Summary: God speaks truth to those who know themselves well enough to listen.
A few years ago, accountability was the hot word among Christians. Many voices encouraged us to find another person, or even a group, with whom we would share what was really happening in our lives. Maybe you think highly of those; others may doubt their value. Leaving aside the potential benefit, it seems to me that true accountability is hard because we may not want others to know who we really are. In fact, we may not even admit it to ourselves.
Blaise Pascal said: “Too much truth is paralyzing.” He may be correct. Don’t you find that we really say to one another: “Tell me what I want to hear”; instead of: “Tell me who I truly am”? Jesus’ enemies did precisely that. And when he responded differently than they wanted, they were deeply offended. So how will we respond to Jesus’ word about us? [Read John 8.37-47. (Sermon #32 in a Series on the Gospel of John). Pray.]
Walt Disney plans to release (in May) their film version of Prince Caspian, the second in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Our family listened to the audio book again this week. I think one of Lewis’ most brilliant insights occurs when Caspian discovers that even though he has lived in Narnia all his life, he is actually human. Unfortunately, he descends from pirates – pirates who have mistreated and even murdered! After telling him all this, Aslan says to Caspian, “Do you mark this well?” Caspian hangs his head and responds: “I do indeed sir. I was wishing that I came of more honorable lineage.”
Aslan responds: “You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, and that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor. Be content.”
Shame and honor – both are our lineage.
St. Cosmas (A.D. 760):
Once His heavenly image bearing,
Man has sunk to depths of sin;
Now defiled, debased, despairing,
Clad in rags and foul within….
Honor and shame. Every human soul binds together these competing realities. Honor – you are created in the image of God; you bear the weight of glory.
C. S. Lewis writes (The Weight of Glory): “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare…. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”
Such honor: his heavenly image bearing; yet shame: sunken, debased, foul within. Who are we?
John Calvin is an important in church history because he wrote a massive and definitive theology for the Protestant Church during the Reformation. (Few people still have their books published and read 450+ years after their writing.) Entitled, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter one is “The Knowledge of the Creator.” Surprisingly, Calvin begins by saying that in some sense, we must know ourselves before we know God. “The miserable ruin, into which the rebellion of the first man cast us, especially compels us to look upward…. Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and – what is more – depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rests in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man does not remain as he is – so long as he does not know himself…. Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.”
Jesus tells these religious men that they do not know themselves. They think of themselves one way – the truth is wholly opposite; therefore, they do not know God. In so doing, Jesus challenges you and me – “Do we think clearly about ourselves? Will we hear the truth about our condition?”
I see here three reasons we must know ourselves: