A Voice in the Wilderness - Observations and Excursions of a Christian Zealot

Terry Walker's Weblog --- Occasional articles on the Christian Ethic

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Ever Changing Wind of Human Perception!

For those of you who do not know, I have, since I was 14 years old, been employed in the mechanical engineering field. Although I started as a draftsman, designing plastic injection molds, I rapidly moved up through the ranks until I was a senior mechanical design engineer in my early 20’s, and I have been one every since. There is no doubt in my mind that my engineering talent and abilities are entirely God given, as I am almost entirely self taught. College was most certainly not where I learned how to engineer buildings, machinery and products of nearly every description. I simply was given a temporal gift that surpasses any of my education and I have pushed that gift to its very limits. Or so to me it seemed.

Some time ago I had a supervisor at work who unfairly treated me in regards to my salary for many years. Each year I tried harder, produced more, designed better and literally blew my counterparts away. But each year during my performance review I received the same basic appraisal, “meets job requirements”. This level of performance was considered a 4 out of a 5 scale, while 3, 2 and 1 were considered ever increasingly bad levels of performance. A grade of 5 was described as “consitently exceeds job requirements”. In four years I never received a grade of 5 in a single job requirement category. Yet my performance easily exceeded the work of my coworkers who were being promoted to my level, and receiving much better merit pay increases than I.

My boss’s poor and unjust reviews bothered me so much, that after my third year on the job, I created a system that tracked nearly every aspect of the engineering department’s job functions. Management loved the system, but my fellow engineers despised it. I simply wanted a raise and the system would provide the proof, and the “undeniable truth”, about my performance.

At my next yearly performance review I was loaded for bear. I had stacks of evidence that I had outperformed all my coworkers. I had created nearly twice as many machine designs as my nearest counterpart and with less than half as many drawing errors. During previous reviews, my boss had reported both work volume and drawing errors as the common, but always unverified, reason for my poor merit increases. But I was having none of that this year. So when he indicated that my overall performance, once again, only “met my job requirements”, I unveiled my stack of statistics, the undeniable truth that his own department’s tracking system had acquired. But unbelievably, he remained unmoved.

So I posed the following questions to my unjust manager. I asked “Why is that I have never received a 5 in any job requirement category, even though I far out produce my coworkers, who have the same identical job requirements?” Why is it that they continue to receive much better merit increases than I, when they do half the work?” “If my performance only “meets” the job requirements, then how can they even come close to meeting the same requirements?”

He responded that it was impossible for him to ever give me the highest rating of 5. He explained, “No matter how hard you work or how well you do, that is what I expect from you.” So regardless of the truth, I could never exceed his requirements for my job. But when I showed him the statistics generated by his own tracking system, that indicated that I had indeed completed nearly twice the work of his second best employee, he seemed somewhat flustered that I had countered his first punch.

So he played his trump card and proceeded to tell me that I again made too many mistakes in the previous year and this was the reason, not my work volume, as to why he was giving me such a poor review. So I showed him the unquestionable statistics that proved, without a doubt, that I had made less than half the mistakes as my closest peer, and what he said in response has bewildered me for years, he said:

“While you may out produce your coworkers and actually make fewer errors in the process, there is never the less, a perception that you do otherwise, and I cannot reward you for good work as long as there is a contrary perception. Reality is not nearly as important as what people think of it, and people here think that you make too many errors. Whether you do or not is irrelevant.”

I have thought many times about his comment, and I have come to understand that it, in a very strange way, has some truth to it when it comes to the coercive power of errant human perception of the truth.

What could I possible mean? Am I saying that truth is not as important as what we think of as truth? No, just the opposite is true. God has determined what is true and what is important. Whether we believe it or feel its weight, does not affect the significance of truth. An example would be a Christian’s disobedience, to God and the government He ordained, when traveling at speeds in excess of the lawful posted limit. A Christian may not feel the weight or consider the significance of his sin, but the truth is, all sin is an abomination to God and as such, all sin should be preeminently significant to a true Christian.

Am I saying that perception is king and truth is irrelevant? No, again I say, just the opposite is true. We will all one day be judged or tested in relation to the truth, regardless of what we think, understand or know of the truth. But what I am saying is that while truth is fixed and unchanging, we change how we perceive it to fit our own desires. We manipulate the truth to create a new, more personally agreeable perception of truth. It is this altered truth that we, without God clearing influence, perceive as “real truth”. This self deception is a way of life for the heathen and a constant nuisance to the Christian. It is the Christian battle between the flesh’s desire to be free to sin indiscriminately and the spirit’s desire for perfect obedience to Christ.

This constant manipulation of interpretation of the truth is one aspect of a desperately wicked heart, a heart we all still have, and yet cannot know! Because we consistently tailor what comes into our minds, so as to make our circumstances more bearable to our flesh, it is often difficult even to garner a true knowledge of truth. However, through the God given destruction of your flesh, you can obtain a closer understanding of the truth, less tainted by sinful self deception.

If I am entirely honest with myself, if only but for a moment, I can think of hundreds of examples in my own life to illustrate how people customize the truth to fit their own desired reality. For instance:

When I was child my step brother and I were thieves. I would steal what I wanted and he would steal, just to steal. Once I saw him steal a small light bulb. Thinking this ridiculous, I confronted him, not for stealing, but for pilfering something he could not even use. My brother denied having taken anything from the store, even though the bulge in his pocket said otherwise. So I grabbed my brother, forcible took the bulb from his pocket, shoved it in his face and said “I just saw you steal this. You don’t even own anything that uses this size bulb. This is a Christmas tree bulb.” (The humorous irony of a heathen kid stealing a Christmas tree bulb is just now dawning upon me.) My brother looked at me with wild eyes, and denied knowing how that bulb got into his pocket.

Now one liar knows when another liar is lying, and the truth was obvious to me that my step brother was lying about stealing. But several days later I confronted him again. But this time my brother eyes revealed a mind of self convinced innocence. In a matter of days, somehow my brother was able, in his mind, to deny the obvious truth and modify it into a more palatable reality. He again denied that he stole the light bulb, but this time I was convinced that my brother totally believed that he truly did not steal anything. He had managed to completely deceive himself.

I thought this alternate, self created reality, could be useful in my own life, so at a very young age and with much creativity, I started altering the truth that I shared with people in my life, so as to improve upon the aspects of my life that I thought less desirable. Unlike my “real” life, whether I lied about my circumstances to create a more positive or negative perception of my life; seemed entirely under my control. So, with ever increasingly detailed, well maintained lies, I could make my life whatever I wanted it to be, regardless of the ugly truth of my “real” life. And best of all, it seemed as though I wasn’t hurting anyone, and in time, as with my brother, my lies appeared to me to be better than the truth.

But unlike my step brother, I could never quite step over the line into never-never land. The undeniable truth kept nagging me and maintaining the lies was exhausting. There simply had to be a better way. I thought I would try telling the truth.

So in 1990 I decided it was time to expose the deep seeded ugly truth of my childhood to every member of my entire family. I was going to write a tell-all letter concerning all the family secrets and my lies to cover them up. But a strange thing happened. After many years of hardly even speaking to any members of my immediate family, we, cooperatively, started discussing every detail of our collective memories concerning our family history. But it quickly became apparent that none of us remembered the truth the same way! We disagreed on many major details and sometimes our perceptions were so different, as to make it impossible to determine what the actual truth was!

Like it astounded me that my step brother could so easily deceive himself, it now astounded me that a family could not determine the absolute truth of it’s own past. What I thought so traumatic in my life, was barely memorable to other family members. And things I remembered so clearly, others remembered entirely differently. It was as if my life wasn’t real at all. Like my life was some form of self created fantasy. There was no doubt in my mind that some of my memories were correct, but there was also no doubt that my own lies and self deceptions have marred my memories of my true past. At times I simply had to confess to not knowing whether some of my memories were real or not. However, after several months of very satisfying nightly conversations, we finally arrived at a sort of “probable truth” concerning our collective memories of our family’s past.

Joyfully I can say that my small family and I have closed the book on our past and if you ask most of us we would likely say that our “Good ‘ol days” are right now! Not 20, 30 or even 40 years ago like some people would say. Because God is presently moving mightily in my family and though the truth of my past has long been lost in my own fuzzy, sin marred perception, I count it a virtuous thing that God has managed to work even this to my good and amazingly use it for His glory.

Today I spend the majority of my evangelistic efforts on people who are self deceived. They are a most pitiable lot, who rely not on the accurate judgment and analysis of the evidence emanating from their lives, but rather they stake their claim on Christ through their heart felt emotions, fervor, or past acts of dedication. Some see God working through them to the benefit of humanity and they count this as proof of their salvation, but God need not save you to use you for His good pleasure. Yet the self deceived make light of their disobedience to the new covenant laws, claiming grace and mercy and discounting their responsibility to strive for perfection, to “go and sin no more”, which minimizes their perception of their constant practice of sin. I speak for God to them for endless hours and they no more yield to the Holy Spirit than your right foot does when you are on the highway and late for work. How they do not feel the hot coals heaped on their heads nor smell their own searing flesh is beyond me. I can only know that I have done as I ought, they are accountable for having heard the truth, and that the Word does not return void.

But I can not describe the emotional pain of watching a counselee sink ever so slowly and ever more deeply into a self deceived lifestyle of sin, all the while claiming Christ and justifying his sin with the same breath. It is horrifying to watch because I have done it to myself and I know where it leads. It leads to not knowing what you truly know, not seeing what you truly see and not hearing what you truly hear. And if you cannot see and you cannot hear, then you cannot know that you know Jesus. But the truth is, that Jesus is not deceived, He is the truth, and He knows who He knows, and if He doesn’t know you, then you will know full well the truth when He looks at you and says, “Depart from Me for I never knew you!”

So my friend, it would be wise for you to take another good look, a constant look, at yourself and judge yourself carefully, in truth, as to what evidence is emanating from you? Does the evidence say that you need increased dedication, renewed invigoration or a complete transformation? You without a doubt need one of the three, but which one you truly need is critically important. So let the truth, and not your perception, be your judge. Because it is literally a matter of your life or death!

Brother Terry Walker
Providence Baptist Church
Greer, South Carolina