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Faith and Human Perception

By Thomas Rotkiewicz

Most of us have heard the story of the blind men and the elephant. Each one perceived the elephant differently according to the part of the body they felt. It illustrates the limitations of perception.

I was looking at an unopened can of soup. I could only see one angle at any given moment. I didn't even know what was really inside except for the label. It must have been soup because it said so. Of course it was - after I opened it.

Limited vs. Unlimited Perception

My perception of the can was limited, based on a mind which processes information through the five senses. In this case, before the can was opened, I was limited to sight. I interpreted what I saw, but what did I really know? Even after I tasted it, what did I know of the objective reality of a can of soup?

How can I determine the objective reality or absolute truth of anything by relying on a subjective process? My mind processes information within limited frames of reference. My interpretation or perception of anything will not be the same as yours because your awareness may be based on a number of different factors. We may agree that it is soup, but you may have touched it, or maybe even smelled it and tasted it differently. Someone else may have examined it more closely than you or I. Whatever the reasons, each person will perceive reality in different ways, but no one will be able to say with absolute certainty what the objective reality is.

What if someone had the ability to observe that unopened can of soup from every conceivable angle all at once? What if he was able to observe it, not only from every conceivable angle outside, but inside as well, all at once? Suppose he was also able to observe it from every possible measure of distance, all at once? What if he could observe, both inside and out, every cell, molecule, atom and subatomic particle of that can and its contents, all at once?

In addition to all the above, suppose he could observe it from every aspect of its existence in time, all at once? I can only imagine (and not very well) how vastly different his perception of that can of soup would be from ours.

If it became increasingly difficult to imagine each higher level of what his perception might be like, how much lower would our level appear in relation to his? If he tried communicating to us everything he knew about that can as he perceived it all at once, how much of what he attempted to reveal would we consider as nonsense? Our minds would not be able to process it.

This has only been in relation to the sense of sight. What of similar abilities expanded to include the other four senses? And consider the possibility that he may not be limited to a mere five senses.

The One Who Has No Limitations

I tried stretching the limits of a very limited imagination by using just a single can of soup as an illustration. What if his incredible abilities included knowing perfectly everything all at once and with no more effort than it takes to know every aspect of that unopened can of soup? God is omniscient. He know everything, even more than anything I've tried to imagine about how He might perceive a can of soup.

If I am attempting to perceive what is real within the bounds of my own limited frames of reference, how much more are those limitations due to the consequences of sin? How much have we lost that we can't even comprehend?

When we face various trials, how can we distinguish between what we believe to be happening - based on our limited perception - and what is really happening from God's perspective? How can we put our trust in experiences, feelings or human wisdom as reliable indicators of the true nature of what is real or what isn't?

Can we, even collectively, perceive any single object, or anything else, as perfectly as God can? We may appear to be making progress in our quest to expand human knowledge, but what do we use as a standard to measure that progress? Something within our limited frames of reference? Or something infinite?

What is a mile, a billion miles, twenty trillion light years, or even adding zeroes to the largest number imaginable for the next 50 billion years when it is measured against an immeasurably infinite distance? It will always be infinitely greater than any measure applied against it. That's about as close as I can get to illustrate infinity. God's infinite nature is infinitely more than that!

As believers in Christ, we have to be very careful. We can be fooled so easily. There are too many paths that seem so lead somewhere but take us nowhere. They may even separate us further from the Source of true knowledge. God says that there is only one path - and He is it (John 14:6), and He has left us with His inspired Word, the Bible. How often do we stumble as believers in Christ by misinterpreting His ways and words? How much more are the stumblings of those who don't believe?

God tells us to trust Him, and not to rely on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5,6). Why? Because He alone knows what He is doing and why. I certainly don't have an accurate or perfect knowledge of all things - or even any single thing. And this is where faith should come into play, reaching beyond our own limitations and placing our trust in the One who has no limitations.

I don't like everything that happens to me. I don't understand all the reasons why things happen the way they do, but God gave me His Word and promises to rely on. If I stubbornly rely on my own subjective self, all I can hope to accomplish is to become like a dog chasing its own tail because my own experiences, feelings, or understandings are working within extremely limited frames of reference.

He knows a single can of soup infinitely better than we do - and everything else.

Scripture Verses

Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm (Psalm 37:3-8).

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight, says the LORD (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them (Hosea 14:9).

Note: All Scripture references from: The New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.

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The above article was posted on this Web site in January 1998.

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