Truth vs. Images

I am increasingly troubled by our culture’s preference for images over truth. This is especially apparent in the way we try to create images of ourselves – through social media, in how we talk about ourselves, and even just in our own heads. We try to craft ourselves as being as interesting and admirable as possible, regardless of the truth of who we actually are. We all want to be liked and appreciated – and so we create images of ourselves (often false ones) that will be liked and appreciated by others.

This obsession with our own image does stem from our culture, which is already image-obsessed. While there are many wonderful things about films, television, and other forms of media, there are also definite problems that can be associated with an oversaturation of these things. I believe that these problems are heightened when we do not read enough, and even more when we don’t spend enough one-on-one time with actual people. There is a big difference from chatting to someone online than there is from talking to them face-to-face. There is also a big difference from viewing images of a person (how they appear) versus actually understanding a person (how they really are).

Reading is a great tool to curbing this issue. It helps teach us empathy, and to understand people better. It helps show us that what we see is not necessarily the truth – in fact, it usually isn’t when it comes to something as infinitely complex as a human being. When we read a story, we are able to see into characters – books are portals that help us see inside people’s hearts and minds, and thus understand them a bit better. The fact that a character is fictional does not take away from this truth – when we read from the perspective of a fictional character, especially a well-written one, we are still experiencing a different life from our own, and a unique perspective. We can see what these characters are really feeling, what they value, and who they actually are as people. The written word helps to show us that this (the truth) is what matters – not the way we or others appear. Reading Between the Lines: A Guide to Christian Literature is a wonderful book that talks about this in more detail – I highly recommend it. Reading can help us empathize with others, and thus learn (or start learning) to not judge a book by its cover; or a person by their image without knowing their unique backgrounds, thoughts, and hearts.

I know that when I observe someone, I do not really see who they are. All I see is a small, outward glimpse of that person, and there is so much more within that I will never truly know. I have wrongly judged people based on their outward appearance way too many times; it’s something I think all of us have to intentionally try to avoid. Even when I talk to someone and start to get to know them, I have to understand that the words they say and the way they behave may have a completely different truth behind them than the way I interpret them. Spending enough time with any one person can help with this – when we spend a lot of time with someone, we start to realize that they are infinitely more complex and multidimensional than we ever thought. In order to truly get to know someone, we have to spend enough time with them – but, we have to also be willing to attempt to see things from their perspective instead of our own. Getting to know someone is an active endeavor, not a passive one. It’s entirely possible to spend years talking to a person and never actually know them. Understanding a person takes time, effort, and the willingness to see things in a new way.

Knowing that our culture values images as much as it does, it’s still often tempting to try to project an image of ourselves for other people to see – as opposed to just being who we are, and trusting God with the rest. However, I believe that the latter is what we must do if we are to follow Him fully – we will never truly follow Him if we are preoccupied with ourselves and how we appear to others. He calls us to love Him, and love others – not to create false images of ourselves in order to look good.

When we create false images of ourselves, we are really just putting on a mask. We are not being who He has called us to be – instead, we are pretending to be what others want us to be, and how we ourselves wish that we were. Ironically, the only way to reach our full potential and become beautiful as God made us to be is to give up all pretense of being in control over our images… and to surrender ourselves and how we are viewed totally to God. Will we still encounter people who misinterpret our hearts, and choose to see only our outward appearance? Of course. Will we also have those who deride us for choosing to follow Christ instead of enhancing our own images? Absolutely. But if we truly want to become more like Him, and become who He planned for us to be, it is essential that we surrender ourselves anyway, regardless of what others think. We must forsake false images, and instead choose Christ. And, through His power and love alone, we can see past the masks people put onto themselves – and see the true beauty that is underneath.

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