As we come to Chapters 3 and 4 of The Gift of Being Yourself, The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, we are encouraged to get to know the parts of ourselves that we would rather hide from. Our broken, or wounded, or shamed selves that we’d rather not face, because when we do it makes us feel vulnerable. “The self that God loves is not my prettied-up pretend self but my actual self – the real me. But, master of delusion that I am, I have trouble penetrating my web of self-deceptions and knowing this real me. I continually confuse it with some ideal self that I wish I were.” (The Gift of Being Yourself – The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, p. 57)
In these chapters Benner begins to introduce us to what I humorously rename here as the title of his book: The Scary Call to Self-Discovery. J Benner differentiates between our part-selves which are in the “I” of our known identity, from those different roles this self may play, (father/mother, church member, friend, employee…). My identity is who I am, but these roles are the way in which my “I am” interacts with the people and the world around me.
Flying Under the Radar
Picture a large bowl of Red Delicious apples placed at the front end of the cafeteria line on the campus of a theological institution for the training of Christian leaders. The note attached reads: “Take only one please, God is watching.” At the other end of the line a prankster has attached this note to a tray of peanut butter cookies: “Take all you want. God is watching the apples!”
What is it about our nature that wants to fly under the radar? That wants to appear like we are going for an apple while we sachet toward the cookies? Trying to avoid God’s ALL knowing watch? (As more than one theologian has concluded, unless God knows you, you don’t exist!) If something is true in this universe, God already knows it. Theistic epistemology (Knowing truth about God), implies a general epistemology, (a doctrine of the knowledge of everything.) The Deists of the 1700’s went a long way to establish reason as the source of truth rather than revelation. But even here, doesn’t science speak often of discovery and then find reason for the application and usefulness of a knowledge base? So the question then is not really about discovery or revelation itself, but rather how either is possible for the human mind, and who is behind our ability to know anything- who places any truth before us and empowers us to observe and respond, or not respond.
“Long before I believed Theology to be true I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it…. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. Unless we can be sure that reality in the remotest nebula … obeys the thought laws of the human scientist here and now in his laboratory—in other words, unless Reason is absolute—all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one; and the fact that when you put it to many scientists, far from having an answer, they seem not even to understand what the difficulty is, assures me that I have not found a mare’s nest but detected a radical disease in their whole mode of thought from the very beginning. The man who has once understood the situation is compelled henceforth to regard the scientific cosmology as being, in principle, a myth; though no doubt a great many true particulars have been worked into it.” (C.S. Lewis – From “Is Theology Poetry,” in The Weight of Glory, 134–136.)
God by nature knows all things, and there is nothing that surprises Him. (Playing hide and seek with God is truly an unfair match.) We attempt to explain who the “I AM” is from scripture: that He exists beyond time and space, (the Eternal), and so He is present to all time and space ‘at the same time’. (Psa 139:7 “Where can I go from your Spirit?” – David) Past, present, and future are in his purview, and He exists in all the dimensions of His creation simultaneously even as he upholds them. God does not need things to be revealed to Him, He is the Revelator. Those realities and dimensions we can observe at present, and any we may not yet grasp by scientific means. The expression dwelling in the light points to our Triune God for whom all things come to light, because He is that light. (“I AM the light of the world”- John 8:12)
The Apostle James describes this God who “has no shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) He has no dark spots, no variance in His glory. Our Father is not a Darth Vader hiding some unseen twisted motive, but rather assures us that “God is love.” God is faithful to his purpose, and has invested totally in redeeming and restoring all things. (Acts 3:19)
John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (ESV)
Paul speaks to us about unrighteous hearts that seek to suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18) Why would people do this? Because there’s something deeper than reason, and deeper than the faith by which we reason: love. Blinded minds are accustomed to the darkness and resist change. They don’t want the accountability a Creator demands. And God turns them over to further blindness, and greater latitude for degrading and self-harming sin. (Rom 1:28)
Romans 1 gets right to the problem that the blinded mind has. It is not a matter of intellect, what it ‘knows’, (noetic), but rather it is a problem of love, what it desires! The writing that Christ followers see as being clearly on the wall is not seen because the unbelieving heart does not want that truth to exist. That truth, the truth that we are not our own creation, that we are in fact dependent on a creator for temporary and eternal life, is not a truth they love to hear.
It’s as if God, who has loving concern for his children is saying, “You can have your cake and eat it to, but you can’t avoid the stomach ache.” Our freedom to harm ourselves under the eyes of an all knowing God reminds me of a conversation from one C.S. Lewis books taking place between Susan, and the Beaver: “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
We’ve been reading about the relational God who sees us as we are, who knows us as we are, and who first and foremost loves us as we are. To be known as loved by God is the ultimate reality we need more awareness of in our knowledge of ourselves. And because in him we move and breathe and have our being, anything we can ‘know’ (establish as true) must have its’ origin in the mind of our creator who holds all truth in His very being. “I AM the way, the truth, and the Life…” – (John 14:6 – Jesus)
God is beyond what we can comprehend, yet He has chosen to reveal himself to us… not all at once mind you as we see how His self-revelation unfolds from the Old Testament into the New. Even the things he has planned for our future are a bit shady in the present: “For eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him…” (2 Cor 2:9) And in each of our own lives, we have experienced learning curves which help us discern that which is valuable from that which is disposable. Note this reply by John Wesley to a letter address to him in the London Magazine of 1774:
“Permit me, sir, to give you one piece of advice. Be not so positive; especially with regard to things which are neither easy nor necessary to be determined. When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to man.”
But there is a great difference between saying God is incomprehensible, and saying that God is unknowable. “…we must not interpret God’s incomprehensibility in such a way that we compromise the knowability of God or the involvement of God with us in the process of thinking and knowing. God is revealed, and we know him truly, but it is in that revelation and because of that revelation that we stand in wonder.” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John M. Frame, p. 40)
John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him
German mathematician, astronomer and astrologer Johannes Kepler used the phrase “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Referring to his work in astronomy, Kepler said: “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
This phrase has been used to help describe why humans have any thought processes at all, and how we come to know what we know, and remember the things we have experienced. Twentieth Century Reformed theologian and philosopher Cornelius Van Til addressed thinking God’s thoughts after Him in this way. Van Til wrote that as creatures of God, we are analogues of God. “God is the original while man is the derivative. Man’s thoughts must therefore be patterned after God’s thoughts. Man must, as we often express it, think God’s thoughts after Him.” (Essays on Christian Education)
Discernment is learning to “think God’s thoughts after him,” practically and spiritually; it means having a sense of how things look in God’s eyes, and seeing them in some measure “uncovered and laid bare.” “True discernment means not only distinguishing the right from the wrong; it means distinguishing the primary from the secondary, the essential from the indifferent, the permanent from the transient, the good and the better from the best…The most remarkable example of such discernment is described in John 2:24-25: “Jesus would not entrust himself to them . . . for he knew what was in a man.” This is discernment without judgmentalism. It involved our Lord’s knowledge of God’s Word (he, supremely had prayed, “Teach me . . . good judgment, for I believe in your commands” [Ps. 119:66]) and his observation of God’s ways with men. Doubtless his discernment grew as he himself experienced conflict with, and victory over, temptation and measured what is by what ought to be. Christ’s discernment penetrates to the deepest reaches of the heart, but it is of the same type as the discernment the Christian is to develop, for the only discernment we possess is that which we receive in union with Christ, by the Spirit, through God’s Word. – (Sinclair Ferguson, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Discernment: Thinking God’s Thoughts after Him)
This concept of discernment coming through our union with Christ is crucial to our spiritual transformation as well. As Benner puts it, “Spiritual transformation does not result from us fixing our problems…It results from turning to God in the midst of them and meeting God just as we are.” (p. 63)
How have you allowed God to meet you in the middle of a trial or problem?
Watch for times when you can be alone with yourself and God. (Take notice of some of the things that keep you from those times of solitude… Do you always have to have music playing, your TV or computer on, your phone lighting up with calls and texts?)
Are there opportunities to learn something about your prayer life during those times?
How often do you confirm thoughts like: “God has this, even though I don’t?”
How comfortable are you with the knowledge that God knows everything, and loves you even when you can’t figure it out?
Spend some time this week with these questions in your prayer time.