I came across a quote the other day while watching a lecture by Don Carson on Youtube.
Within it, he said the following, "There is objective Truth, but we cannot know it objectively."
His argument is quite coherent, I think--and it makes sense, to me at least.
I will attempt to apply it in regards to the Christian faith and in particular to the person of Jesus.
Jesus makes the straight forward claim in John chapter 14, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." For the purpose of this post, I would like to simply shorten what Jesus says to, "I am the truth." I am not purposely trying to pick and choose or remove Jesus' words from the context. Lord knows there are enough times when I and others do such a thing to further our own philosophical/theological positions. However, in this case, I believe shortening Jesus' statement will be productive in illustrating Dr. Carson's statement.
Can we know Jesus?
The answer is yes and no.
There are things I think we can absolutely say that we know about Jesus. If we trust the gospel narratives, there are things we can say He did and said. Through His words and actions, there are aspects of Jesus we can most certainly say we know.
Aside from those who push for an absolutist minimal approach (who might as well give up the pursuit of ancient history), we can say Jesus did some quite astounding things. He healed. He preached. He performed acts witnesses regarded as miracles. He taught about God. He received and accepted worship. He saw Himself as the Son of God. He revealed what the Kingdom of God was like. He went to Jerusalem. He found Himself on the short list of enemies of the state. He was killed. His followers believed He was raised from the dead.
This list is far from exhaustive. These are some of the basics. We could delve further and add much, much more, especially if you trust the biblical narratives to have reported accurately the things Jesus said and did. (For the sake of brevity, I will not go into the arguments among scholars who claim the gospels warrant a high degree of historical trust and those who believe they warrant a low degree of historical trust.)
Point being--there are things about Jesus the person we can say we know--unequivocally.
And yet, we do not know everything there is to know about Jesus.
As one reads the New Testament and what Jesus says repeatedly, new insights and thoughts continually are revealed. If one delves into the Greek and into the historical situation in which the gospels were written, one uncovers even more understanding. There seems to be a never-ending stream of learning more and more about this person who walked the earth so long ago.
It's not surprising.
It's the way relationships work.
We know people. As we spend time with them, we come to know them even more, but we never, ever fully know them. We never, ever can say, "I know this person inside and out. I know the way their mind works. I know what actions they have taken and will continue to take. There is nothing about this person that can or will surprise me ever again."
No one I know of is capable of making this statement about another human being.
And so, we can say, "I know a person, but I don't fully know a person. I know much about him/her, but I do not know him/her fully."
And so it is with objective Truth.
Jesus claimed to be the Truth. We can know it, but we can't know it fully.
Just as a mathematician (as Don argues) knows mathematics, but he/she doesn't know if fully.
Just as a chemist knows a lot of chemistry, but does not know everything in chemistry.
Just as a mechanic knows a lot of mechanics, but does not know how to fix everything.
And so on and so forth.
Which brings us to another important aspect of getting closer to the Truth--we need interplay between one another to bring a fuller picture of the Truth.
It is quite amazing what others oftentimes see in us that we do not see in ourselves. It is quite amazing to talk to someone about a book one has read or a show one has watched to find that you missed something.
I remember well reading Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. I remember having a discussion about the movie trilogy versus the book--particularly about the battle for Minas Tirith. One of my friends commented about how ludicrous it was to have the Army of the Dead show up at that battle in the movie.
"It wasn't in the book," he said.
I thought him daft. I thought I remembered reading that in the book, so I went home and consulted. My friend was correct. He saw it. He remembered it. I didn't. I didn't see it until it was fleshed out by another.
Even though it was written in black and white in that book, my brain had constructed something very, very different, and it needed correcting. It needed the input of others to help me grasp the reality. And, I must humbly say, I still do not fully know the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy even though I have read it a dozen times or so.
Just like I don't know Jesus fully.
Just like I don't know the Gospel fully.
Oh, I know some of it. I've studied it thoroughly.
But there is still much to learn.
And there always will be when one pursues objective Truth.