From psalm 139, when talking to God: “you from a distance know my ideas and thoughts.”
The self. “know thyself.” “Find yourself.” These are the messages surrounding us moderns. Not a new idea, of course, to know the self was a popular goal for the Greek philosophers such as Socrates and Pythagoras. Emerson’s poem “Find yourself” shows our American attachment to the same philosophy.
“Give up to thy soul—
let it have its way—
It is, I tell thee, God himself…”
We have heard and spoken the response to this philosophy:
“I am going to college to find myself”
“I am going to the mountain to find myself”
“I will be on a trip to India”
“I need to leave this marriage”
The desperate search to find the hope, the truth, the God that hides inside. Are we certain that this philosophy we have been given is based on reality?
Of course it is useful and wise to know and consider one’s own strengths and weaknesses. To ignore them is to waste one’s talents, or blindly go to fail, not understanding one’s limitations.
But the problem for most of us lies not in missing an adequate self-assessment, but in that self-obsession that so easily traps us. The lies that our society tells us keep us solidly locked up: all that matters is you. You must take care of yourself alone. God ultimately is to be found inside yourself.
In this face of this we see the spiritual cry from Psalm 139, a man looking outside of himself. He says to the other (not the self): You. And realizes that his thoughts and ideas are not themselves God. As if God were an imagination, a contemplation. But that God is the ultimate “Other” that our soul has missed all along, searching within the self. God defined not by me, by my whims and moods, but God a real person with real attributes and independent concerns, revealed to us, declared to us, introduced to us. And this God sees my thoughts, ideas, drams, plans. And this God sees the reality of me, only partly known by me despite my endless mining. And of course only partly formed as incomplete without the God relationship.
And in that connection with the Other we actually find our true self. Not in self-contemplation until we imagine a divinity. Nor in a self-serving attempt to enjoy the meaningless life that we “find ourselves” with. But in connection with the Other.
Let us enter into this relationship. And marvel at it! Not that we are willing to open our heart to God, but that God, the unknowable Other, consents to relate to us. Who never ceases takes pointed interest in our thoughts. Those self-absorbed, narcissistic thoughts, ideas, plans, that cage us in the first place. For God sees, God knows, God redeems even that.