Let me raise a vision issue I’ve considered before in my Spreading Goodness site. It invites a revisit. Post-modern thought begins with a simple and seemingly obvious insight: we all view life from a unique vantage point. This claim, when applied, is called perspectivalism. We all look at everything with unique points of view.
Having a perspective means, for instance, that the word “family” will be shaped for each of us by our personal experience. In my case family means two parents in a stable core marriage. It experienced a healthy reset when my father died and my mother remarried. It includes a set of siblings—now with their own families. For someone from a divorced, remarried, and blended family; or from an unmarried single-parent family; or some other variation of family experience, the word will have different flavors and colors.
Another common illustration of perspectivalism is the tale of the blind men who met up with an elephant. One, who touched the tail, said an elephant is like a rope. Others who touched its legs spoke of the elephant as tree-like. Another touched its body and still another touched its trunk and each offered additional descriptions of what an elephant is. Each was accurate for the person who had the encounter.
When such perspectival claims are linked to scepticism—if we wonder whether any true communication can ever take place—we slip into a form of relativism. All we can do, the sceptic tells us, is to accept what others believe from their unique viewpoints. Each offers a legitimate reality. Their experience expresses a personal truth and no one has a right to critique another person’s experience as inferior: we all have a right to hold our personal viewpoints with equal legitimacy.
All this raises a question. How does sin play a role in a person’s perspective? I don’t ask “whether” but “how” for this reason: sin is self-love with an ambition to climb in status and security. We love to be like god—with “god” representing the Satanic ambition to be independent and self-ruled. Without God’s gift of repentance our view of life is wholly shaped by that unholy ambition. We find the basis for this critique in Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and elsewhere.
And with self-love comes an insistence that our point of view has divine entitlement. In this sin “my” view is privileged. And the ultimate packaging of this sin is found in free-will individualism—in which each person’s individual identity is said to be formed by his or her freedom to visualize success with a goal of achieving that success.
But what if we were to be skeptical of the legitimacy of perspectival scepticism. What if we actually need binocular vision—as in our physical sight—in order to see spiritually with a proper depth of field and acuity. In that respect each of us need our points of view to be aligned with God’s point of view. He, after all, created us in his own wise and loving purpose in order for is to love his Son and others. So if I don’t view life from that point of view I’ve actually become blind to reality—myopic and out of focus.
Furthermore God calls us to unite with others who—as in the elephant analogy—help fill in our blind spots. We were created to be a body working together as one. And it was for that purpose that the ultimate communicator, the Father-Son-and-Spirit God, created us in his own relational image: to be in communion with himself and with each other.
So what do we make of the claim that our perspectives are ultimate? That others must accept our point of view? We can affirm it if it speaks of our shared vision of Christ, who then offers us a proper view of everything else in life. So here is a biblical response to this post-modern version of the Fall: “set your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith.” With that vision we are finally free to take up an old pop tune: “I can see clearly now!”