How do we know what is real? And, if we grant that what we see and experience is real, how do we know that we’re perceiving it accurately? Some would say that those are quaint and irrelevant questions, because reality is personal and subjective. (Is that a true statement? How would we know?)
Tracie, a talented photographer and blogger, nicely illustrated the difference between what we might call objective reality and a personal perception of reality. Tracie’s post features her evocative photo of a deserted beach after a storm. She described how she had edited out some footprints because she wanted to communicate a feeling of isolation and loneliness. Therefore, her photograph is not an exact representation of the physical reality, but it is a more accurate expression of her experience of the reality. (Please visit Tracie’s blog directly to fully appreciate her photography and her words.)
So, what is reality?
From the days of the Enlightenment until very recently the prevailing view of reality has been that our physical universe is real and that it is empirically discoverable through scientific inquiry. That era has been labeled, among other things: modernism.
Scientific and technological advances have indeed been impressive over the last century, but disease, poverty and wars still plague the earth. Disappointment with modernism’s failures and excesses (like materialism, consumerism and globalism) have given rise to a philosophy called postmodernism. Both a rejection and extension of modernism, postmodernism proposes that reality is individual, socially constructed, and different for every person and culture. Reality is created, not discovered; explored, not explained.
Is reality self-existent and empirically observable, or is it socially and culturally constructed? Both? Neither? Who cares?
As a Christian, I believe that objective truth and reality exist independent of human understanding and are found in God. He has expressed himself, ultimate reality, throughout his creation and through his Word. Physical laws of nature are true and they are in force within creation. God also put moral statues in place, and they are just as true as physical laws. Reality exists.
However, it is also true that individuals experience reality uniquely.
Tracie’s stirring photograph is an honest expression of her experience of the beach on that day. The beach, with its footprints on the day she took the photo and as it stands today, is also objectively real in itself.
Christians tend to get nervous around the idea of personal perceptions of reality. We feel the need to defend the notion that objective truth and reality have been revealed by God.
There are foundational Christian truths revealed in Scripture that all believers accept as absolutely true. (If they didn’t they would not be Christians.) But sincere and genuine believers disagree over many theological “truths” like baptism (infant or adult), predestination (Calvinism) or free will (Arminianism), the role of women in the church, and many more.
Cultural expressions of Christianity also vary widely, for Christian reality can be lived out in any and every culture under the sun.
The essential, and non-negotiable, reality of Christianity is that it is a relationship with a real Savior, who lived a real life in human history, died a real death and rose from the grave in victory over sin and death.
And yet each individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ is a unique and personal experience.
What do you think? How do you recognize reality? Do you think reality is universally understood or personally experienced or both? Is there a risk that technology entices us to create our own “reality” rather than knowing and experiencing true reality? Or does this all just give you a headache?
“These are shadows of things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Colossians 2:17
Quotes courtesy of the Quote Garden and Brainy Quote.
It is fascinating to consider how technology can be used to “adjust” reality and how people even create or re-create themselves on-line. In some ways, technology is just an extention of what we all do in our face to face relationships, but clearly it adds a layer of distance and possibility for deception. Who is the “real” me? Or you? Is there a core identity that God created in each of us, or are we products of our families, cultural influences and our own choices? But that is a whole different question… Thanks for your comment!
An extremely thought provoking post. Technology does seem to influence our realities, or at least our perceptions of one another. As with Facebook or even wordpress, we often can come away with a single view of who someone is as it is what they have presented.
I wholeheartedly agree with your statements, Judy…”The essential, and non-negotiable, reality of Christianity is that it is a relationship with a real Savior, who lived a real life in human history, died a real death and rose from the grave in victory over sin and death. And yet each individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ is a unique and personal experience.”
Christianity offers such freedom, giving us both the external reality (bedrock upon which to stand) as well as the deeply personal, internal relationship.
Your posts are always so thought-provoking. Thank you.
It’s real to me, if I believe it! It’s also real if I can see it, hear it or feel it in my heart. My friends are real to me!
Thanks Barb:) Yes, thank God for real friends!
The Kingdom of God has become my reality. The Kingdom is ruled by a great King and I have His royal blood flowing through me. This is an absolute, provable fact. One which I’m trying to understand and live in more and more each day. The world outside the Kingdom is only temporary and passing away, so how can it be real by comparison?
I agree with you, Larry, that the Kingdom of God is the ultimate and final reality. I wonder, however, about the relationship between God’s Kingdom and this physical earth. I suppose it is a temporary reality, but God will one day redeem it and bring about a new heaven and a new earth, so maybe some of this reality will also be redeemed? Just thinking…thanks for your thoughts, Larry.
Well, I already had a headache, so this post is no big problem. Beyond the black and white facts about Jesus (born, died, rose again to save such as me, etc), the murkier questions about reality are only an intellectual exercise for me, stimulating entertainment sometimes. I don’t want to persuade you that I’m crazy, you know? But while I realize the imaginary world and people inside my head are not truly “real”–they do provide a very real enrichment of my quality of life. So, since I know that there are people who are biased against/fearful of (?) the Jimmy Stewart “Harvey” experience–there are few people I share my inner reality with; it’s an elite membership. Have I completely gone off track, here? God bless you, Judy–love, “that crazy” Caddo
Love ya crazy Caddo:). When I was a child, I has two very good imaginary friends. I don’t remember if I thought they were “real,” or if I knew it was a bit of a game, but they were part of my young experience. So I have no problem with a lively imagination:). Hope the headache is history!
“And yet each individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ is a unique and personal experience.” couldn’t agree more!! God made us unique individuals for a reason. Everything we perceive of in this world, is done so through our own unique filters of personal experience. No two people can EVER experience anything the exact same way.. and that is exactly how God designed it. And why would we want it any other way.
Thanks Tracie, and thanks for your inspirational work:)
You are so very welcome.