“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”- 1 Samuel 16:7
The Human Itch
Why am I here? What is the point? Humanity flounders to make some broader sense of the bizarre matrix in which we create, consume, and die. This quest for meaning, acknowledged or not, ultimately compels all human movement (Viktor Frankl), but we have a choice: courageously consider the unsightly premises and attempt to make peace with these questions, or continue to distractedly appease the appetite with inane, comfortable superficiality. The thirst for meaning is constant, but we can choose to whom, or to what, we turn for answers. It depends on how badly you want true peace.
Grasping at straws for some substantial, stake-in-the-ground truth in a dizzying world of passions and calamities, we turn to the one thing we think we can trust: our own perceptions. We casually assign judgements on the basis of behavior and appearances (1 Samuel 16:7), gathering evidence from every available source to identify threats and draw conclusions about who we are in attempt to ascribe some vague sense of meaning to our lives. Enlightenment thinker Rene Descartes echoed this sentiment in his famous phrase “I think, therefore I am,” emphasizing the self as the only source of knowledge. It’s the only decision-making basis we really have without omniscient knowledge and it informs our most basic survival instincts.
We doggedly employ this principle to construct elaborate but frail, inconsistent narratives about the world at large and our places in it. Not only are our circumstances in an unreliable state of flux, our perceptions of them are no more dependable. Warped by pride, insecurity, and emotions that are just plain fickle, our perceptions often errantly inflate or minimize the powers at play in our lives (Jeremiah 17:9). Our senses of peace and security are hung precariously on the perceived state of our surroundings, fully externalizing our power. A sustainable strategy, you ask? If you always make the right choices, can always be the best, never tire of striving, and are miraculously impermeable to that alienating pride which accompanies infinite achievement, sure! That would make one of us.
This approach is based exclusively on the self. Self is wholly responsible for protecting itself, assigning itself an identity, and passing judgement on others. Luckily the self is always strong, never errs, and only seeks the highest good, for self. Oh wait. Exhaustion and confusion ensue (Isaiah 41:29). It’s as though the natural human mind is stuck in a snowbank, pedal to the metal, tires spinning, snow spraying, and only getting further stuck. No traction to be gained. Could there be a better lens through which we see the world than our own? Is there any way to lift our eyes off of our own damned selves?
“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” -Psalm 3:3
This feeble sense of self we have so laboriously crafted leaves us (1) violently enthusiastic about validating our own existences- we will matter, even if little else does or (2) listlessly indifferent about our contributions to the world because, “What does it matter anyway?” Both are logical approaches, given the premises. But certainly there is no lasting peace for he who builds his life upon such a rickety and subjective philosophical framework. Hyper or hypo-exertion are the only foreseeable results. And either way, no matter how hard we try to detach ourselves from uneasiness about the prospect that our self-revolving worlds will expire with us at the grave, part of us remains unsatisfied by these alternatives. Where did this ache for meaning come from, if not to be answered?
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” -Romans 12:2
A Better Way
Our Redeemer redeems all things, and so offers redemption for our fallen minds. While we are busy sleeping with one eye open, careful not to let one rogue opportunity for self advancement pass us by, or fully indulging languid apathy, He peacefully offers us a balanced narrative about who we are, how the world works, and how to find peace within it. When we ask for it, He shows us glimpses of the way He sees things, the way things really are. He calls it wisdom (Exodus 35:31).
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10
Counting the Cost
He lifts our heads from the reeling world’s turbulence. One small catch: acceptance of His clarity requires us to do away with that old way we used to see things. The familiar self-centered way, that we still oddly feel like we can trust, or at least feel uncomfortable forsaking. That method that we felt granted us autonomy and control. Accepting wisdom requires submission of self, something we are not easily convinced to surrender. We must trust His insight above our own. A high price that feels highest to the most foolish among us.
The price especially pokes for those insights of His that are far from native to our human egos. Love your enemies? Bless those who hurt you? Do good to those who hate you and abuse you (Matt. 5:44)? Welcome the least among us (Matt 25:40), submit to authority (Heb. 13:17), count all trials as joy (James 1:2), and be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)? A tall order indeed. My pride writhes at the thought.
But I am all too familiar with my own weakness to choose any other alternative. He promises to grant me perfect peace if I trust him (Isaiah 26:3). Do I take him at His word? My skeptical, self-narrowed intellectual analysis counts the cost in squirming resistance. But my heart, wearied from its constant and turbulent rioting, willingly crumples in His embrace. I take Him at his word. But, to each his own. He will not force His way upon His children.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:9
God My Friend
Should we choose to accept His offer, how might one practically maintain clarity and keep clear of the world’s whirling and putrid slough of confusion (James 3:16)? How do we live truly meaningful lives in spite of the hurrying parade of demands that cannot be ignored, even by those who have held Him to His promise? Not until we meet Christ in person will our minds be fully transformed and the world’s nagging hindrance stop snapping at our heels. So how does one actually claim peace now?
If you wish for truth, stability, and peace you must draw close to the thing that has them (Lewis). Renewal of the mind looks much like friendship with God. Spend time with him. Read His book. You must pull your mind’s wobbling orbit from the gravity of life’s distractions and resolutely approach the constant, eternal, steadfast Author- the true and only Anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19).
The more life you share with Him, the more those thoughts that do not align with His way will sting your conscience as foreign. Give Him everything- each thought, every feeling, all requests. You can! He offers His constant and unbroken attention, infinite interest, and sincerest concern over even those matters that we might bashfully consider trifling (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 66:19). When you offer him your requests in every situation, he promises to guard your mind with peace (Phillipians 4:7).
Friendship involves no pretense, and He holds your most exposed self in strong and gracious hands. He sees your naked heart in its grotesque entirety and cherishes it still. Shamelessly invite Him into every hollow of your soul- He doesn’t care so much what it looks like as that He is invited in. Remember, He is not so impressed by appearances as we are- all He wants is your humble heart and teachable spirit.
You can’t earn friendship the way you might earn a promotion; the fervor of your devotion matters less than the direction of your will. You do not need to behave politely or look polished for Him; you need only to forget about yourself altogether. You cannot add to His love for you, so you can stop trying. His sacrifice covers you in His “robe of righteousness” and He regards you as if that righteousness were your own. There is no friend like Him!
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” -Isaiah 26:3
Man, by nature, craves meaning. It’s what makes us human, separating us from animals (Lewis). How we choose to respond to this quenchless longing is, in fact, the defining mark of our lives. We can look to ourselves, attempting to make sense of our circumstances and ascribe meaning to our own lives, or we can invoke the external force outside and above us to grant us purpose. If we really want to live meaningfully, we must daily submit our minds to His redemption, trusting His insight above our own. God promises us perfect peace when we turn to Him, finally abating that restless longing that we have so long sought to appease. But, to each his own. He will not force His way upon His children.
But my sin was this, that I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. – Augustine, Confessions
Thank you, God, that you know things that we do not and you are always right. Forgive us for thinking in ways that make us small and animal, failing to embrace the brilliant human glory for which we are made. Forgive me for oversimplifying things in fearful effort to defend myself. Forgive us for operating from a place of scarcity and fear when you have taken the ultimate measure to grant us permanent abundance.