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know thyself

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A few years ago, a new business book gained popularity with a very simple premise:  Know what you don’t know.  Or more simply, without knowing where you are ignorant, you cannot fill it with wisdom.  I apologize, that wasn’t any simpler.

I never read the book, but a quick glance proved this struggle was not unique to the business world.  On the contrary, I began to see it everywhere, and of course, quite prominently in my own life.  I found this surprising.  Introspective ruminations are one of my favorite past times.  Often to such a degree I was in very real danger of over doing it.  But this was different.

When we consider ourselves, whether it be our struggles, our sins, our oppressions, we get so used to thinking about something in a particular way, we forget there were ever any other options.  These tendencies form a well worn trail, pounded beneath many steps.  We go deeper of course, heroically pushing through swamps and ridges, trials and emotions, intimately learning every pebble and root.  Our efforts bring satisfaction, a sense of worthy endeavor.  Yet it is false.  We mistake effort for accuracy and never ask whether the trail was correct in the first place.

This is understandable. Familiarity is enticing, offering great comfort and solace. The devil is no fool though, and demands a price.  We must simply commit to retreading the same thoughts.  And then quietly he leaves, and with him steals away the power to open light upon the valleys.  His ruse works well, soon we are convinced no other trails ever existed.  Those valleys of unknown, the great voids in our understanding, were simply an illusion.  Like a blind man walking past a brilliant sunset, the colors are no longer missed.

This is a great tragedy, but if we respond, a tremendous opportunity. Within the unknown valleys, we often uncover the passage to our redemption. A passage that brings us before our false gods, and hands us the tool to bring them down.  Before a shining light and sharpened axe, the towering idols must fall to the ground.

They are different for each us. Some toil for years in anxiety and finally discover a terrible need for acceptance.  Others clutch bitterness and cynicism and find a deep root of distrust. Yet we must remember the author of this possibility.  Simple logic tells us we are incapable of learning on our own what we don’t already know.  This great impasse is broken only by the Word and the Holy Spirit.  Every other resource, the wise counsel of a friend or the quiet contemplations in our mind, is merely a reflection.

May He grant us the courage to step into the unknown.

Isaiah 41:18-19

I the LORD will answer them;
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.

Comments

Comment from Elizabeth K
Time October 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm

“Need for acceptance” and “distrust” – ouch! Even though it’s a good ouch when we become aware of our false gods, I have to admit that I avoid that view in more ways than one.

Familiarity. I’m not sure I understand this concept in this sense. Are you saying that Christians tend to get stuck in a thinking rut…? If so, I’m wondering what you’re thinking… how might this be played out?

Comment from Elizabeth K
Time October 10, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Oh, and this made think of something else…. but I’m not sure if this is falls within what you are saying in this post and your next one on pride:

Sometimes we can be overcareful in how we think of ourselves (and in our actions, etc. too.) We are not sure if such and such is a fault, so we assume it is, just in case. We might even announce it at Community Group and everyone relates…. But it’s not real conviction that leads to repentance and we just chalk it up once again to our pious effort….

Comment from jrmallory
Time October 11, 2008 at 11:38 am

Thanks Elizabeth,

I’m realizing this post didn’t come out as clearly as it sounded in my head. Sometimes it looks really good at 1:30am but terrible the next day!

In mentioning familiarity I was referencing our tendency to resort to the same old thought processes. Never really stopping and asking if they are legitimate or fruitful. For example, perhaps my rut is bitterness, so whenever something lame happens in life, I fall back on blaming God for the circumstances. I wonder if we perhaps we need to sometimes step back and ask if even our first premise is correct.

And yes, I totally agree with you on the point of ‘we can be overcareful in how we think of ourselves’. Worthy of another essay for sure!

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