Perspective Makes the Difference

Posted on March 27, 2012


Joshua Gains Perspective on the Redwoods

Have you ever noticed that in life, perspective can make all the difference on how you act, react or judge a situation or person?  I’ve recently rediscovered this principle at work in my life.  I am not proud of the fact but when I see someone do something which I would not do or ‘not do’ something which I believe they should do; I have begun catching myself as my first inclination is to judge that action in such a way as to ascribe a negative motivation for the action or inaction.

The reason is that whether or not we consciously acknowledge it, we all have an internal barometer or scale which we use to assess ourselves and others against.  The fact that all have such an internal measure guide is not wrong in of itself.  The main problem with using our own scale to evaluate actions or inactions is that our scale is fundamentally flawed.  There are two primary flaws with using our own scales to evaluate ourselves and others against.

  1. Our scale is flawed in that it is biased in favor of us and biased against others.
  2. Our scale uses the wrong measurement criteria.

Let me explain.

Flaw #1. “Our scale is biased in favor of us and biased against others”.

The best way to clarify this is to examine the Christian admonition that ‘we must hate the sin, but love the sinner’.  If we consider the extremes of this position, it is almost an impossibility that anyone could live up to that creed, as it goes against our very nature.  Which of us could state with complete honesty that while we detest the actions of Charles Manson, we truly loved the man himself?  Feel free to insert any of the following names into that previous sentence: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, etc.  Does that make it any easier to accept?  These pale in comparison with the greatest genocides in the 20th century.

We can broaden the list of names to include:

  1. Mao Ze-Dong is attributed to killing between 49-78 million people during the years of 1949-69.
  2. Jozef Stalin in the years of 1932-39 is linked to some 23 million deaths, including the Ukraine famine.
  3. Adolph Hitler from 1939-45 was responsible for approximately 12 million deaths (concentration camps and civilian casualties in WWII).
  4. Pol Pot responsible for 1.7 million deaths.
  5. Kim Il Sung guilty of 1.6 million deaths in purges and concentration camps in North Korea.

We could add a dozen other names to that list and while the number of deaths or suffering caused by the individual may increase or decrease, it is not much easier to consider trying to truly love these individuals.  In fact, the admonition seems to make no sense to us all; it seems more like splitting hairs.  How can we separate the sin from the person committing the sin, much less love the individual?

C.S. Lewis reminds us that there is one person to whom we have had no difficulty in honoring the admonition to hate the sin but love the sinner.  That individual is our self.

“I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life — namely myself.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, bk. III, ch. 7.

The reality is that we continue to love ourselves, while at the same time hating the things that we do which do not align with our internal barometer of right and wrong.  Perhaps that is what the biblical mandate to treat others as we want to be treated refers to?  If we can love ourselves while hating the sins we commit, perhaps, that should be our ‘modus operandi’ when dealing with others we interact with on a daily basis.  Perhaps the trick to ‘hating the sin but loving the sinner’ is to NOT lead with judgment, but to first put ourselves in the other person’s position and determine how we would love ourselves in their place.

It is not an easy task, but that only explains why so few do it.  It is no excuse for us to not continually work at walking out.  If we find it too difficult to go all the way to actually loving the other person, perhaps at a minimum, we can successfully withhold our judgment on them.

Flaw #2. “Our scale uses the wrong measurement criteria”.

It has been my observation that we human beings seemed to be wired to be competitive.  It does not seem to matter whether you find yourself inside or outside of the church.  While there may be some exceptions to this, generally speaking, it our nature to compare ourselves against others.  Outside of the church we use indicators like our job, income, fame, power, amount of toys, etc., to assess a person’s value or social status.  Inside of the church the measuring stick used may be different but one clearly still exists.  We tend to use different values like knowledge of scriptures, scriptures memorized, doctrines we can recite, our college degrees, titles, church history knowledge, extra biblical books read, how many ministries we are serving in, etc.  Whatever they might be, they still exist and may or may not include the traditional outside of church hierarchical values like the job one does, the size of one’s house, the type of car driven, clothes you wear, etc.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our criteria for measuring or assessing others value or social status is fundamentally flawed.  Not only is our criteria faulty but it is unwise and unscriptural.

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
– II Corinthians 10:12

You see, we tend to almost exclusively focus on “Doing”.  I would call this the flawed perspective of the Pharisees. We define our value and the value of others by what they do.  We do this, because it’s practically.  It is so much easier to judge a person by their actions, by what they are doing or not doing, than to use a real measurement of significance, because it is external and therefore easily quantifiable.  Quantifiable and easy, yes but again, fundamentally flawed.

“…LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
– 1 Samuel 16:7

The real measurement of significance is not “Doing”, but rather “Being”.  “Being” as defined as who were at our core. I would define this as the perspective of Jesus, who saw past a person’s external appearance, into their heart.  It speaks to character traits like authenticity, courage, trustworthiness, integrity and values.  Being is a vastly more important indicator of who we are than simply tallying the actions which we commit.  What we do, does not speak to motive or driving force.  We may do something very noble by external appearances, but do so for less than noble reasons.  In fact, the seemingly scrupulous action may have been driven by purely unethical and immoral factors; designed to deceive others in a self-serving manner accompanied with no altruistic motivation at all.

To clarify.

  • Noble appearing actions (“Doing”) do not exclude nefarious intent (“Being”) or amoral character.
  • Noble character (“Being”) cannot help but produce honorable actions (“Doing”).

That is why God is so much more interested in who we are (our Being) than what we do (our Doing).  It is the basis for cultivating godly leadership qualities in his people throughout time.  He sets out first to develop their Being, who they are and their character, through the experiences of their life.  The most effective teachers are the bumps and bruises of life itself. Uncomfortable valley experiences are where most of our character building takes place.  As we prove faithful throughout that process, we grow, being changed from the inside out.  Over time, we may be entrusted with a little bit of responsibility. As we show ourselves faithful in those little things, greater things will be added to it.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
– Luke 16:10

“…Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things…”
– Matthew 25:23

The most successful leaders are those that first learn the importance of serving, tempering their character through perfecting the art of following.  Look at the life of Joseph and his time in Egypt, the lives of the disciples (Jesus was creating leaders out of them by teaching them first to be faithful followers) or the example of Jesus himself, who walked out servant leadership.

In the end, our understanding comes down to a matter of perspective.  How do you see the world? Is “Doing > Being” OR “Being > Doing”? It is our natural inclination to value “Doing” over “Being” but clearly God’s perspective values the importance of “Being” first.

The perspective that you choose to filter the world through will have a tremendous effect on you and how you see and treat others. A perspective valuing “Doing” tends to lead to pride, a judgmental attitude towards others and an inability to extend grace, love, mercy and forgiveness to others. A perspective valuing “Being” leads to humility, an empathy towards others and the ability to offer grace, love, mercy and forgive to them.

Which will you choose?