Does Believing Make it True?
by Sean McDowell
PURPOSE: This activity helps teens realize the difference between belief and truth. Young people must see that truth is not the type of thing we can change by mere belief.
DURATION: 15-20 minutes
- Begin by telling students that they have just been granted the opportunity to have any one wish come true. The only thing they can’t ask for is additional wishes.
- Then simply ask: what will you wish for?
- Allow time for students to reflect on their answers before sharing them with the entire group.
- Have students share their wishes and explain why they chose their particular wish (Was it for personal gain? To benefit others? Were their answers based on the short-term or the long-term?).
- What would it take for your wish to come true?
- What would the world be like if people could simply wish things into existence?
- Could believing stronger help the wish become reality? What if everyone agreed that your wish was true? Would that matter? Why or why not?
- If something isn’t true, can believing make it so? Why or why not?
- Given that we can’t make something true simply by believing it, what is the relationship between belief and truth?
- Can you think of any examples where believing something makes it true?
- Can we make invisible things—such as love, numbers, or God—true by believing them?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17. According to Paul, what would happen if Jesus did not rise from the grave? Can believing change this reality? If Jesus did not rise from the dead 2,000 years ago, then what does that mean for the millions of people who believe that he did? What would it mean for our relationship with God—our forgiveness, eternal life, indwelling by the Holy Spirit—if Jesus is not real? How does this make you feel?
While speaking at a youth group recently, a young man objected to my [Sean’s] presentation by asking, “That may be your truth, but what if I have a different truth?” I gently pointed out to him that he was confusing belief and truth. While I may have a different belief than this young man, there is only one truth of the matter. And that truth does not depend on or change as a result of my personal belief.
Although the phrase, “That may be true for you, but not true for me” is commonly used by teens, we must ask, can truth exist solely for the person who believes it? Can something be true for one person but not another? Beneath this phrase lies a deep-seated confusion between the concepts of truth and belief. Clearly, we are each entitled to our own beliefs (at least in America, the land of the free), but this does not mean that we each have our own respective truths. A belief is a personal view of how things are, but truth is the way things actually are in the real world. Therefore, when we consider the nature of truth it makes no sense to say that something is true for you and not for me.
While people may have different beliefs, they cannot have different truths, for truth is indifferent to perspective. Philosopher J.P. Moreland put it this way: “Truth is disgustingly indifferent to what we believe.” Truth is what it is, regardless of my feelings or beliefs. We can choose our beliefs, but we can’t choose the truth. Hopefully our beliefs will match up with reality (since our everyday lives and eternal destinies rest upon having truthful beliefs), but we have no power to create truth anymore than we can make a wish come true simply by believing it.
SUPPORTING SCRIPTURE: 1 Corinthians 15:14, 17
Sean McDowell is a speaker, author and popular high school teacher. In 2008 he received the “Educator of the Year” award in San Juan Capistrano, California. Sean graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Theology and Philosophy. Learn more at: www.seanmcdowell.org
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