Saturday, May 02, 2009


My wife and I were lying in bed the other night when she commented that the brightness of the moon coming through the window was a wonderful Spring event and provided a pleasant calming effect at bedtime. As the window through which the light was coming was on my side of the bed, I observed that it wasn’t the moon, but a neighbor’s security light that was casting the radiance across our floor. At that, my wife said, “then close the blind; it’s too bright and will keep me awake.”

There’s a saying in my profession and shared by many others that asserts “perception is reality.” There are even people who specialize in perception management. This is the idea that what others think about you becomes true in their minds, and we are able to modify their behaviors toward us by adjusting the perceptions they have of us.

My wife’s mood and attitude changed solely on the basis of her perception of the source of the light. For the few minutes that the light was caused by a Spring moon, she enjoyed it and would have been content to sleep contentedly with the warm moonlight bathing us. When she realized the light was caused by a cold, stark, security light, the light immediately became an intrusion and a hindrance to peaceful slumber. One moment it was peaceful; the next it was almost jarring.

The light though hadn’t changed; it had always been caused by the neighbor’s security light. The only thing that did change was the perception of it, illustrating that there is some truth in the saying that perception is reality as far as it defines our acceptance of and interaction with our surroundings.

This same phenomenon is true regarding Christian understandings of God. If we read Scripture, or if we are trained to see God as an aloof taskmaster who has created arbitrary hoops through which we are expected to jump in order to gain His acceptance, we align our religious thinking along those lines. Christian life becomes essentially a test to see if we can determine the correct rules, adhere to them, and convert others to the same rules. Worship activities become central because the rules for them can be measured and objectively assessed. We can even convert others to our understanding of the rules and correct behaviors we tease from Scripture.

If we see God rather as a loving, giving God; if we understand Scripture as a narrative unfolding of God, we might perceive God as a compassionate God who wants us with Him. As a result, we develop an understanding of reality that is quite different from the one we have just discussed. We see a God that isn’t wrapped up in finite rules, issuing test scenarios that we must negotiate correctly. We see a God whose compassion and intimate knowledge of us causes Him to accept us with our faults and with our wrong or immature understandings of Him and ourselves. Worship activities become almost a secondary response to such a God, following the reality of changed lives and transformed hearts. Our relationships with others become characterized by understanding and acceptance more than attempts to define and enforce divine rules.

As a result of this last perception of God, we are freed to join in God’s compassionate love for, and nurturing acceptance of ourselves and others. Only when we understand God as One who accepts us with our faults can we accept ourselves with those same faults. When we can, we no longer need to hide them or pretend we don’t have any failings. It is only after we have learned this about ourselves that we can most fully enter the lives of others and accept them where they are. Only then can we introduce them to a God that is loving rather than demanding. Only then can we pass to others a perception of God that is similarly freeing and life-giving.

However we perceive God, He does not change. Just as the light outside the window didn’t change, our changing perceptions of it created its own reality. We can to a large degree shape our own reality based on our perception of God and what He is up to. That perceived reality will color our views of ourselves, others, and our calling.

How’s your perception?

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