Reading David Hawkin’s book, Reality, Spirituality and Modern Man, got me thinking about the Fact and Truth. I always thought they were somewhat the same. But I no longer think that they are. Here is how I see it:
Fact is about an actually occurring event. There was a red car in the parking lot of Coborn’s grocery store at 4 pm yesterday afternoon. Such a fact can’t really be disputed unless one is doubting the honesty or recollection capacity of the person reporting it. But no matter. Either the car was there at that time or it wasn’t. If someone happened to take a picture with their phone, that can be a good way to prove fact as long as there is no tampering going on.
Facts can be about non-physical things as well. They can be about words, for example. If you thanked your Aunt Martha for socks she gave you for Christmas it is a fact. If Aunt Martha says you didn’t, either she has forgotten, she didn’t hear you, or she is lying to get you in trouble. But none of these assertions take away from the fact of your spoken words.
Thoughts can be factual, too, though these can’t really be known by anyone but the person who thought them. Let’s say your Aunt Martha conceded that you said thank you, but insists that you didn’t really mean it. She can’t really know what your intent was because intention is something you think.
Facts can be distorted or lost in a mess of non facts. Exaggeration is an example. To say that fifty people came to your party when there were only 31 is exaggerating the fact. Thirty-one people attending is the fact, the other nineteen is not. We let this slide. People don’t take the time to count or notice the time or day when they tell stories. We don’t call them liars. We say they are telling the truth even when all of their facts aren’t really facts.
Truth is something different. It is like the space around facts. Truth includes all that came before and after a happening. Truth includes the “why” of things or the preconditions that led up to or enabled an event. It even includes the environment, the community in which an event happens. When the Amish send their teens away into the world, they aren’t rejecting them, they are inviting them to take their commitment to the community more seriously. Truth is much bigger than fact.
Sometimes things doesn’t need facts in order to be true. Noone expects the events in folk tales to have actually happened in time and space, but they know truth when they see it. Parables are true in the same way. Jesus liked using them because he was intent in teaching truth.
If one is a seeker of truth, they need to know that fact and truth are not the same. Truth surrounds events, even permeates. I think of Truth as sort of incarnating in fact and story. One has to listen with the heart to know Truth.
One more aspect of truth is that it is eternal, or without bounds. You can think you know the truth about something only to find out later that you were wrong or only had a partial truth. This discovery of something more continues. We never fully know the ultimate truth about anything…that is only for God to know.