Forced Perspective

When Jesus stood on trial before Pilate he said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

Pilate responded, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).

That's the question, isn't it? What is truth? How can anyone ever know the truth for sure? Does objective truth even exist, or is all truth subjective?

Perhaps you’ve heard people say things like, “You have your truth and I have my truth,” or, “That’s true for you, but not for me.” What they mean is that all truth claims are subjective statements, that it’s impossible to make objective claims about the world. And since everyone speaks from their own perspective, no perspective can be considered better than any other.

Postmodernism's claim that all truth is relative is so popular because it certainly seems that way. Perspective matters, doesn’t it? If you were born in Pakistan, you might be a Muslim. If you were born in Thailand, you might be a Buddhist. You would certainly see the world differently. So how can you arrogantly insist that your point of view is better than someone else’s?

Last Sunday I mentioned a monument to Nelson Mandela, a sculpture erected at the site where Mandela was arrested by apartheid police in 1962. Installed on the 50-year anniversary of Mandela's capture, the sculpture consists of fifty steel columns. Take a look at these photos.


This monument is one of my favorite ways to visualize and explain the importance of worldview and the nature of truth. When viewed from the wrong perspective, the steel columns appear meaningless. Strain and squint all you want, but you won’t make any sense of them. However, when viewed from the proper perspective, from a spot on the approaching path—at a distance of 35 meters to be exact—Nelson Mandela's silhouette unmistakably appears.

There is no such thing as the view from nowhere.

It’s true that everyone has a perspective. It’s impossible to observe the external world without observing it from somewhere. As someone said, there’s no such thing as the view from nowhere. However, this has led many people to incorrectly conclude that truth itself is subjective.

Think about the Mandela monument. Imagine that as you walk up to it you overhear two people arguing. One is standing far off to the right side, the other is off to the left, and neither can make any sense of it. Could it either one convince the other that his own perspective is the right one and the other's is wrong? Probably not. In fact, both might conclude that no position is any better than another. There are just different perspectives, not right ones and wrong ones.

However, from your perspective, standing on the approach, 35 meters away, Nelson Mandela's face is undeniable. Having seen Mandela's image for yourself, it would be impossible for you to remain neutral and open-minded as the other two observers try to convince you that the bars are meaningless, that there’s nothing to see here, and that all perspectives are equally valid. Will you admit that there is no "right" place to stand? Will you apologize for arrogantly insisting that your vantage point is the right one and that the others are wrong?

It’s impossible to observe the external world from nowhere. And since it’s impossible, you shouldn’t try it. Rather than trying to achieve the view from nowhere, you should seek to discover the right vantage point, the one from which reality comes into focus.

The claim of Christianity is that all of reality—science, reason, morality, beauty—it all comes into focus when you stand on the foundation of God’s revelation.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
— Proverbs 1:7

If you want to be convinced that Mandela exists, you have stand in the right place. The objective reality forces you to take the correct perspective. Likewise, if you want to see and know God, you must stand here,  in the place of allegiance to Christ as Lord. Then and only then will all the facts in the world align to reveal the glory of God. And when you see the glory of God so clearly, it doesn’t feel arrogant at all to claim that Jesus is the only vantage point.

Let’s label every other vantage point “Independence from God” and label the spot on the approaching path 35 meters out “Dependence on God.” If you want to see but you don’t see, how can you see? Abandon your independence. Give up on your attempt to observe and interpret God’s world from your position of self-reliance and independence. That surrender is called repentance. Then walk over to this spot and see. Standing here, taking God at his word, and relying on Jesus Christ as Lord—that’s called faith.