From the simple to the complex, we misinterpret reality more often that we'd like to admit. That's why living in reality is so important.
by Del Tackett
As a young Idaho farm boy, I was hooked on Superman comics. I read every one of them and began to imagine that the stories were all very real. I can remember thinking that there must have been something in Superman’s cape that made him fly. So, I made one.
Naturally, the best place to test it was from the top of the chicken coop. I remember the certainty that filled me as I climbed to the roof. There was no hesitation, no second thoughts. I was going to fly. I knew it—I believed it. I also clearly remember my contact, first with the wood pile, then with the ground. This is when I discovered that it is possible to believe something strongly and be very wrong about it.
Where Do False Beliefs Come From?
There are at least two ways we end up with false beliefs. First, we can misinterpret reality, as I did when I tried to fly. No matter how ardently I believed I could fly, an intense encounter with gravity showed me I couldn’t.
I have often heard the statement—and deeply regret making it myself—that "perception is reality." Nonsense. One who holds this position will find himself in many perplexing situations. You may perceive that it is not raining outside, yet after you retrieve the newspaper, you’ll sit in bewilderment, contemplating why you are soaking wet. You may perceive that the light is on and then wonder why it is so difficult to read at night. Or, more tragically, a young girl may look in the mirror and perceive that she is fat, then wonder why she is in a hospital bed, dying of malnutrition.
Is perception reality? No. I thought I could fly. I can’t. Sometimes, our perceptions or beliefs are totally false. And a false belief about what is real can make us do some very stupid things.
A Culture of Self
The second way we acquire false beliefs is through our culture, which tells us lies everyday. That’s why, when God came to earth as a man, he spent a great deal of time attempting to explain to us what is really real. "Truly, truly, I say to you ..." Jesus would exclaim over and over again, trying to get the people to believe reality in the midst of the lies that surrounded them.
Two thousand years later, we still reject his testimony. The lies of our culture are everywhere, seeping into our minds through a myriad of hoaxes: a television program insidiously tells us that the pleasures of the world bring happiness; music glorifies rape or murder or drugs; financial advisors tell us to create our own security, assuming there’s no God to provide for us. What is going on here? The reality is that the pleasures of the world leave only emptiness, drugs destroy lives, and money in itself can never bring security. The list goes on and on. And the consequences are horrific.
Our postmodern world is pulling each individual into a vacuum of self-centeredness, whispering, "It’s all about you." It’s all about your own pleasure, peace, prosperity, and comfort. It’s all about what you think. It’s all about your own self-actualization, your individual pursuit. It reminds me of the first lie that mankind heard in the garden: "You will be like God!" It is all about us, isn’t it?
In an interview with Diane Sawyer, 1 Mel Gibson confessed that when he reached the top of the world, with all of its stardom, wealth, power, and luxury, he was the most miserable and depressed man in the world. He even considered committing suicide. Why? Because worldly success really is a big lie. Despite uncounted testimonies that misery lives at the end of that road, we continue to walk it. I am not saying that all material things are inherently evil. Many are the gift of God. But believing that they will bring rest for our souls is one of the great lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
This is why our worldviews are so important. More than just systems of academic propositions, they drive what we think, how we act and, in most cases, how we feel. I am not talking about our professed worldview—what we say we believe in a Sunday school class or Bible study. In those public forums, we are often more concerned about how others will react to our declarations than whether or not we truly believe them. We are talking about the worldview of our hearts—those things that we truly believe are real. If our personal worldviews are false, we will find ourselves jumping off chicken coops with crayon-colored sheets for capes, or starving ourselves to death in order to reach the "perfect" image.
It is a mystery to me as to how a truth claim becomes a part of our worldview. I don’t completely understand that process. But I do know this: if a teenager puts on her headphones and listens incessantly to a singer or rapper tell her that drugs are the path to joy, or murdering a cop is cool, or easy sex is just something people do for fun, eventually that gets into her heart and will be played out, somewhere, somehow. And when the lies in the heart get played out, someone usually gets hurt deeply.
I remember, many years ago, visiting the dentist. He asked me if I had brushed my teeth well. He sounded like my mother. I nodded my head confidently, for who doesn’t do their very best at brushing before a dental appointment? On this particular occasion, rather than simply smiling at me in affirmation, he handed me a little red tablet and told me to chew it up. This I dutifully did. After all, it is unadvisable to disobey one’s dentist or put him in a bad mood. When I had chewed the little red pill, he held up a mirror and asked me to smile. The horrible image is still embedded in my mind. The red pills were called “disclosing” tablets. They contained a dye which turned all the plaque bright red and therefore disclosed the reality of the gunk in my mouth. What an awful sight! My perception was that I was doing a good job of cleaning my teeth. The little red tablet had shown otherwise.
In the case of my dental visit, the consequences of being deceived about my brushing habits were merely a small cavity. But holding false beliefs about more consequential matters can bring deep pain and even the loss of our own souls.
The Truth of God is our disclosing tablet, reflecting His very image and testing us to reveal the false beliefs in our lives that need “flossing.” May we make it our prayer that God expose every false belief we hold and bring it into line with His truth. Only then can we experience the eternal life his Son came to bring us.
1 Diane Sawyer’s interview of Mel Gibson, ABC News Prime Time, February 16, 2004.
Copyright © 2005, Focus on the Family. Used by permission.