The Limits of Our Perception

February 21, 2021

By Bette Dickinson

Lament II – Bette Dickinson – Liquid Acrylic and Oil on Claybord. 2020

When trauma and chaos happens in our personal lives or in our world, we tend to want to stay within the shell of false narratives and coping mechanisms to shield us from pain. Those coping mechanisms are often our fight or flight response that cause us to create an oversimplified version of reality. We see villains, we see victims, and we see heroes. This is a way our brains self-protect. For more on this, see this post.

We think this shell of self-protection shields us from others and from God, but in reality it keeps us trapped. We hold onto control within our own perception of reality instead of surrendering our lives to God. And we often are blind to the truth that transforms us and sets us free.

How Well Do We Really See?

We see the pain of our world through a particular lens of our experience, culture, gender, and time in history. We see through a theological lens and a political lens. None of us sees the whole picture. We don’t have the perspective of everyone in the world and why people make the choices they do that cause pain. Even the experts can’t see all the nuances of problems like the spread of coronavirus or racism or economic crisis.

We don’t even have the full picture of our own lives and why things happened to us. Goodness – we don’t often know why we ourselves make the choices we do! This is a little frightening to realize, and can often cause us to feel stuck. We have had to grapple with this reality on the news and media. If everything is given from a slanted perspective – what can we trust!?

When we act on what we see from our limited perspective or the limited perspective of others, we make human solutions to God-sized problems.

But, the journey through suffering requires that we not only see how limited and narrow our view is in the midst of our pain or the pain of the world, but also open our eyes to see what perspectives we are missing. It means beginning to acknowledge that we are blind.

And this requires humility and empathy. It requires listening to others and God and learning in order to see. And most of all, it requires that we surrender our narrow perspective to God and invite Him to help us see Him and see what He sees. One way to do this is through lament. For a little guide on writing your own lament, you can get a PDF guide: Click Here

Learning to See Through Lament

Lament shifts our perspective off ourselves and our view of the problem and onto God. And when our perspectives are shifted to God, two things happen:

  1. We can’t help but surrender in worship
  2. We begin to see a new narrative.

In Biblical times of social upheaval, God provided spiritual sight to prophets for what was happening behind the scenes – the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of darkness invisible to our naked eyes in this world. Amidst political and social unrest and suffering in the Old and New Testaments, God provided sight to prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, and the Apostle John to see what their limited human view could not:

God on the throne sitting above all other earthly kingdoms. The slain lamb. The one who sits upon justice and righteousness as the foundation of his throne. The one who has defeated sin, death, and evil and will restore all things.

Here is what God begins to reveal when we fix our eyes on Jesus:

We see how great and glorious God is and how perfectly capable He is to handle even the greatest world crisis and our deepest personal struggles.

We see Jesus, the slain lamb on the throne who has entered into our pain, endured our suffering, and has gone to the Cross to bring us healing.

We see the suffering servant who died for His own enemies – including us. The one who didn’t see power as something to be grasped and used to his own advantage, but made himself nothing in order to lift us up with him in the resurrection.

We see Jesus victorious over sin, death, and evil and who will bring full redemption at the end of the story.

We see how small we and our problems are “in the light of his glory and grace.”

We see how inadequate our idols are to bring change and hope.

Why does this make a difference? Because when we center ourselves around the slain lamb, we are instantly humbled into awe and reverence.

Any form of self-righteousness or division melts away at the foot of a God who both surrendered to suffering and death for our sake and overcame it. And we can’t help but bow down in worship.

Seeing God as He is leads us to worship

Take a look at any of the prophets in Scripture and records of those who encountered God’s presence. Their first response? To fall down as if dead. And then to witness the whole host of heaven worshipping the one seated on the throne.

When we see Jesus as He is, we can’t help but worship. Worship is an intentional act to see and acknowledge God for who He is. And what we see changes everything.

Worship Changes How We See

When we stare at Jesus on the throne in all of His glory, our sight is changed. Everything else becomes clear. It is one of the most powerful forces we possess in the life of a believer, because it changes our perception of reality. In the face of discouragement, in the face of uncertainty, we see the truth that we often miss by just looking at our circumstances.

We see our own sin.

We see the pain of our world.

We see the pain of those different from us.

We see that there are forces both good and evil at work that we cannot see with our eyes.

We see that we are and our problems are really small.

We see that we don’t have the answers.

We see that we can’t fix it.

We see that we aren’t the hero. Neither are the people around us, or our strategies, structures, or clever ideas. Only God is.

When we worship God, we see ourselves and one another more clearly. We discover a shared humanity and unity in the truth that black, white, asian, latinx, native, multi-racial, republican, democrat, straight, or LGBTQ, we are all in need of His grace and healing. We are all in need of his forgiveness. We all have His blood on our hands.

God’s strategy for handling sin, death, and evil

There was no human wisdom in Jesus’ death – no strategic plan with 12 bullet points to achieve a solution. There was no human glory. No taking up arms to defend himself. No, Jesus himself embodied the strategy for heaven to break into the earth and bring victory:

Through surrender, suffering, and death.

Through sacrificial love for those different from him.

Through enduring injustice and loving those who oppressed him.

Through laying down power to elevate others.

Even while he was spit on and hung on the Cross, he prayed for those who persecuted him. Can you imagine doing this for those that make you angry on social media? Or those on the opposite side of the political aisle? Or those in power who abuse it? Or those who manipulate stories to spin their agenda?

Suddenly, when we see Jesus, through his beautiful love, we see the beauty in others. We see that even our enemies are worth dying for.

We also see that all our feeble efforts to try to fix the situation seem so ridiculous.

We see that we are more like the villain than we’d like to admit. When His light exposes the darkness within us, we see more clearly the parts of us that have been bound to sin, death, and evil. And He leads us to repentance through the truth that sets us free.

We begin to see spiritual solutions to problems. He imparts to us new visions and dreams for ministries and the harvest fields and actions we can take towards justice where we serve. He gives us fresh ideas that could not have come from our own limited perspective while holding onto control, but can only be received in rest and worship when we surrender our plans, agendas, and strategies.

Receiving New Sight

When we open ourselves up to see God on the throne and seek His perspective and the perspectives of those different from us, we may not always like what we see. We may see things within ourselves and in our world that we would rather not see. But can we trust when we know the truth, “the truth will set you free?” – John 8:32.

God’s truth is like living water that fills in our cracked little seed. It’s what causes us to expand. It hurts, because it causes the crack to get bigger. And it requires us to open vulnerably to the expansion process. But, what happens when we let the truth in and let it enlarge us?

The shell falls off.

We lose the pretense, the control we thought we had. We lose the false self – the persona we create to self-protect against pain. We think we are more safe and secure within the shell, but it actually just keeps us from being free and becoming who we were meant to be.

What we see changes how we act

Let’s use the Enneagram language to flesh this out:

The reformer who wants to fix the solution by making all the right choices and putting everything in order, suddenly awakens to see his version of “right” is limited.

The helper who wants to serve and care for the wounded begins to see that her actions were motivated in pride and sees how she was looking down on those she was serving, or expecting something in return.

The achiever who wants to prove herself through action suddenly surrenders to see that her actions were motivated by a desire to look good in the eyes of others. She slows down in order to allow God to refine her motivations.

The peacemaker who wants to numb the pain, suddenly awakens to it. He sees that his peacemaking was more like conflict avoidance and starts to grieve for the losses in the world in a way that calls him to take action and move towards conflict instead of away.

I could go on, but I won’t.

Letting Go of the False Self

When we allow the truth in to transform us, we no longer hide behind fighting (proving, striving, serving), and fleeing (numbing, escaping, hiding). We are totally vulnerable and exposed before God. And in the midst of that very raw place, we let go. We surrender our perceived control over ourselves and our world. And this is a very vulnerable place to be. But this is where transformation starts.

When we surrender helplessly to God at the Cross and say, “God, I don’t see the whole picture of why this is happening, only You do. Help me to see what You see.” and “God I can’t bring myself out of this. Only you can.” He cracks our shell and what falls off is the old self. All that we cling to for protection and security is exposed and broken apart.

But when we fail, when we are broken, when we experience loss and disappointment, and when we come face to face with our sin and the sin of the world, it is the first step to healing.

On the other side of repentance and forgiveness is a life of freedom to be who we were created to be – a partner in God’s redeeming work in the world. Not for our sake, not even for those we serve, but for His glory.

We begin to loosen our grip on control of our lives and see that He is worthy and capable of handling everything. Why would we fight or run from the pain when we have Jesus sitting there on the throne – the one who overcame sin, death, and evil?

Those who suffer find healing and justice in His wounds.

Those who want to take up arms to fight for their way suddenly drop their weapons in the face of the one who died for his enemies.

Seeing the Other Perspectives

In worship, we see that there are perspectives we have missed in our own self-righteousness. And He empowers us to seek them out.

William Blake said, “we become what we behold.” When we behold a God of justice, we seek justice. When we worship a God who comforts the hurting, we comfort the hurting.

When we worship a God who is creative, we become creative.

When we worship a God who lays down His power to elevate others, we lay down our power to elevate others.

When we behold a God who created a kingdom where every tribe, ethnicity, and culture worships Him around the throne, we discover the voices that are missing from our earthly realities and seek them out.

When we behold a God who loved his enemy by laying down His life for him, we are compelled to do the same.

Worship, true worship leads us to action because we see more clearly what the Kingdom of God looks like. And when we see the disparity between His Kingdom and our world, we are motivated to want to make His Kingdom a reality on this earth. We can’t help it. Once you’ve gotten a taste of the Kingdom of God, you’ll settle for nothing less.

Reflect:

  • What is God inviting me to see about who He is?
  • What is the truth that He is wanting me to receive? How might it change me if I let it in?
  • How will I believe and live differently in light of what I know to be true about God?
  • Who did I paint as a villain that I need to either forgive or see more from their perspective?”

A Prayer:

Lord,

My perception of my life and the world is so limited. I have been holding onto control to keep things together. I admit that when I hold onto control based on my own view of things, I fall short and it keeps me from seeing You and others clearly.

Set me free with your truth. Put to death my old self that clings to self-protection and help me to surrender vulnerably to You so that You might expand me into something new. Help me to see you as you are and behold you in your glory. And may I be radically changed as a result. Lead me from worship into action to seek Your Kingdom on this earth as it is in heaven.

Amen

For more of Bette’s amazing work and art, please Click Here or visit https://www.bettedickinson.com/

  1. Gina says:

    Wow Bette- awesome and insightful. A tough, but beautiful read. I loved “Once you’ve gotten a taste of the Kingdom of God, you’ll settle for nothing less.” How true and beautiful!

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