I have always believed in the Truth–the kind with a capital T. I reject the idea that it’s relative, that there is no Right and Wrong, just “right for me” and “right for you.”

I believe that this ultimate Truth is part of God. He’s the one who determines it, who created it, who presents it to us. What God says is Truth. More, what God IS is Truth.
Which is where the difficulty comes in sometimes, right? Because God is so much bigger than us, so hard for us to comprehend. And Truth is too. We get bits and pieces of it. We have vague understandings. He’s given us guidelines to help us reach for it. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

The ancient Greek philosophers talk a lot about the form of a thing. An example they gave was something silly, like a table. There are a lot of tables in the world–and they all have imperfections. But we can still recognize them as a table because they partake of the TRUE table, the “eidos” or form of a perfect table. They use that simple example so we have a solid example to refer to when we’re talking about harder things, like virtue and justice and truth and the good. They claim that we can recognize the imperfect versions of these on earth because they partake of–imitate–a heavenly or divine version of the same.

There’s a reason we still read these philosophers–Plato and Aristotle. It’s because the early church preserved their writings because of how well they get at Christian understanding too. Those very philosophies strove to understand the Truth, even while recognizing that their understanding was imperfect. We on earth are never going to fully understand God and all He is–but we can recognize His fingerprints around us, right? We can see the shadows of His divine touch. We can understand truth–with a lower case T–in our lives because we recognize that it’s got something in common with His Truth.
But because it’s just an imitation, ultimately, we always run into problems. Because your interpretation of it might not agree with mine. Maybe you focus on this detail–the legs of the table, perhaps–while I’m focusing on this other one–the kind of wood used, maybe. If someone were to ask each of us about what a table is, you would wax poetic about how it needs four legs of the exact same height, and I’d be very specific about what it should be made of to achieve x, y, or z. We’re both trying to get at the Truth. But we’re telling different stories to get there.

As a storyteller, this is something I’m always very aware of, and something we authors talk about and think about a lot. We write fiction–it’s not, by definition, true. But it can still be True. Why? Because we choose stories that set out to show that “eidos.” That form. To reveal something we’ve learned about God or faith or family or healing or grief or laughter or love through the feeble words we have at our disposal.

But in order to share that Truth, we have to make choices. Sometimes it means leaving things out. Sometimes it means adding things. Sometimes it means changing a fact that distracts from the focus. This can seem dishonest–after all, if we’re changing a fact, then we’re wrong, and we’re not truthful. Right? Certainly, when we’re teaching our kids to tell the truth, we emphasize that it means “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Important in a court of law. But not always so important in a story. Because in reality, we can only view the world through our own eyes. And sometimes we don’t see things clearly. The same is true in fiction–we’re looking at a story through a limited lens. So we have to focus it only on the things that are relevant.

Another great example is in visual art and photography. Have you ever taken a picture of yourself and looked at it and wrinkled your nose and thought, “Do I really look like that?” And has someone else ever said, “No, you don’t.”? Well, on the one hand, that doesn’t make sense, right? Because obviously, the camera caught the truth. And yet, it doesn’t, always. It captures one very isolated moment when the light was just so and you were standing at a particular angle and the background was in a certain perspective.

But in life, we’re not still. We’re always moving, as is the world around us. No one ever gets just a single, split-second view of you. They get a dynamic one. For instance, when my husband smiles, you know what we all notice first? His dimples. But in a photo I took of him, the way the light hit his face, you know what I saw first? The shape of his eye tooth. That’s where the photo drew the eye–but it’s not where your eye would ever go in person. So I changed the shape of the tooth in the photo. It’s now not an exact replica of him…but yet it gives a truer picture because now it directs your eye to where it would really go.
This is the dilemma artists of all kinds have faced since the beginning of time–we can tell the “true” story, sticking only to exact facts, or we can tell the True story, that directs the attention where it needs to go to get to the heart of the matter. We delete the distractions. We focus on the main parts.

There are those who disapprove of fiction for this very reason. But me? I say that’s pretty silly–because it isn’t something only fiction does. We all do it, in every part of our lives. We pick, we choose, we decide what to remember and what to forget. What’s worth telling and what would just clutter up the story. But I think maybe we’d understand those tendencies a little better if we pause to realize that it isn’t just about the little details on which we focus–those little truths that populate our days. 

It’s about the ultimate Truth. And how we can best tell the stories that help us understand it.