a), all because of the difficult political realities he faced as Judea’s governor.
Having taken hold, the post-truth mindset has now bloomed into a Culture of Confusion in which confusion is embraced as a virtue and clarity is shunned as a sin. Why? Because confusion allows us to play with the boundaries of truth, make them fuzzy, so that we can call ourselves whatever we want. Clarity, on the other hand, entails boundaries because truth itself has boundaries that keep out falsehood. Demands for truth are now often selective, desired only when the truth is convenient or supports one’s point of view. The result is that the answers to life’s major questions, such as what it means to be human and whether there is a transcendent meaning and purpose to human existence, no longer need to correspond to fixed points of reference. They can flow haphazardly along the river of feelings.
Experience has shown—and will show again—that such an abandonment of truth is unlivable. As G. K. Chesterton observes, “Free thought has exhausted its own freedom. . . . It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers.” In this post-truth age devoid of fixed reference points, the answers will only come if we regain our bearings once more. Thankfully, there is One who stepped into the river of human history to provide an immovable fixed point of reference, even against the strongest of cultural currents: Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). As the Incarnate Word (John 1:1), Jesus eternally “stands firm” (Ps. 119:89) even in the midst of a culture as confused as ours.