Realism is defined as “the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.” In other words, realism encourages people not to be either overly optimistic or pessimistic about circumstances, but instead try to see things exactly as they are. A realist wants the unvarnished truth. There are many different philosophies that stem from realism, including depressive realism (the idea that people who are clinically depressed are able to see reality more clearly) and philosophical realism, which says that reality is absolute and does not depend on observers’ perceptions.
Like most philosophical systems, realism is just one way of understanding and dealing with life. Some philosophies, and most likely some branches of realism as well, are opposed to the teachings of Scripture. But the basic premise of realism—that we should look at things as they are and act accordingly—is not anti-biblical. In fact, the Bible encourages us to seek the truth about life and about ourselves (1 John 1:5–10) and warns us not to be deceived (James 1:16; Deuteronomy 11:16). The human mind is easily fooled, having the capacity to accept deceptions as true, and from the beginning Satan has attempted to deceive humanity, often with great success (Genesis 3:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14). The Bible says that deceptions will increase as time goes on (2 Timothy 3:13). The desire to find the truth is good and is satisfied in Christ (John 14:6).
One problem with realism is the assumption that human beings can see the truth accurately or that we can form proper conclusions based on what we perceive. We go through the world, taking knowledge in through our senses, listening to the rational (or irrational) arguments of others, and absorbing more subtle emotional and spiritual information through the stories we hear. Our minds are deeply connected to our cultures and the messages of the world. Jesus said that the only way to hear or receive the truth is to be indwelt by the Spirit of truth (John 14:17). We need God to shed light on our minds so that we can perceive the truth accurately and clearly (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), and for that reason we are encouraged to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5–6). This is one of the most difficult things to accept: that even when we try to see things as realistically as possible our minds and hearts can still be deceived. That is why we must trust God, who has been around forever and will be around long after the world has passed away (1 John 2:17); the God who created reality “is greater than our heart, and knows everything” (1 John 3:20).