Self-Knowledge and Gunpowder

Life can often feel like you’re running on a barrel full of gunpowder that’s careening down a hill towards your ex’s house and Britney Spears’ “Oops I did it again” is playing at full blast from your phone which mysteriously turned on again in your pocket.

It feels like inevitably something is going to go epically, drastically wrong, if it hasn’t already. It just feels like time is careening ahead like an unruly beast and casualties are rising in every direction.

The cute part is that we probably fear people discovering our hidden taste for hits that came out during the year 2000 more than being eviscerated by a self-destructing barrel of gunpowder. Living with shame, after all, is far worse than dismemberment.

Likewise, the thought that we ought to have done something with our lives already looms heavily on the horizon. In the first instance we ruminate over thoughts like, “Perhaps, I should have said “no” either to the 5th shot of vodka in rapid succession (yolo) or to the idea that explosions always make life better (yolo-next-level). What follows, hopefully, usually only once the barrel reaches the bottom of the hill, all hope is lost, and our fate seems imminent, is a deeper reflection: Do I make good choices? What are good choices?

The heroic struggle that is before us, in the face of the constant external change that threatens us from without, is the struggle to know ourselves intimately. Self-knowledge is a currency with far more weight than any earthly pleasure. Any amount of money, power, or fame is a pile of decrepit dust in the face of a person who can look interiorly with a gaze of both authentic self-knowledge and, by extension, love.

To know ourselves is necessarily to love ourselves.

That is why when we decide to put on our pessimist hat and think things like, “Wow I really am trash cause I still love Spears,” this is the ugliest form of a lie. Pessimists always think they are right cause they see things “as they really are.” God help us!

True self-knowledge always builds us up, though it is not necessarily easy to confront. It comes about in those terrifying, but awesome moments when we realise that we can grow, that we should grow, and that we are going to try because we are always worth the effort.

To realise “I truly am a failure… a shithead… a nobody…” is not self-knowledge. It is self-deception.

To perceive my own personal dignity as a human being created out of love in the image of God is the first meaningful step in self-knowledge. From this one point all self-knowledge flows. It is true that we suck at life, that we screw up all the time, and that we hurt the people who love us most, and sometimes as if we liked it.

Yup. I do that.

But that is distressing precisely because we have been created for something higher.

I hate doing evil things because I am good at the heart of who I am.

If our nature was equal to our actions, we would have no problem with our actions. A scam artist who steals money from the elderly and vulnerable could say, “Hey, I’m just trying to get by,” and he’d be right. However, the fact that we exist as human beings created in love and for a higher purpose demands that we live according to something good and explains why we feel bad about our nastier actions.

If God is the source of our true identity, there is one action more than any other that will help us to grow in self-knowledge and love: prayer.

Pessimists often think they apply life’s true “paint thinner” in order to remove the awful “false positivity” that has caked itself over our perception of reality. Only then, they think, can we finally see that human beings truly are greedy and self-centered or that everything ultimately leads to disappointment in one form or another.

Prayer goes deeper.

Prayer not only removes that false positivity that can arise from wholy unhelpful pop-psychologies that try to distract us from real problems, but also delves deeper into reality than a fleeting sight of death and inevitability.

In prayer our eyes see a vast ocean of meaning in the smallest realities of earthly living.

Likewise, our hearts become replete with joy and hope when we begin, little by little, to drink in the identity of God. The more we partake in His awesome life, the more we know about our Creator, the more we know about ourselves. To know Him, is to understand our telos (a fancy greek word meaning our intended end, or purpose).

The reason for our existence is a complicated chain of pretty awesome biological realities that resulted in bipeds who blunder around wondering about quantum mechanics and why beer tastes better on a hot day. But this physical explanation does not address the spiritual reality of the human being, and God is the source of both spirit and body.

Getting to know God, the Architect, enables us to understand the rhyme and reason of the universe, and the true reason for our existence—for your existence, barrel of gunpowder and all.


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