Is the truth true for everyone?Written by Elizabeth Urbanowicz
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My new class of third grade students had just finished practicing their weekly memory verse: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ ” (John 14:6). We had a few minutes before the bell rang, so I wrote a question on the board: “Is the truth true for everyone?” I then asked my students to write their answers on sticky notes and then post them on the board below the question.
I was sure that after memorizing John 14:6 all week, my students would answer this question with a resounding yes and clear explanation. To my shock, more than three-quarters of my class had noted, “No, truth is different for different people.”
This must be a mistake, I thought. Yet, in the weeks to come, as fall turned to winter and I dug deeper into their responses, I realized that my students were not simply confused. These children had subtly absorbed the false belief that truth is subjective. Relative. I was passionately teaching them God’s Word, but their misunderstandings left them thinking that Jesus was the Way for some people, the Truth for some people, and the Life for some people.
I realized I had to be intentional about equipping my students to understand what biblical truth is, how to follow that truth with confidence and how to distinguish objective truth from personal preferences.
When you ask your kids, “What is truth?” they may have trouble defining it. Some will say something to the effect of, “We need to tell the truth.” Honesty is certainly important, but help your kids dive deeper.
Philosophers traditionally define truth as that which corresponds with reality. Yet, that sentence has little meaning for a four-year-old, eight-year-old or even a 12-year-old. Instead, simplify the definition by saying, “Truth is what is real.” Then help your kids by giving them phrases that are either true or false and pointing out that the true phrases demonstrate what is real.
When working with kids seven and under, I like to turn this into a game.
I start by presenting a number of sentences that represent what is real – statements like: “Saturday is a day of the week.” “My mom loves me.”
“Kittens are a type of animal.” When I say these true sentences, I have the children jump up, throw their arms in the air, and shout, “True!”
I then mix in a few silly sentences that represent what is not real statements like “Blapday is a day of the week.” “It is always freezing cold in the summer.” “Puppies run on the ceiling.” When I say these false sentences, I have the kids cross their arms in front of their chests and shout, “Not true!” This simple and fun activity can help even four-year-olds grasp that truth is what is real.
Knowing and following Truth
Once children have a basic understanding of truth, the next step is helping them understand that both knowing and following the truth are important. My favourite way to foster this understanding is through a treasure hunt using prizes such as candy, stickers or coins.
I write out two or three different sets of directions for finding the prizes. One set of instructions is true, explaining where the prizes are hidden. The other sets of instructions are false, leading the kids to places where there is no prize.
I begin the treasure hunt by announcing that somewhere in the room I’ve hidden prizes and have written directions for finding them.
I explain that some of the directions are true, and I disclose where the treasure is hidden. The other directions, however, are not true; they do not lead to a prize. I then distribute the various instructions and let the kids follow them. After the prizes are found, we debrief the treasure hunt together. I ask questions to help them see the importance of knowing and following the truth, both in this activity and in life.
Discerning objective truth
After your children have a working definition of truth and understand the importance of both knowing and following it, the final step is equipping them to discern objective truths from subjective preferences.
Objective truths are things that remain true no matter what we think, feel or believe about them. Subjective preferences are individual likes and dis- likes that differ from person to person. For example, I’m not a fan of chocolate. My mother, on the other hand, prefers chocolate over any other dessert. Our subjective preferences are different. However, those preferences cannot change the objective truth about whether a cookie contains chocolate chips. My mother’s internal feelings cannot magically make chocolate chips appear in a cookie. And my preferences cannot make chocolate chips disappear.
Recognizing subjective preferences
Baking cookies together is a great way to help illustrate this concept. As we pause to enjoy our tasty creations, I ask, “What are some preferences about these cookies that might change from person to person?” After we come up with a list of preferences, I ask, “What are some truths about these cookies that do not change no matter what someone thinks, feels or believes about them?” Even young children can pick up the difference between preferences and truths.
After I got over my initial shock that autumn day in the classroom, I began introducing concepts about truth and world view to my students. I was surprised to discover just how quickly their confusion about truth was resolved. By the time the winter snow melted, my students had learned to think critically about truth, and I know it found its way into other areas of their lives. By the time we began preparing for Easter, my students understood that the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just a subjective preference. It’s a vital objective truth – one that’s true for everyone.
Elizabeth Urbanowicz is the founder of Foundation Worldview and develops curricula and discipleship resources for kids.
© 2022 Elizabeth Urbanowicz. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Originally published in the February/March 2022 Focus on the Family magazine.
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