When people speak about issues of vision, there is often a focus on physical vision, but even where one is using vision metaphorically in order to express some sort of moral or imaginative sight, there is often a great deal of confusion about the different ways that this sight operates. It can be difficult to properly evaluate the way that sight operates when it comes to having mental, emotional, or spiritual vision rather than reflecting on the organs of sight and how they operate in the body. Let us explore at least a few of the ways in which we may have to deal with the distinctions that exist within various aspects of this metaphorical sight that is often referred to as vision.
When we think of biblical sayings like, “Without vision, the people cast off restraint,” often rendered as “Without vision, the people perish,” the sort of vision that is usually thought of in this case is vision of the future. This sort of vision is complicated by the various ways that the future can be conceived. In one sense, all vision of the future is a matter of imagination, at least in the sense that not having seen or experienced the future, we can form no objective understanding from within. Included in future vision, though, are at least two very different aspects of looking at the future. One of them is our own self-created imagination, in which we envision something happening and seek to bring that future into existence, which is often a struggle because it generally requires the support of others. Alternatively, our vision of the future can be granted to us by One in the know, which is a far more true picture of the future but not one that is without its own difficulties, namely in communicating what one sees without necessarily being fully aware of what one is in fact seeing, and having to use one’s knowledge to convey novel information.
By far the least problematic aspect of vision is vision of what is going on. When we think of seeing things as they are, the focus is often on the physical, in seeking to record information accurately as best as we are able. Yet seeing things as they are also is a matter of difficulty. We may not always understand what is going on when it is going on. To be sure, there are objective aspects of that reality to be seen, but we may not always know the motivations or the consequences of what is happening. We may be led to focus on certain aspects of what is going on and record certain observations from a particular perspective, but at the same time we may not fully realize everything that is happening. At times, especially when we are dealing with unscrupulous people, we may be deliberately misled about what is going on so that we do not understand the real nature of what it is that we are seeing or experiencing. Even when we are dealing with more honest people, it is not always easy to see all of the layers of what is going on while they are happening.
As it may seem obvious by this point, the third aspect of vision is looking at the past. While on the one hand, it may seem as if looking at the past would be least troublesome form of vision, our own contemporary age has demonstrated that looking at the past can be an extremely contentious matter, to the extent that people may have visions of the past that are in no way compatible with each other. Even if there is no particular desire to promote a skewed or dishonest view of the past, as is often the case with contemporary critical historical approaches, there may be a wide variety of layers involving the past that make our feelings about the past and our relationship to it highly complicated by conflicting but intense emotions and judgments. Moreover, our evaluation of and view of the past is highly colored by what is going on at present, and so as our present circumstances change, so too our perspective about the past as it has helped to form the present also changes.
All of this suggests that there are a great many complications in how it is that we experience and categorize vision. It must also be admitted that we can look at vision at ways other than simply looking at the temporal dimension, and we can distinguish different aspects or types of vision using other criteria as well. As we have already noted, there are at least two other layers of vision that go on whether we are looking at the past, present, or future. One layer of this vision consists of that which corresponds to reality as it is. Regardless of the temporal dimension of vision, there are aspects of vision which seek to correspond to reality as it can be understood and recognized and communicated. If our grasp of reality is imperfect, our vision is only sound to the extent that it corresponds to that reality, whatever it is. Grafted on top of this layer is an even more imperfect and partial layer of vision, which consists of evaluation of the vision that we have, where our accuracy in making proper judgments on what we see depends to a great extent on the accuracy of the underlying vision. Where we have no proper foundation of having recognized or perceived reality, we cannot come to sound reasoning or reflection or judgment on those mistaken and misguided perceptions.