Reality is the hardest thing to correctly perceive.
To know reality is to know truth. (The terms can be used interchangeably). Or, reality is the state of things as they actually are, not necessarily as we perceive them to be. Most of us probably assume that reality is obvious; just look around, there’s reality. What we often don’t realize is that reality is always filtered through our perceptions. Just ask the husband who said one thing, but his wife heard something else…something she didn’t like. We hold basic beliefs about the way things are that are not grounded in the bedrock of reality, but in the shifting sand of perception. There is a way things actually are, but our ability to accurately perceive and explain them is colored by genetics, upbringing, past experiences, and especially our cultural norms.
Cultural norms aren’t reality either. They are ways we corporately agree to describe and deal with reality. If calling a spade a spade is reality, then agreeing to call a spade a club is a cultural norm. This is not to say that our cultural norms are always inadequate to describe reality, only that we should not assume something is true just because we have all agreed to describe it that way. As there is one truth – God’s, so there is one reality – also God’s. Everything else is a lie built on bad perception.
Our accepted cultural norms, plus our personal beliefs, makeup our worldview. A worldview, no matter how good, is not reality. It is a systematic description of reality. The better the worldview, the better it will accurately describe God’s reality. This gives us a way to test the quality of our worldview. For example, the Bible describes the human condition as fallen. All have sinned and fallen short. This is the biblical worldview’s proposed description of reality. On the other hand, the current cultural worldview is reluctant to call anyone evil. Instead the use of descriptors such as “delinquent”, “antisocial”, “addictive behavior”, and “temporarily insane” are encouraged. Which worldview has a better grasp on how things actually are? Are we simply misguided and misunderstood, or is there actual evil in the world? Which one is closer to God’s reality? (God doesn’t have a worldview, He is reality.)
Satan is the father of lies and has no interest in our good perception of God’s reality. For example, in the Garden of Eden God explained reality to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:17 NIV). Satan then convinced Adam and Eve of a false reality, “You will not surely die” (Gen 3:1 NIV). Jesus also spoke of this basic human state when he said, “…They hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Mtt 13:15 NIV). Has our inability to perceive reality as God created it kept us from the spiritual life and healing that could be ours?
Inherent to the perception of reality is understanding. On some level we must understand the truth about something to correctly perceive it. But, this understanding need not be complete. Adam and Eve didn’t understand all the “why’s” of God’s command, but they understood enough to perceive the basic truth of the situation, “God cares for us, if we eat, we die”. It was only when they chose to believe a lie, “God doesn’t really care for us,” that they became confused in their understanding about the way things really were.
Notice this key point – The first step in the Fall was to abandon their firm grasp on truth. Once this happened, they could no longer easily tell the difference between God’s truth and Satan’s lie. They gained the knowledge of good and evil, but lost the knowledge of reality. This is the state of things for us today – conflicting dogmas, a mixture of truth and lies masquerading as truth that allows us to ask the same question a Roman procurator asked Jesus 2 millennia ago, “What is truth?” (John 18:38 NIV) Our society is so confused about reality that is has waved the white flag, surrendering God’s objective truth for a subjective pseudo-truth that claims truth to be whatever the individual believes it to be. “That may be truth for you, but not for me.” (For further discussion on this, study “Postmodern worldview”).
The Bible gives the command to “lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5 NIV). But we were also told to “Cherish understanding” (Prov 19:8 NIV). Both are true. When we lean on our own understanding, we are leaning on the foundation of lies and misperceptions that undergird daily life. As an alternative to this, we are offered true understanding. But there are a few things that can stand in the way of our claiming this knowledge.
We have been created with an incessant need to understand. This basic need drives curiosity and is the gift of desire to discover God’s truth. As with every good gift God gives, Satan has a plan to keep us from using it as intended. Listed below are several reasons why we fail to understand God’s reality:
1. We are unaware of what we do not know. Our body of knowledge is not like a brook swirling around the rocks of ignorance so that we might know the shape and size of what we do not know. Our knowledge is like being inside a balloon. All we are aware of is what is in our balloon with us and perhaps what is on the boundary of our knowledge. From past experience, we may make assumptions about the length and breadth of our ignorance. But until our balloon enlarges enough to envelope a new body of knowledge, we don’t know just how much we didn’t know about that body of knowledge. The danger is to believe we already have all the knowledge we need for life and godliness and therefore not consistently stretch the boundaries of our knowledge to discover what we don’t know.
2. We ignore clues that our worldview is inadequate to describe reality. If something doesn’t fit our worldview, it is easier to ignore it than rework our perceptions to include it. In the scientific community it is known as confirmation bias. The scientist sees the results he wants to see instead of the actual results by focusing on confirming data and minimizing contradictory data. This is why pharmaceutical trials are often double-blind. In the same way we can get comfortable in our understanding of what the Christian life should look like, focusing on key scriptures that seem to confirm this understanding and minimizing scriptures that don’t. Anyone who has had a discussion with a Protestant over repentance and baptism has probably seen this effect. But we should never think we have become immune to this error in our own lives.
3. We minimize the importance of a body of knowledge if we don’t perceive value in it. Now, our perception may be correct. For example, while we may recognize that we don’t know much about astrophysics, we also recognize that its value to our daily lives is not great enough to put forth the effort to attain it. But that perception may also be a lie. For example, allowing moral knowledge to be lost in the name of personal freedoms has lead to a society that rarely does good simply because it is good. It is left to the reader to determine what effect that has had on our society over the last several decades.
4. We can be unmotivated and lazy when it comes to gaining knowledge. As mentioned above; if we don’t perceive value in a body of knowledge, we lack the motivation to overcome our apathy toward acquiring it. Very few of us study history even though we all affirm the proverb, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to …” Isn’t it ironic that, as America finds itself in a financial crisis, it is suddenly very interested in the lessons it can learn from the Great Depression? Too bad we weren’t interested in what the economic historian had to say last year. Is this also the case for Disciples? Are we the first ones to face the problems and questions of church unity? Or, have other men and women of God also struggled with this question in the past? Does our 2,000 years of Christian family history have any answers to offer us, or are we doomed to repeat the same failures?
5. We can be afraid of the consequence of the truth, so we choose to believe a lie. We are prone to hold to an understanding of the truth that allows us to live they way we want. If an unborn baby is considered an unwanted responsibility what can be done? But, if a fetus is not a baby, then abortion is not murder – problem solved. The greatest fear some of us have in searching for the truth is that we might find it. Closely associated with this is also the force of pride. It takes a humble person to abandon personal understanding for God’s.
6. We all have mistaken assumptions. The reader has probably heard that the reason drunk drivers survive accidents that kill sober drivers is that the alcohol in their system keeps them from tensing up at the moment of impact. The problem with this statement is it carries a mistaken assumption – that drunk drivers have a higher survival rate. They do not. Despite the impression given by the media, drunk drivers die just as often as any other participant in the accident, and a sober driver is just as likely to walk away unscathed as the drunk. What happens is, we take a perceived anomaly that offends our sensibilities (the one that did wrong was the one who survived) and we accept a plausible sounding assumption that is in fact a lie. When we find a gap in our knowledge, we can choose to fill it with truth or with an assumption. What we generally can not do is leave it unfilled as that denies our basic need to understand.
Job’s friends were guilty of this. They spent 28 chapters arguing on the mistaken assumption that bad things happen to bad people. Therefore, Job must be bad. In their minds, there was no way Job could be righteous AND destroyed. But where did they get that concept of reality? Was it the way things really were, or just the way they ASSUMED things should be?
Closely associated with this problem are the following assumptions:
- Assumption that our base data is true
- Assumption that we have all pertinent data
- Assumptions about the frequency or intensity of a thing
- Assumption that ours is the majority opinion
- Assumption that the majority opinion in our group is true
- Assumption that a thing is true because of tradition
- Assumption that our assumptions are true
Assumption is like comfort food for the mind. It takes minimal effort and fills us up, but it is not good for us. What we need is the meat of true knowledge. It is true that sometimes we may have to make decisions on well contemplated assumptions. We may never be completely free of assumption, but we should always be pushing the frontiers of our knowledge in an effort to discover and replace mistaken assumptions.
7. We fail to question reality. Often we aren’t even aware that our assumptions and beliefs are based on lies. Therefore, we run blithely along until smashing headlong into reality (as Job’s friends did, when they found themselves face to face with an angry God). We are so very happy with our neat little packaged understandings that we blindly accept when we should be questioning. If we want to banish lies and embrace truth, then (in a respectful manner) we need to question everything – even God. Moses, a friend of God, questioned God. David, a man after God’s own heart, questioned God. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all questioned God. Even Jesus humbly questioned God. Here is a challenge – find a mighty man of God in the Bible that never questioned God. God can handle questions. Gideon questioned God, didn’t believe the answer, so questioned Him again… and God took it! Even if God has to slap the questioner around a bit with the answer (as in Job’s case), God invites the question because only by questioning what we perceive (assume) is reality can we recognize the lies we believe. A question doesn’t have to equal doubt. It can also indicate a heart searching for a better understanding of God – or, put more simply, a disciple.
The simple question, “What good reason do I have for believing ______?” can bring us closer to God’s truth than we have ever been. It throws out assumptions and requires us to pursue knowledge. If Adam and Eve had just asked themselves, “What good reason do we have to believe this snake over God,” how different would things have turned out for them? What about those people Jesus referred to as deaf and blind? If they had questioned their assumptions about what the Messiah should be, could they have turned and been healed? Has the reader ever run recklessly headlong into disaster, when a simple question would have brought about pause and caution?
For the last few months, the author has asked himself this question countless times. Each day, something new comes up to be questioned. Sometimes they are simple things: “What good reason do I have for believing that every dinner must be served with a meat product?” – None. Sometimes they are much more difficult: “What good reasons do I have for believing that it is ever okay to watch TV? Or, that Romans 7 Christianity is the best I can do? Or, that my purpose is to make disciples?” If we haven’t asked the question and searched out the answer then we are living according to the answers we assume to be correct. Maybe some of them are. But since the Fall, Satan’s lies have been intertwined with our perceptions, making it unlikely that very much has escaped corruption.
When it comes to godly knowledge, the only winner of the ignorance game is Satan. We live in a society and culture that is permeated with Satan’s lies. As long as we are willing to limit our understanding of the world around us through an apathetic lack of godly knowledge and cling to lies and mistaken assumptions, Satan can take a vacation and we will go right on doing his will… perpetuating his lies. Let us instead take hold of truth, wherever it may be found, firm in knowledge that all truth is God’s truth. And, fully aware that our best defense against Satan is to question his lies and replace them with the reality of God.
To God be the glory.