Truth, perception, and perspective — this may be a subject too large to tackle here. Let’s attempt it anyways.
I am settling back into the routine of my life following an eventful week that started with the funeral of a 21-year-young lady—the daughter and sister of dear friends—taken suddenly and without warning in a tragic accident. The week commenced with a planned getaway with my wife to the breathtaking mountains, grasslands, vistas, and monuments of South Dakota. Reflecting on a week marked by seemingly unanswerable questions and unquestionable answers, I am compelled to consider how we impact reality by perception and how much of perception is the product of perspective.
Perception and reality
I set out to find a good quote on the topic of how perception is often more powerful and influential in shaping our lives than reality. Trouble is this: so many people have noted this in some way or other, it is difficult to narrow it down. Nonetheless, here are a few:
- Perception is reality. If you are perceived to be something, you might as well be it because that’s the truth in people’s minds. ~Steve Young, former NFL quarterback
- One has not only an ability to perceive the world but an ability to alter one’s perception of it; more simply, one can change things by the manner in which one looks at them. ~Tom Robbins
- No two people see the external world in exactly the same way. To every separate person a thing is what he thinks it is — in other words, not a thing, but a think. ~Penelope Fitzgerald
- We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. ~Anais Nin
- Heightened perception is the goal: becoming more aware of how you see, not just what you see. ~Michael Kimmelman
I can see the smoke billowing from the Christian reader’s ears as the mental wood is burning.
We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are. ~Anais Nin
How much of this “perception versus reality” stuff can I accept and still hold that Truth has a divine source and is immutable?
OK, maybe that is the smoke billowing from my own ears, as I struggle with how much of God’s truth I have left unadulterated and how much I have viewed, interpreted, and proclaimed after filtering it through my own perception.
I know that God created mankind in His own image, but have I avoided the ever-looming temptation (proclivity even) to create God in mine? Is He what I think He is because that is what I think he should be?
Is it not informative that two preachers can love, serve, and proclaim the same God and one sees Him primarily as just, righteous, holy, and exacting and the other sees grace, mercy, and longsuffering? (Is He not all of the above?)
Show me a judgmental Christian and I will guarantee his or her Jesus is forever sitting in judgment over the people that person holds in low regard. Show me a Christian given to the appetites of the flesh and I promise you will find His Jesus turning water into wine and eating corn on the Sabbath, etc., the life of the party. Show me a Christian who sees himself as near irredeemable and his Jesus will be the God of amazing grace.
Do I believe in universal Truth? Yes, I do.
Do I believe we skew and interpret said Truth based on our preconceptions and perceptions? Absolutely.
There is another layer to this concept cake we are baking together today…
Perspective and perception
I am sure you have heard the age-old tale of the six blind men in an Indian village arguing over what an elephant was like, each having touched a different part of the beast? If not, click here to read it. What the men ultimately learned was that each was partially right and completely wrong. Their perception was influenced by their perspective, which altered the reality for each.
The great C.S. Lewis made this powerful observation regarding perspective’s impact on perception:
I was thinking about these words in light of my friends’ loss. How I wish I knew the words to ease their suffering. How I wish I knew what ought to be said at such a time. Then I remember this well-known, oft-used, and completely beautiful poem by the Presbyterian pastor Henry Van Dyke. It is about death…and perspective:
Gone From My Sight
I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”
Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me — not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
Perspective changes perception.
Death seems so final to us. It seems so “over” for the one who died. But if we could see what the angels see, what would death look like then? Would we still mourn the loss? Would we pity the dead?
I mentioned that the funeral was quickly followed by a vacation, which my wife and I had planned for some time. We escaped to the serenity and beauty of South Dakota, where we encountered the past glories of places like Deadwood; took a two-hour train ride on the 1880 Train through the Black Hills; gazed, mouths agape, at the wonder of the Badlands and their ruthless, jagged peaks, massive crevices, and changing colors; watched Buffalo idly grazing and bighorn sheep napping in places that seemed impossible; and basked in the authentic, patriotic fervor and glory of Mount Rushmore.
I needed a change of perspective. Changes at my workplace had brought stress and uncertainty to my mind. A change in the company’s territorial division meant a change in bosses, a change in direction, and what felt like a role reduction for me.
I was not a happy camper and this was not a happy campground. So, on the day marking the completion of our 37th year together, Donya and I boarded a plane and flew away.
The Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, of which we live smack dab in the middle, now boasts a population of more than six million souls. All of South Dakota has fewer than 900,000. South Dakota has that high lonesome feel that a city dweller finds cathartic.
Up there in the mountains or driving across those windswept high plains, I gained perspective. I reconnected with the Creator of the Universe, who happens to be the Keeper of my Soul. He is a big deal. He does wondrous things as a matter of course. He isn’t bothered or beset by changes on the corporate ladder. In a dog-eat-dog world, He is at the top of the food chain and he has made some pretty tangible promises about the wellbeing of those that belong to Him.
And I do!
The late great Southern Baptist Evangelist Vance Havner used to say, “You don’t have to know key people when you know the Keeper of the keys.”
Whether dealing with stressful changes at work or bowing beneath the incredible burden of sudden loss, it is important to remember (but may sometimes seem impossible to believe) that reality is much larger than your perception. It may help to change your perspective in order to glimpse God’s glory and feel yourself still firmly held in the grip of grace.