I keep an ‘encouragement’ note on my phone and look at it whenever I’m struggling in life. It has about a dozen items on it, each one offering a different reminder that I hope will shift my perspective a little and make me feel a little brighter.
It’s interesting to consider how important perspective is in life. We might feel we are trapped in a certain set of circumstances, but this is merely a way of thinking. To a large extent, our perspective determines our reality.
When I was an evangelical Christian, I held a certain perspective in mind that helped me to make sense of the world. Later, when I read the Qur’an, my perspective shifted a little and I made sense of life in a slightly different way. If I have a conversation with a friend who is immersed in Eastern spirituality, my perspective is likely to shift even more depending on their worldview and the beliefs they hold (and how persuasive I find them).
I do believe thoughts arise in our minds because God makes them do so. I see life as a grand game directed by God, and the thoughts He gives us are one aspect of how He unfolds that game. We think in a certain way because God makes us do so.
I suppose this kind of thinking leads to a very pluralistic understanding of thought, of religion, and of life in general. The possibilities are endless. This means it’s very important that we choose carefully and wisely (guided by God, of course) what we give our attention to, as this will shape our perspective, and determine our reality.
In a sense, we are powerless to change our perspective, because God is in control. But on the other hand, as part of the illusion of free will we experience as we live out our lives, we can alter the way we think and the way we see things. In my books, I write in terms of ‘modes of mind’ that God gives us. These modes might be anything from a preference for a food or a favourite colour, to an affiliation to political party’s way of thinking (but more about that in my book God’s Grand Game, if you’re interested).
This morning I woke up feeling very depressed. But within a couple of hours, after I had texted a few friends and heard back from them, I suddenly started to feel much more positive about my day. Whereas I had felt trapped in my depression, my thoughts turned very much more optimistic, and a feeling that I might actually enjoy my day emerged. My life circumstances had changed very little, but my perspective had shifted dramatically.
These considerations concerning perspective lead to the question of whether truth is ever absolute. I believe it is in a sense, because certain physical events certainly happen. In religion, for instance, it’s certainly true that either Jesus was crucified (as Christians claim) or he wasn’t (as Muslims claim). It’s true that I have a pair of hands that are currently typing words on my computer.
But even things which can feel factual, particularly in the domain of science, are normally open to myriad different interpretations. Perhaps, for instance, I don’t have two hands — what is it that gives the words ‘two’ and ‘hands’ their meaning? Why does anything mean anything at all? It’s possible for me to stare at my hands and have the thought ‘two’ but I might equally look at my hands and have the thought ‘elephant’ (at least, in theory).
I believe that understanding a certain thing is an experience which God brings about in our thoughts and emotions, and in any given moment, infinite possibilities are available to God. I have experienced psychosis, and when I did I believed things about myself and the world that are very different to the way I see myself and my circumstances when in a normal (if there is such a thing) state of mind. My whole character and personality changed. What made me Steven Colborne changed. This is evidence that perspective is something very fluid — much more fluid than we usually imagine.
I know there is some kind of reality, because I have an awareness and am experiencing things. But perhaps beyond that, the truth is that everything is a matter of perspective. I have often commented that what gives words meaning is not the lines and curly symbols on a page; it’s the activity of God in terms of our thoughts and emotions as we read and reflect. So when an author has written a book, in a sense they have done nothing at all — the way their book is understood and received is entirely dependent on the thoughts and emotions of readers, which are brought about by God.
I will close with a word of encouragement. If you’re feeling depressed, remember that your thoughts represent only one way of looking at things. With God, there are always infinite possibilities in any given moment, and there is every chance that even if you feel stuck, your perspective will shift. You might even like to say a prayer to God to make that happen.