Perception is not reality.
On my Monday Sabbaths in the spring, I will often go to a park near my house that has a large lake. I walk through the woods to one of several piers and set myself up with a book and all the necessary accoutrements to hang out for a couple hours. For some of that time, I just sit, watching and listening. And very often, God provides a show of some sort for my enjoyment. Ospreys fishing for a snack, fish jumping to catch a flying bug, water gliders doing their dance, turtles sunning on a log, dragonflies dancing over the water. And, even if none of those are available that day, often the clouds scuttling across the sky are a glorious display.
But one day as I sat there, I was struck by an astonishing thought. I could see a ton of things going on around me. Ripples on the lake, clouds moving, birds flying, bugs cavorting. And that was my reality – what my senses could take in as I sat on the dock. But then God nudged my thinking. “Consider all that you can’t see.” Wow. It was an overwhelming thought! All the life happening below the surface of the lake. Fish of various kinds. Snakes. Turtles. Eggs waiting to hatch. Vegetation. Rock formations. Not to mention what was going on in just one tree. Sap flowing. Bugs residing. Perhaps a nest of birds. Perhaps several. And then the other critters. Raccoons, squirrels, mice, deer, opossums, skunks, snakes, frogs – all able to see me. All aware of my presence. But I blissfully oblivious of them.
As I pondered the unseen world within my world, I realized this key Truth:
Although I could not see any of those things, God could see them all. Knew them all. Jesus said that God knows every sparrow that falls. I can infer from that statement that He also sees and knows every ant that crawls. Every fish that swims. Every raccoon that forages. He made them all and He knows them all. He sees it all. ALL.
Contrast that with my limited view. I saw a lot. Could comprehend quite a bit. But my view was still incredibly limited. My perception was not the reality of all that was happening there.
Perception is not reality.
Late, late Thursday evening two thousand years ago, the disciples could not believe their eyes or ears. Jesus was being arrested. This man who had slipped through the crowd trying to throw him off a cliff was now in the custody of Roman soldiers. The same man that the crowd had unsuccessfully tried to stone was now being led away to an illegal trial.
They had seen his power for three years. Feeding thousands with a child’s lunch, not once, but twice. Making the blind see. The lame walk. Controlling the wind and the waves. Walking on water. Even raising the dead. They had seen power! And even that night, He demonstrated it. When Judas shocked them all by leading the soldiers to Jesus and identifying Him with a friendly greeting and a brotherly kiss of fellowship, Jesus asked the guards, “Whom do you want?” They answered, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Jesus replied with the name that God had given Moses when He spoke to him from the burning bush. Jesus simply said, “I AM.” And when He said that, it was so powerful that the guards “drew back and fell to the ground”. The disciples witnessed as Jesus healed the High Priest’s servant in those same moments. Peter had impetuously cut off the boy’s ear, but Jesus simply picked it up and placed it back on his head where it belonged. So they knew that He still had power. But if that was the case, why on earth was He allowing this? Why didn’t He DO something?
And then the chaos of Thursday night stretched into an unimaginable, truly hellish scenario. Most of the disciples ran for their lives. Two of them followed discreetly and were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ being questioned, lied about, and tortured. Throughout that long night and into Friday morning, He was shuffled between courts. First before the Jewish religious leaders, who wanted him dead but had no power to make that happen. Then on to Pilate, the Roman governor, who had no reason to kill him but had the power to do so. A side trip to see King Herod, the Jewish in-name-only-king, who simply hoped to see Jesus do something spectacular. And finally, back to Pilate, who was far more concerned about squelching the growing riot than he was about any sort of justice for Jesus. Pilate sought to give the crowd the blood they craved without actually crucifying Jesus. And so he ordered the soldiers to whip him. Probably thirty-nine lashes, the limit because any more would kill a man. And, throughout all these events, brutal beatings. Blindfolded and hit. Mocked. Spit upon. Cursed.
And still Jesus, who the disciples knew to be the Son of God, did nothing.
And finally, on Friday, the long walk through the street of Jerusalem, through jeering crowds, carrying the cross, until His shredded body could function no more. The women following behind, weeping, as Simon of Cyrene was yanked from the crowd to carry the cross the final distance. And then the pounding of the nails, ripping through flesh, piercing between bones, pinning the Creator of the world to the most painful, humiliating form of execution the Roman government could imagine. Hours of labored breathing, pushing up on the nail the held both feet together to the cross to inhale. Settling back down, splinters wedging into an already mangled back with every exhale. Blood dripping from His head where the crown of thorns nestled into his scalp. Parched lips from hours without a drink, baking in the Judean sunshine. Crowds mocking, throwing curses and insults like weapons. His mother weeping. And His Father turning His back on him.
And still Jesus did nothing.
Some disciples hid.
While others watched in mute horror.
Not comprehending what they were seeing.
Not understanding what was happening.
Their perception flooded with horrific sights.
And even more horrific realities.
This man that that they had truly believed was God in the flesh, was dying.
Their leader, who they worshipped as King, was now with the lowest of the low, dying as a common criminal.
They had given everything – literally everything – to follow him.
For this man.
Who was now defeated.
Throughout those hours, I think hope stirred.
Like when the sky turned black at noon.
When the earth shook from terrible earthquakes.
When even one of the Roman soldiers said, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
Perhaps NOW God would do something.
Perhaps NOW Jesus would come down off the cross, perfectly healed.
Perhaps NOW, with one word, He would wipe the scoffing smirks off the faces of the so-called leaders.
But then Hope died.
With a loud cry, Jesus declared, “IT IS FINISHED!”
And He gave up his spirit.
And He was gone.
Perception is not reality.
Because we know the end of that story, we can easily forget how little the disciples really saw.
And we shake our heads at them and say, “Didn’t they remember that Jesus told them he would die and rise again? Why were they so afraid?”
But I, too, know the end of my story.
I know that God has promised to make all things work together for good in my life.
I know that He has promised to complete the good work He began in me.
I know that He has promised to supply ALL of my needs.
I know He has promised to never leave me or forsake me.
I know He is preparing a place for me in glory, and that one day I will be with Him forever.
I know that one day He will do away with all sin, sickness, disease, war, hatred and lies.
One day He will wipe every tear from MY eyes.
But how often do I let my perception define my reality?
He does something that makes no sense to me.
He doesn’t answer my prayer in the way I want.
He tells me to wait instead of acting on my timetable.
He allows something that I consider horrific.
His idea of provision doesn’t match the order I gave Him.
And I allow what I perceive to become my reality.
I paint Him with a brush based on what I can see rather than basing it on what He has said.
I forget that He is the Resurrection and the Life.
I forget that it is Friday, but Sunday is coming.
One day, when I see Jesus face to face, I will see the thousands of ways that I allowed my perception to rule my actions.
I will see the WHOLE picture.
And I will mourn the fact that I did not trust Him more.
That I allowed my sight to guide my walk more often than not, instead of walking by faith
Because, just like the disciples, my sorrow will one day turn to sheer, unadulterated joy.
They witnessed the resurrection. Jesus is alive – and He lives today!
I know the end of the story – both theirs and my own.
Will I live like I do?