Albert Einstein Taught Us to Understand the Value of Perspective
I have found in life that most people agree that there is usually more than one way to do just about anything. Well, at least we say that until we get into a disagreement and we want to win. Then there is only one possible way to do something – “my way.”
I have also heard a lot of folks in the church universal say that there is only one way to do something – and that is Jesus’ way. Again, I have found that usually this is a rhetorical device used to reinforce a particular person’s viewpoint. My pastoral red flags start going up as soon as absolutes start being thrown around. And that is because I don’t necessarily believe that there is ever only one way to do something, including think, and that is mainly because we as people perceive life differently.
In my opinion, I actually believe truth to be relative. What? How can this be? For Christians, can’t there only be one truth in reality and that is Christ? Well, yes and no. Now before you light up the torches and start coming after me (with all your Christian love) hear me out first.
When Einstein developed the theory of relativity he used the example of a traveling train to show the difference in perspective between a person riding on the train and a person observing the train from the platform. He basically contended that if you are riding on the train and there is a person in front of you, then you appear to be stationary. But if a person sees you riding on the train from the platform, then you appear to be going the same speed as the train. Factually, both perspectives are true but they are relative to one’s perception and/or interpretation to the events. In short, two things can be different but both true regarding the same subject.
When we apply this concept philosophically, theologically, or practically to our daily life it becomes far easier to avoid conflict-oriented disagreements. It is not that getting to what is true doesn’t matter - to the contrary - I believe that it matters very much. But Einstein’s illustration allows us to see that, based on our individual context, we only likely have part of the total perspective.
So while there may only be one truth in reality that is Jesus Christ, we might ask ourselves whether or not we are capable of having the full perspective needed to see all of the possible variations of the truth of God before us. I suggest that such a feat may only be accomplished through hubris. To my point, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
This may also be the reason that Jesus commands his followers to love one another, as Christ himself loved us because such a love comes without the judgment that a person somehow has to comprehend everything perfectly in truth to be of value.
Instead of fighting, arguing, and debating into division, maybe we should take a step back and evaluate our disagreements to see what perspectives we might be missing? Maybe the next disagreement that you get into is actually an opportunity for you to widen your perspective and see creation a little more clearly. When we start to see our differences in such a light, we start to see that God made us each unique to more clearly reveal the whole of reality to one another - and that makes you and your perceptions of existence remarkably important.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. If we start from the assumption that we can only see part of the truth how do you think that changes our approach to dealing with others?
Q2. What risk(s) do you think individuals run in believing that they are absolutely right on theological issues?
Q3. How do you think that humility impacts our notions of what we perceive to be true?