The next line of our Psalm describes moral righteousness as, “And I walk in your truth.”
Truth is a central, and surprisingly mystical, concept in the Psalms, appearing over forty times. We are to speak truth in our hearts, we ask God to lead us in his truth, and we long to declare the truth.
But more often then these practical uses of the word, the Psalms speak of the “God of truth.” “All his works are done in truth.” We ask him, “send out thy light and thy truth,” which is clear enough, but we also say he “keeps truth” and even “cuts off” the wicked “in thy truth.”
At least nine times the Psalms put truth together with mercy, or lovingkindness (chesed). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.” “I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth.” Modern minds probably don’t naturally make this connection, but it is continually on the lips of the Psalmist.
Finally, of the Messiah we pray, “in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness”: truth describes his goodness. And we look forward to the days when “truth shall spring out of the earth.”
So (as someone asked) what is truth? On the most basic level, truth is conformity to reality: when what we say or think matches the way things are, then our thoughts or words are true.
The Hebrew word for truth is rooted in the idea of stability. There is a “way things are,” a real world out there that our thoughts and words do not change. Truth is a kind of stability in us, as we conform to that stability “out there,” as we move from being pushed around by our feelings to standing on the firm ground of reality.
But in theology, there is another side of truth. The way things are is not the source of its own stability. Reality comes forth from God; conforming to the reality of creation also means conforming to the Creator.
Devotion to truth points deeper, into devotion to the wisdom of God which makes the world. John’s Gospel (and, in their own way, Paul’s letters) tells us all things were made through God’s eternal Word, his intelligence, which itself becomes flesh to save us.
It does not seem natural for moderns to think of Jesus as the eternal wisdom, or Creation as rooted in an eternal plan. We tend to focus more on power and sheer will. But Scripture, from Genesis to the wisdom literature and the Psalms, through to John and Paul, finds a deeper mysticism in this vision of wisdom.
When we speak of God’s truth, we mean not God’s conformity to reality, but reality’s conformity to God.
To love the truth, to conform to the reality of creation, is to love the wisdom, the truth, that made it.
We can think of this in two ways. One is to pursue Wisdom – divine Wisdom, who is God himself, and especially Christ, “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24) and the logos of Creation, through whom all things were made (John 1:3). In conforming to reality as it truly is, we conform to him. In loving the truth, we love his wisdom, and so see his goodness.
Another way to think of it is as love seeping into all our lives. We want to love God. But how can we love God except in the details of our life? That love takes flesh when we embrace the details of reality as he made them, by embracing the truth.
To love God and to contemplate his wisdom: that is the meaning of truth.
This is the heart, too, of the love of the Law, which runs even more pervasively throughout the Psalms. “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” says Psalm 19, after beginning with the theme of Creation: “the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
And the longest Psalm, 119, has 176 verses, every one of which proclaims the goodness of God’s law: “O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Through your commandments you have made me wiser than my enemies.”
This is the heart of morality: the love of God’s truth, the love of his wisdom, conformity to the goodness of reality as he made it, because he made it that way.
Are there areas of life where you prefer your imaginings to reality?
Click here for the entire series on praying with the Psalms.