It feels like it’s been ages, but we’ve begun meeting again with friends as a Life Group. We kicked things off with discussion about identity, based on a sermon by John Mark Comer. I recently read his book, The Relentless Elimination of Hurry. SO. GOOD. Highly recommended read.
Anyway, John led off his discussion on identity by making the point that one cannot know God unless they know themselves. Supported by some great quotes.
How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self? Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee. ~ Augustine
No one can know God who does not first know himself.” ~ Messier Eckhart
When we are who we are called to be, we will set the world ablaze. ~ St. Catherine
Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge. ~ St. Teresa of Avila
Our wisdom… consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two procedes and gives birth to the other. ~ John Calvin
My initial reaction was to doubt the reasoning. Why would it be necessary to know myself to know someone or something else? Can I not know my mother or father as a child without knowing myself?
As I continue to reflect though, it starts to make more sense. The distinction starts to get more clear when you think about what he means to know God. I don’t think he’s using know as one would talk about an acquaintance. It’s a deeper knowing. An understanding of God’s character and motivation.
To go back to the example of knowing my mother and father, I didn’t know my parents as a child. I knew them, but it took many years to get to really know them. Even now, I’m certain there’s more to learn. What that reveals is that it shouldn’t be a black and white statement. There is a huge gradient in knowing someone. Pick someone you’ve spent nearly your whole life with, and imagine how well you know them. As well as you think you know them, there’s more. Now translate that to an eternal and incomprehensible God.
So where does that leave our assertion, that we must know ourselves to know God? It means that there’s a better way to present it: We can only know God to the degree that we know ourselves. That is to say, the more we know ourselves, the better we can know God. That leaves the possibility that we could know ourselves better, without getting to know God. Even then though, I would suggest that to know yourself, you’d have to get to know your creator. As John Calvin said above, “these are connected together by many ties”.
Why might we need to know ourselves in order to really know God though? I see it like this: our view of the world around us is through warped and colored glass. We are all born in a bottle made of really imperfect glass. Everything we see around us is colored and shaped by our own personality, sinfulness, emotional wounds, education, and lots of other things. I think some of those imperfections will be buffed out as we mature and grow healthier, but some we’ll never get rid of. Imagine looking out and trying to describe a person’s face, but it’s distorted.
The way that can present itself in our relationship with God, is that we may misread His character. We could look at something in our life that is a real blessing to us, and because of our selfish desires, we could read it as a curse. What could be an act of love toward us could be seen as restrictive and mean. There are just too many ways we could see an aspect of God’s nature and not get it.
The only way then to understand what is outside of the bottle is to understand how the bottle shapes our view. The only way that happens is by comparing what we see, to a standard outside of our own bottle. (hint: that’s the Bible) When we see God doing something that the Bible says is an example of His love or faithfulness or goodness, and it looks warped… it’s not the Bible that’s warped. It’s your glass.
With that said, I don’t believe we’re going to really know God this side of eternity. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I do believe though, that part of my purpose is to get to know Him better, and that can only be helped by growing to know myself better.