Skip to main content

The problem is perception Pt2

The thing I find most frustrating as a graphic designer is when a client or colleague chooses the worst option presented to them or requests an amendment to a design that will make it worse, or just plain bad. Sometimes I just have to concede. Sometimes I just have to make do and follow through with the bad choice. But sometimes good design is really worth fighting for.

What makes a really good piece of design worth fighting for is the benefit it provides that would not be achieved otherwise. Design that's worth fighting for is design that adds value, a lot of value, quantifiable value, compared to the alternative. And so, I see it as part of my job to, as far as is appropriate, help the client or colleague understand why one design is better than another - to help them have their perceptions changed. Often, I want to educate those I work with why I believe a certain design is better than another. I want them to end up on my side. I want them to change their mind - their perception. I want them to move from saying "I believe design 1 to be the most effective and beautiful solution" to agreeing with me (as the expert) that in fact design 2 is the most effective and beautiful solution.

This is a skill that needs careful honing and fine-tuning because it requires a certain level of belief that beauty is objective, and that there can be right and wrong in design. As I mentioned in the previous post, the idea that beauty is objective is a stumbling block to many. And it's hard when someone believes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because, if they themselves believe it to be beautiful, that means it must be. If they believe it to be the most effective solution aesthetically, it must be. So, a process must take place by which I seek to change a perception - I must help my colleagues or clients see the greater benefit of my preference in contrast to their own.

You see, we recognise beauty by the value it adds to our experience of life. And that is the usual method of discerning beauty. The most essential experiences tend to be the most beautiful, and the least essential experiences tend to be the least beautiful. So, the way we will be able to discern the beauty of God and to have our perceptions changed in a way that will draw us to him in order that we may experience his saving benefits, is to examine and then test how he benefits us.

This may sound simple, but I'm addressing this issue because it's not. You see, how God calls us to live is often contrary to how we instinctively feel we ought to. If someone wrongs me in some way I may feel instinctively geared toward anger and revenge, which feels like the natural and appropriate course of action. Yet God is likely calling me toward peace and forgiveness and restoration. How do I know which is the best course of action? How do I, at that moment, learn to perceive that God's way of living is beautiful compared to my way? How do I change my perception?

First of all, we must examine the possible benefits and weigh them against the alternative. I must think to myself, what will my anger and inflicted revenge achieve at this moment? It might satisfy my desire for justice to a certain extent. I might secure authority or control over a situation or person. I might effect a change of behaviour in someone (although it will be motivated by fear rather than respect). But I might also damage the relationship. I might generate fear and a lack of respect and bring harm to another person. Then I must think, what will it achieve to obey God and follow his lead rather than my own? I might think about Jesus' command to love my neighbour as myself, and I might instead decide to do just that. I would think about how I would like to be treated in that situation. I then might seek an opportunity to offer forgiveness to my offender, to reconcile the relationship and to promote the emotional and spiritual welfare of us both. And thus, by the more pleasant and uplifting experience of a restored relationship, I have learned to perceive the beauty of God, and I am inclined towards following him in his ways more often.

Now, there is a lot to be said about the fact that we don't follow God solely because of the benefits he brings us. We follow God for God, his benefits are there to help us appreciate and enjoy his inherent beauty and value and worth. God does not cease to be a glorious, wonderful, beautiful God if we fail to perceive his benefits to us. And often it looks like following him is actually worse for us, so it is useful to consider what the benefits of God actually look like. This article from a few months ago might be useful for getting across the point that God is worthy and beautiful despite how we feel about him: Yet there is a general principle here that we define beauty, to a large extent, by the benefits it brings us. Our perception of beauty in the aesthetic realm will be influenced by the benefit and value added to us in the moral realm. If we perceive moral beauty, we will likely discover aesthetic beauty. I do find this to be a general pattern. I do find it remarkable how consistent my taste in art and music is, for instance. The music and art, whose philosophies I agree with in the moral dimension tend to be that which I find most beautiful in the aesthetic dimension. So much so that there is even consistency of form within the aesthetic dimensions. As I mentioned in the previous post, I'm a fan of jazz music, which happens to be an influence in the abstract compositions by Piet Mondrian, who was himself a jazz fan. I don't think that's a coincidence. For myself, in particular, I'm quite certain it is not.

How does this all relate to God then? Well, I think that a little illustration from the book of Malachi will help to understand what I mean theologically. The book of Malachi is the word of God to his people through the prophet Malachi. It's basically a series of questions and answers between God and the people. God accuses his people of certain moral failures, and the people respond with apathy. In one of these back and forth arguments which you can read in Malachi Ch 3, God accuses the people of not tithing correctly. He's implying that the people don't trust him enough to tithe. They don't believe that he is kind enough or powerful enough to provide for them, and so they withhold of their wealth, that which they would normally give to God and keep it for themselves. It does appear from the text that crops might not be growing to quite the extent that would be ideal. But the people are basically saying, "if I tithe, I'm going to be worse off, and perhaps lack what I need (or want)". The inference of that is to think that God is nastily asking them to tithe, without being willing to care for them, by sending rain for a high crop yield. They think God will genuinely leave them to suffer and struggle and be without basic necessities if they tithe, and so they don't.

However, God's reply to this attitude is a bit like hey wait a second, am I not a kind God? Malachi chapter 3 verse 10 says "...test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it". Test me God says. Give me the benefit of the doubt, he says. Perhaps your poor harvest is related to the fact that you've stopped tithing. So test me and I will throw open the floodgates of heaven. Then the harvest will be plentiful.

You see, God's people here did not perceive the beauty of God. The land had dried up a bit, and the harvest wasn't what they hoped for. They would then likely have become anxious about food. How much do they keep and how much do they give? When it looks to them like tithing will mean they lack, and not have as much food as they want, they become resentful of God for his command to tithe. They now see him as a cold hard callous God who demands things for the sake of it. He is no longer beautiful to them, so they continue to withhold their tithe.

Yet, as God says, if they did but obey, and remember his ability and history of provision for his people, even in miraculous ways if necessary, they might have been more inclined to offer the tithe. Even if the harvest was poor, should they have offered the tithe, God says, I actually would have made sure you were provided for. God did it in the wilderness with manna and quail and water from the rock when the people had nothing. If the people did offer their tithe, if they did remember his goodness, if they did give him the benefit of the doubt, they would have experienced blessing and favour from him. They would have been provided for and would have seen in greater measure how beautiful the character of God is. Thus they would be further inclined to continue trusting him, which is the sign of spiritual health and wellbeing. A flourishing relationship between man and God would have developed, just as God always intended it.

God does tell us to do lots of things that seem like they are not great things to do, things that seem bad for us to do - detrimental to us. Things we are instinctively disinclined toward doing. Therefore, because God has asked us to do them, we instinctively assume he is wrong to ask us to do them because we think that he is asking us to do something harmful to us. In Malachi's time, that was tithing (amongst other things). It looked like it might cause the people to go hungry. But it's essential that we learn to trust God, to see that there is something wonderful in his commands for us even if they appear to us to be harmful. The widow from Mark chapter 12 is a great example. She gave her last two copper coins as an offering in the temple and had no money left. But since Jesus praises here for it before his disciples, I do think that she will have experienced a blessing from God like no other. I believe that God continued to provide for her (which is consistent with what God says to the people through Malachi) and that she did, in fact, make more offerings in the future. What she will have believed about God is that he is a God who does not demand from us in a legalistic sense, but who calls all those who lack to come to him because he is willing and able to provide for those who need it. God loves to care for his people like a father his children. He is a God who doesn't make us pay for the privilege of being his children and receiving his blessings and benefits, but he is a God who does call us to give up some or all of our material wealth in order that he might show us that particular beautiful, wonderful aspect of his character, and thus develop in us a deep satisfaction in and enjoyment of him as a person (using the term person loosely).

Do you see how this works? Do you see what's going on? To perceive and acknowledge and to love the beauty of God is utterly essential for us. So let's continue to test him like he called the people Malachi prophesied to, and gain that experiential knowledge of the beauty of his character that we might be more and more and more inclined toward deepening our relationship with him. How do I learn to see the beauty of God? I suppose I could simply say, obey. Trust and obey.

Photo by The Roaming Platypus on Unsplash


Popular posts from this blog

Does God care what you look like? Part 1: Yes!

Does God care about the way we look? Does he care about our bodies, our hairstyles or our clothing? Does he care about tattoos or a wonky nose - or perhaps a scar or physical defect? In my church, we generally don't care about what people look like. Black, white, fat, thin, fashionable, unfashionable. How someone looks might be a very occasional point of interest, but generally speaking, what someone looks like will not have a significant influence on our judgement or value of a person. Heck, even I managed to get away with leading a Sunday service in shorts without getting so much as a raised eyebrow. Whilst the modern day, western, evangelical church scene will be keen to point out that there are more important things to worry about than what people look like - taking a sort of "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart" approach - the rest of the world is obsessed with personal appearance. Beauty is big business and hot topic All you ha

The Importance of Plastic

What I like about philosophy is that you have an idea which you express in a certain way, according to the language you use, the words you know, the analogies you can think of, the categories you have defined, the context you exist in etc... But then you spot something, another idea, expressed rather differently and related to a different situation, yet somehow it seems eerily familiar. I love it when I see a conceptual crossover of ideas. I love Francis Schaeffer's 'line of despair' idea, I love Elaine Scarry's 'beauty makes copies of itself' idea and I love Piet Mondrian's 'plastic art' idea, to name but a few off the top of my head. It's quite reassuring and encouraging to find resonance in your own thinking with the ideas of great minds. But not necessarily surprising. God made the world to work a certain way, so why shouldn't people come up with similar ideas about how to interpret the material and spiritual universe? Anyway, I want to b

Jesus IS Ruling Well

Jesus IS Ruling Well As I was reflecting on 2020 and pondering the year ahead, a verse from Psalm 118 came to mind. As it turns out the whole Psalm is full of the type of wisdom that will help us all to reflect on a year we didn’t expect and will help us prepare for a year we can’t really predict. Psalm 118 offers us three things to remember about God, and then an appropriate response at the end. This little transcript is in no way an in-depth exegesis of the whole psalm - so full of glory as it is - but touches on the key points which are of most use to use for helping us get to grips with how God operates in the world. Point one: Remember that God is good The first thing we need to remember according to the psalm is that God is good . Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. That's how the psalm begins. Right from the off, the psalmist is establishing the innate goodness of God. It’s the premise of the rest of the psalm and good practice for us, to recognise that God is a good God