Get Real and Die Trying
“If you continue in My word, you are My disciples indeed. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” – Jesus Christ, John 8:31-32
Oh good, you’re here.
Come on in…have a seat. We’ve got some things we need to talk about. Not to be impolite, but I’m skipping the chit-chat today. Small talk has never been my strong point, and with such a pressing matter at hand it would be quite useless for me to attempt it at the moment. No, we may as well get right down to business.
Comfy? Enjoy it while it lasts.
So here’s the question – the opener, if you will: How do you feel about yourself?
Yes, yes, I know you’re “fine”. Everybody’s “fine”. No, I’m asking the real question for a real answer. Be honest. Brutally so, if necessary. How do you really feel about yourself?
Do you feel you’re amazing? Are you your own favorite person? Do you get warm fuzzies every time you see your reflection?
Or are you anxious? Maybe ashamed? A little angry over not being your ideal self?
It’s rhetorical, of course. I don’t expect a response. You know the real answer, and you’ve got it in mind now. That’s what matters. Think of it like a card trick. You know which one you picked out of the deck. No need to show it to me, just remember your card.
Now on to the next question: How sensitive should I be to your feelings about yourself?
On the surface, it appears to be an unnecessary question. If I become aware that you have a particular set of self-perceptions that you harbor a majority of the time, shouldn’t I adjust my behaviors accordingly when I’m around you?
For instance, if I knew you had a tendency to feel “ugly” when considering your own appearance, most people would think it inappropriate for me to make playful jabs at you about how you looked, even if the jests were made out of pure friendliness and affection. If you agree with that, then to some degree you believe that I should be sensitive to your self-perceptions, and that my behavior should reflect that sensitivity. For clarity, let’s say “should” implies a moral obligation; as in, if I “should” do something, it is the “right” thing to do. Not doing what I “should” do is on par with doing the “wrong” thing.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that’s the stance you take: that I have a moral obligation to respect your perceptual authority. You feel a certain way, and I ought to temper the things I say and do around you based on my knowledge of your feeling. That’s just part of being a decent person, right?
But this raises the question: what determines whether I’ve been sensitive to how you feel about yourself? You might say, “Well, if I don’t feel like you’ve been an inconsiderate beast of a person, then you probably haven’t been.” Fair enough. So what if I really did put effort into respecting your perceptions, and you still thought I’d been an inconsiderate jerk? Who is right? Or rather, who determines thereality in this situation?
I know that the phrase “Perception is reality” gets thrown around a lot, and I think we have a tendency to leave it at that. This works fine as long as everyone shares the same perception, i.e. everyone feels the same way. But what happens when there are conflicting perceptions of the same issue? Does that mean there are conflicting realities?
Let’s back up for some clarification before I wade any further into this. First off, it’s no secret that I start my beliefs from a Christian perspective. I assume the truth of the Christian Bible, and accept the logical consequences of that assumption. From that chosen belief, everything else in my understanding is built.
One of those consequences is believing that there is a single objective reality that we exist in. In other words, what is real is really real, not just what is real to me. And reality doesn’t have to be apparent to me for it to be so. It doesn’t require my participation to exist, in other words.
Now you might ask, “Preston, why take such a calculating approach to your faith? You don’t need to do all this thinking, just believe.” And you wouldn’t be wrong, per se. Nothing I can reason will result in my salvation, but reason can lead me up to the point of understanding that reason alone isn’t enough. (“Nothing I can reason will result in my salvation” is a reasoned statement, a logical consequence of believing in the total truth of Scripture. Ta-daa..)
You see, reason and logic are really just hankering after truth. Christ said if I’m digging into His word, trying to discern from His teaching, I will know the truth and the truth will set me free. He plainly says there is an objective truth, able to be known by those who seek it through Him. He offers a source of truth, one that brings liberation. The folks He was talking to in that passage are skeptical: “Free? We’re not slaves! How could you set us free if we aren’t captured to start with?” He responds, “If you sin, you are enslaved by sin.”
Wham-o. See what He did there? He refutes their perception of reality with logic. In their minds, they perceive themselves to be free. Yet according to Christ, the reality of their slavery remains the same regardless of how they see it. But they’re not going to get in touch with reality unless they’re “continuing in His word”; that is, seeking the truth through Him.
The reality that Christ is talking about is objective. It’s constant and unchanging. Sin is synonymous with bondage and captivity, no matter what subject (what person) you place into the equation. So you see? Objective reality is a consequence of Christian belief. I’m constrained to believe there is such a thing, as are any professed followers of Christ’s teaching.
With this in mind, let’s return to my original problem: If “perception is reality”, what do we do with conflicting perceptions?
So here’s the thing: from a Christian standpoint, “perception is reality” is a bit of a paradox, as it is both true and false simultaneously. It’s false in the sense that perception, being subjective, does not determine objective reality – objective reality merely is. However, it’s true in the sense that the only way we have access to reality is through our senses – we only understand something as real if we perceive it to be so.
What are we left with? Well, when we’re talking about how you feel about yourself, there’s no reason to deny that you feel that way. Your feelings are real in the sense they exist from your creation. However, those feelings only have authority over your perception, and have no bearing on what is actually in objective existence. Your feeling ugly doesn’t make you ugly in objective reality.
And this applies to your perception of others’ sentiments towards you as well. From my opening example, you might perceive me to be an insensitive jerk, but that doesn’t determine if I really am one or not. Reality is not influenced by how you feel about it.
So if you agreed that I have a moral obligation to respect your perceptual authority, what is really being said is not that I have an obligation to respect, but rather an obligation to make you perceive respect. See, if I respect such a thing and you don’t perceive it, then to you I really didn’t respect it, did I?
And therein lies the problem. Perceptual authority. We associate the feeling of something with its reality, but the correlation between the two is loose at best. When we don’t make the distinction between them, we’re setting ourselves up for a mess. Feeling loved doesn’t strictly equal being loved. Feeling safe doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe.
Now here’s where it gets real.
Objective reality is static. It doesn’t change. Subjective perception is dynamic. It can move.
Look again at the passage in John 8. The Jews had their perception, right? “We’re not slaves!” Based on the perspective they approached the idea of freedom from, were they mistaken? No, not at all. In objective reality they were not slaves; therefore “free”. But what does Jesus do? He just offers a perspective adjustment to bring the true reality into focus.
But He had to force them to change that perspective, right? Did He have to grab their brain by the ears and yank it around into the right perception because they were completely helpless to adjust it themselves?
He just left it there, dangling. He offered it to them, but He didn’t make them take it. Why not? Because it was up to them to change their perception.
The idea here is that our own perceptions are within our power to change. How we look at something is our own responsibility. This has an even deeper implication: If we can choose how we perceive something, and our perception determines how we feel, then it must follow that how we feel is our own decision.
That’s tough pill to swallow. Our ability to blame anything and anyone for our particular feelings are stripped away by that idea. That seems harsh, doesn’t it? That might even make you feel worse about yourself. “I feel bad and Christianity proposes it’s my own fault! How is that supposed to make me feel better about myself?”
Who says it is?
“But Preston, surely God doesn’t want me feel bad.”
God wants you to live in reality. That’s what Christ is telling the Jews in John 8. “Get real, guys. See things as they really are.” That means we have to let go of how we feel, we have to see it is not a priority that I feel good. Is that not part of the command to “deny ourselves and take up our cross” (Luke 9:23)? Personal feelings are all inwardly focused; it’s all about us. About how I feel. I can’t look at Him if I’m focused on me. He wants us to know the truth – He’s concerned with what is, not what feels to be.
God created reality in such a way that it points to Him. Y’know the whole “the very stones will cry out” thing in Luke 19? What, did you think it was Jesus just being hyperbolic? No! Christ is saying that reality – God’s authentic created reality, correctly perceived – would scream “Blessed be the King!”, and no amount of our flawed perception could stop it.
In our fallen frame we chase and claw after feelings. Christ says what we need is reality. The Way, the Truth, and the Life.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Luke 10:27
The heart captivates with God, the soul gravitates towards God, the strength animates for God, and the mind investigates into God. The greatest commandment; being consumed, moved, and intrigued by the reality that is God. Dig into His Word, and let the Truth set you free.