There's no humor intended in that title. In fact, it's a phrase I've heard from several friends in the last few months; Always coupled with a bit of sadness. On the surface it seems the impossible statement, how could we feel in effect, unable to know ourselves? Yet this seems to be the tacit goal of our culture. "Be who you are" and yet how often do we find our efforts, often wrapped in the garments of some subculture, look, or relationship, to, in the end, never quite satisfy. Whatever I am, I am more than my labels, more than my group, more than my stereotype whether I like it or not. I am more than the sum of my parts, and I cannot seem to figure out the math.
If you struggle to understand yourself, it might either bring you great joy or great distress to know you are in the grandest of company. From the great to the least, all struggle to understand themselves. Often it is the most self defined in our culture that in the end cannot find any "self" to hold on too. (the latest exploits of Charlie Sheen would seem to lend themselves to this interpretation) We are left looking deep inside and wondering why we are lost without our latest identity (the person, the group, the look, the job) or striving on to make a new one. Or as likely much of both. We are identity addicts, staring at the bottom of the bottle of unfulfilled life roles.
Where did we derail? Why can't the only self aware being on this planet manage to deal with his own self awareness? Why? He was never meant to do it himself.
The king of the reformation theologians, John Calvin, opens his magnum opus(1) with this one twice inverted thought: Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. Read it again. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self. No knowledge. None. We grasp at an ever growing chasm between ourselves and true knowledge of ourselves without first understanding God. Perhaps you don't believe in a God. Perhaps you do,l but deep down you know, you don't know him as you should. Either way, humor me for a moment.
If there is a God, assuming anything by such a definition must be a creator in some shape, he must have had a hand in our creation. If so it seems particularly peculiar that he would choose to make a creature of self awareness. Certainly such a creature seems to have the makings of unique origin. A favored existence. The one creature that shared the amazing special bond with its creator of perceiving and changing its own world and interpretation. A creature that by its very thinking creates a perception of its own world. A creature that by very nature of it existence has an inseparable bond with its creator, and yet has the ability to truly change, not only exist. What if that creature were to turn its back on that bond. By some ill event to have its vision clouded. The base as it were removed from the statue so that the perception is now unbounded. He would feel definitionless, floating, unable to understand his own ablility to change himself. Without the core truth of why he his what he is, he can never truly master his own spirit.
I think we know it is true.
Perhaps this is why we so long to be known. Whether through workaholism, or being too quick to relationships, we need to be known. We feel alone in a crowded room, and lost in a lonely one.
If this is all true, then there is a great hope. The God, knowledge of whom is the only solution to our problem, has chosen to reveal himself.
Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
He chose a people, he wrote a book, and ultimately he ripped open the heavens and came himself. God has revealed himself. His name is Jesus. He offers not only the knowledge of God, which would only serve to condemn us because of our mistakes, but also the path to God. He offers a real lasting relationship of growing knowing and being known.
You need not look to your self any longer. You may know that you are known.
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
New International Version, ©2011 (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica
(1) The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Westminster John Knox press, ed. John T McNeill (c) 1960
(c) Jamin T. Eben 2011