• 45°

Across the Pastor’s Desk: Our perception and reality

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Ken Jensen


Harvey Mackay, Minneapolis businessman and author, related the story of a friend flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles:

The plane had to make an unexpected stop in Sacramento. Since there would be a significant delay, the flight attendant gave the passengers an option to get off the aircraft and re-board in 30 minutes. Everyone got off except for one man, who was blind. Mackay’s friend could tell the man had flown the flight before because of his guide dog that lay quietly beneath his seat. Just then, the pilot approached the man, calling him by name.

Kenneth Jensen

“Keith,” he said. “We are in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?”

“No thanks,” Keith replied. “But maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs.”

Everyone at the gate came to a complete stop when they saw the pilot wearing sunglasses walk off the plane with the guide dog. Shocked at the sight, people scattered in a quest to change planes. Some tried to change airlines.

“Unfortunately,” Mackay observed, “perception equals reality for many. (People) see what they expect or want to see, disregarding what is actually true.”

Everyone has a world view, a lens through which we see and process information. It is shaped by prior knowledge and past experiences, our emotions and genetic predispositions, our preconceived notions, self-interests and cognitive distortions.

Perception equals reality for many. When we come to a junction on life’s road, we are faced with a choice. Which road will we take?

We are wont to choose Bible verses that support our side, our cause and what we believe, whether it is true or not. We selectively choose verses to defend our values, our decisions, our relationship with God and with one another. (Disclosure: I confess I am as guilty as anyone.)

Is God an agent of grace and mercy or a vindictive judge who gives “bad people” their due? Does God bless one materially for being a faithful servant or are God’s blessings to be found elsewhere? Does the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:29) reveal God’s disdain for gays and lesbians or is it a story about orgies and unfaithfulness in relationships?

For many, perception equals reality. How can one discern the difference? In the secular world we collect and verify data which can lead to a reasonable conclusion. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things not seen, but that does not rule out data nor reason.

One of my seminary professors taught the importance of discerning the overarching themes of Scripture. He warned us not to pick and choose Bible verses. We can always find a verse or two to support what we want to believe. It’s like seeing our world from 300 feet rather than looking down from 30,000 feet.

All things point to the coming of Jesus Christ, the life he lived and the message he taught. Not everything will be discernible between black and white, but painted in shades of gray. We only see dimly as when gazing into a mirror.

However, the Apostle Paul summed it up from 30,000 feet: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. … As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9, 11).      

Ken Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.