Broken Perceptions

“The problem with deception is that it’s deceiving.”

I heard a pastor make this statement once many years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. It stands to reason that the fact that deception is deceiving is a self-evident truth. Therefore, it seems almost pointless to state such a fact. The point my professor was making with this statement though is why it has stuck with me. What’s the point? Deceived people do not know they are deceived. To be deceived is to believe a lie as if it were a truth. If you believe a lie and know it is a lie then you are not deceived. But if you believe a lie because you are convinced it is the truth then you are deceived. Deception convinces you that a false reality is a true reality. When we are deceived we do not know the difference between truth and untruth. That is the problem with deception.

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. But not so much in it’s relation to doctrine and theology. More so in it’s relation to the little lies (or big ones), we come to believe about ourselves and others and how they affect our relationships. Everyone has, what I like to call, a built-in “perception filter.” Filters are designed to purify things – to weed out the contaminants and leave only the good stuff. A water filter purifies water. An air filter purifies the air. Our perception filter purifies our perceptions. At least, ideally that’s what it should do.

Filters have to either be changed or cleaned regularly in order to keep them functioning properly. If you have a dirty air or water filter, or a broken one, not only will the air and water that goes through it not be cleaned; but there is also a possibility that it could come out dirtier than it was before it went through the filter. The same is true of our perception filters. The quality and condition of the filter determine the quality and condition of that which is filtered through it. If our perception filters are clogged up with all kinds of junk, or just plain broken, the perceptions which are filtered through it can come out in worse condition then when they went in. So what are our perception filters composed of? How do they affect us? How do we keep them clean and functioning properly?

I believe that our perception filters are composed of attitudes and beliefs and that these two are interchangeable. By interchangeable I mean sometimes attitude determines belief and sometimes belief determines attitude. My use of attitude here is in reference to an emotional state. An emotional state is different than an emotion. For example, one can be angry or scared but not be in an emotional state of anger or fear if they are not the dominating emotion at the time. An emotional state is determined by the current dominating emotion. The mere presence of an emotion does not determine a person’s emotional state. Only if that present emotion is the dominating emotion over all other currently present emotions. If a person feels fear and it is the dominating emotion over all other present emotions then their attitude is one of fear. Likewise with anger, love, hate, joy and all other emotions.

Beliefs can be described as being composed of statements we have accepted as true and false. For example, “I am ugly.” Do you believe that statement to be true or false about yourself? If you believe it to be false then you believe that you are not ugly. If you believe it to be true than you believe that you are ugly. Sometimes our attitude will determine what we believe to be true and false. Attitudes of depression, despair, fear, hopelessness, and even anger are more likely to convince a person that they are ugly. Attitudes of confidence, hope, joy, and courage are more likely to convince a person that they are not ugly.

Likewise, sometimes our belief will determine our attitude (which emotion becomes the dominating one). If a person believes they are ugly it is more likely to produce attitudes of depression, fear, despair, hopelessness, anger, and even jealousy. If a person believes that they are not ugly it is more likely to produce attitudes of confidence, hope, joy, courage, and love. Determining whether it is the attitude affecting the belief or the belief affecting the attitude will vary from person to person and circumstance to circumstance.

What happens in our lives is that everything we see and hear is filtered through our attitudes and beliefs. Everyone develops their own interpretation of things which is determined by the attitudes and beliefs they filtered the information through. This is what we call a perception – an interpretation of people, places and things which is determined by our attitudes and beliefs. We should be aiming for Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, biblically sound and godly perceptions. For this, we must have Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, biblically sound and godly attitudes and beliefs. When we do we end up with perception filters that produce purified and healthy perspectives empowering us to live in the freedom of a Spirit-filled life. When we don’t we end up with perceptions filters that produce dirty and broken perspectives enslaving us to live under the bondage of our sin and flesh.

Most people don’t realize just how much their perceptions affect them. How we think or feel about someone or something determines what we perceive about reality. How we perceive reality determines what reality we live in. If our perception filter is dirty or broken, if our attitudes and beliefs are off just a little bit, it can cause us to live our lives in a false reality. We will be perceiving certain things to be true and real when they are not. However, because of our perception, they are very true and real to us. Even if they are not true and real. This is deception and deceived people don’t know they’re deceived. They believe the realities which they have formed based on their perception of things are an honest representation of what is true and real.

How do we fix broken perception filters? Better yet… how can we determine if they are broken or dirty? The answer to both of these questions is the same. First and foremost, we have to be humble enough to acknowledge the possibility that our perception of people, places, and things might be wrong. If we are deceived it is because we are convinced that a lie is a truth. We will never break free from any possible deceptions if we are not willing to evaluate the possibility that we perceive to be true might be a lie.

Secondly, we must be willing to evaluate how our current attitude (dominating emotion) and beliefs are affecting the outcome of our perceptions. First, we must ask questions like:

  • Do I believe this to be true because I am being emotionally dominated by anger, fear or some other negative attitude?
  • Do I feel this way primarily because I have accepted a certain proposition about something or somebody to be true?

Then we can ask questions like:

  • If I were to change my attitude, and my dominating emotion was different than what it currently is, how would it change my perception of this?
  • If certain propositions I have accepted to be true were not true, but the opposite was true, how would it change my perception of this?

If you do your best to answer these questions as honestly and as objectively as you can then you will end up with at least two different perceptions (quite possibly more than two) of whomever or whatever it is that is under examination. Once you have these two (or several) different perceptions laid out before you then you can examine them. What exactly are you examining them for? Simple. You are examining them to see which one is the most Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, biblically sound and godly perspective. Both of the differing perspectives may be very close to these qualities but there will always be one which is more so than the other. The one which is less than calls for an evaluation of the attitudes and beliefs which produced it.

This process of self-examination is one I use every day. It sounds complicated but it’s really not. Over time you begin to go through these questions almost automatically and instinctively walking through the whole process within a matter of seconds or minutes. I use it because I don’t want to live my life in a false reality. I don’t want to allow my attitudes and beliefs to produce false perceptions of people, places, and things. I don’t want to be enslaved to the bondage of perceptions produced by my sin and flesh. And I’ve found that I always make the biggest mistakes when I bypass this process of self-examination and choose to believe the first perception formed. I’ve also learned that there is a way to get ahead of the curb and jump-start this process. By cultivating Christ-like attitudes and daily exposure to the word of God we are one step ahead of keeping our deceptive perceptions in check. These two things will help us keep our perception filters clean and functioning properly.

Copyright © Lawrence Joseph Sterling 2017. All Rights Reserved.