Even though Pastor Tim and I currently are in different hemispheres, we seem to be thinking about some of the same things! Last Sunday Tim preached about Truth, and about that time I was writing in my personal blog about Perception. Perhaps a bit of explanation is in order.
A few days ago JG and I bicycled along Lake Takapo in New Zealand, under the shadow of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in the country. We did an out and back on a section of the Alps to Ocean trail, one of the gems of bicycle touring in New Zealand. It was spectacularly beautiful, and got me thinking about life, and work, and religion, and truth.
We began by riding 20 kilometers north toward the mountains, and the views were absolutely thrilling. Enormous glaciated peaks and aqua water and fall colors – it made us think that Lake Washington might have some real competition to host the “most beautiful lake ride” in the world. Then we turned around and rode the same section south – the direction most Alps to Ocean bikers travel, and the views were still beautiful – aqua water and hills – but not as magnificent as they had been to the north. I would not be surprised if the majority of Alps to Ocean riders focus on the beauty to the south – the view right in front of them – without realizing that even more spectacular scenery is right behind them, just 180 degrees away.
That experience reminded me of one of the silliest moments in my IT career. I was in a meeting with 30 other managers, and one of them was ranting about the poor quality of communication she got from her team. She was sick of options and opinions and theories. “I just want to know the truth!” she shouted. I apparently forgot where I was, and responded with a question. “But what if there is no such thing as truth? What if there is only perception?” She looked at me like I was speaking in Esperanto. An uncomfortable silence came over the room until we switched to another topic.
That exchange illustrates what I believe is a fundamental principle about our world. Truth, as certain and sure as we all want it to be, rarely exists. We deal constantly with perceptions – ours and other people’s – and those perceptions often vary significantly. Have you ever heard multiple eyewitness accounts of some event that vary dramatically? It’s not necessarily because someone is lying, but rather that the witnesses actually experienced the event differently. They are sharing their perception.
I find it ironic that we seem to get the most certain about our personal truths in the areas where we have the fewest facts to work with, like religion. In college as a freshman I took a required “Humanities” class in a huge lecture hall. It was taught by several professors, all of whom were riveting speakers. I think it was Dr. Mead who covered the topic of “truth.” “Here are three statements of fact,” he began. “E=MC2. 2 + 2 = 4. There is no God but Allah. Which of those is always true?” Someone correctly called out the last phrase, because Einstein’s Theory of Relativity will be proved wrong at some point and arithmetic depends on what base number system one is using. Only a religious truth could be eternal.
And that’s the problem, in my opinion. In an area of our lives where we have no facts, where what we believe most likely depends on where we were born and who we grew up with, we claim to have eternal truth, the only truth, the one truth. We claim to be forever right, and everyone else forever wrong. But what we really have is our own perceptions, our own interpretations, our own experiences. We don’t know, cannot perceive, would not understand the truth.
Jesus is quoted as saying “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” He made that statement in a specific context – while talking to a group of Jews who “had believed him.” (John 8.31-31, NIV) And to me, that statement represents Jesus’ perception at that moment, with those people. We are more likely to set ourselves and others free when we admit that when it comes to truth, all we really have is our own perception.