Illumination Rather Than Introspection
Search me, O God…and see if there be any way of wickedness in me.
True self-knowledge does not come by our turning within. Introspection never leads to clear understanding. No, it is when there is light coming from God that we see. I think it is so simple. If we want to satisfy ourselves that our face is clean, what do we do? Do we feel it carefully all over with our hands? Of course not. We find a mirror and we bring it to the light. In that light it becomes clear.
You realize,do you not, what it means to say “Search me”? It certainly does not mean that I search myself. “Search me” means “You search me!” That is the way of illumination. It is for God to come in and search. My true knowledge of self comes not from my searching myself but from God searching me.
We hear a lot these days about “finding myself.” Multiple personality tests are available to help us understand ourselves better. Dozens seek therapy or counseling in an attempt to learn how to manage their lives. In our search for “finding myself” we often choose the complex and complicated over the simplicity of the scriptures.
There is absolutely no one who knows you better or understands you more than God. Even before we had our first thought or first life experience, God knew us. In the opening chapter of Jeremiah we read these words:
“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you [and approved of you as My chosen instrument],And before you were born I consecrated you [to Myself as My own];I have appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jeremiah 1: 4-5
Even our parents had to wait until we were born before they could get to know us. And they had to wait until we began to talk and express our thoughts before getting to know us better. And yet, those of us who are parents ourselves understand that we only know parts of our children. Those who are married realize that they don’t fully know or completely understand their spouse. Our friends, neighbors, and co-workers get only a partial glimpse of who we are. If every person in our lives were brought together and asked to describe us, I dare say that each description would be its own unique one.
Our own perceptions are often distorted and twisted. Over the years I’ve seen incredibly beautiful young women believe they were ugly. We have seen little girls develop anorexia because they perceive they are fat. I’ve seen extremely intelligent individuals believe and act as though they are simpletons, sometimes because someone told them they didn’t measure up intellectually.
How can we truly measure ourselves? Do we make comparisons with those around us? Are our perceptions about ourselves and others in actuality distorted? Do we think that everyone else is successful where we have failed, when perhaps the opposite is true?
Can we see how messy this is when we trust in introspection rather than illumination.
John Godfrey Saxe wrote about the foolish trusting of our perceptions in his poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” Each person was sure they could describe the whole beast even though they were only touching a small portion of it. That’s us when we try to figure out who we are with introspection. We are like blind men groping in the dark trying to describe ourselves. Most of the time we get it wrong, either because of inflated ego or deflated ones.
Reading the story of the last week before the crucifixion, we learn that we can’t trust the opinions of others. Consider the fact that the week before Christ is put to death, the mob is shouting praises to Him, and now they are crying, “Crucify him!” We might understand if people changed their view of us in light of the fact that we’re imperfect. But not Christ. That leads to the conclusion that others view of us can change like the weather. So then, we can’t trust their perception of who we are.
But if we come to the light of God’s illumination where all becomes visible, then we can truly see who we are.
Isaiah had such an experience as recorded in the sixth chapter:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw [in a vision] the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted, with the train of His royal robe filling the [most holy part of the] temple. Then I said,“Woe is me! For I am ruined,Because I am a man of [ceremonially] unclean lips,And I live among a people of unclean lips;For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Isaiah 6:1, 5
We need not fear when we are revealed by God’s illumination for He doesn’t make known what He is not working to change or to use. In deed it is only when we can see who we are in God’s light that we begin to change to become more in the image of Christ.
Jacob met God one evening and discovered who he really was. All those years he had viewed himself as a smart business man who took the advantage of every opportunity to better himself. That he took advantage, manipulated other’s vulnerability, and strayed frequently to the realm of his given name- Jacob the cheater- didn’t bring him to an awareness of the need for change. On the other hand, God had a plan for Jacob so He had to illuminate the character flaw that tainted his life. As Jacob wrestles with God, seeking approval and blessing, God stops the conversation with a question: “What’s your name?” And in the light of God’s glory, the answer came, “Jacob, the cheater.” No doubt that self-perception had somewhat influenced how he acted. After all one normally lives us to their name. But in the moment of illumination, God reveals to Jacob that what he and others had perceived him to be was inaccurate. In God’s sight, he wasn’t Jacob the cheater, instead he was Israel- prince with God. Once Jacob saw himself by illumination rather than introspection, he lived up to the illumination.
Maybe you’re struggling with who you think you are. Perhaps you are acting like you have been described by others. It’s time to step into the light. Who am I, you may wonder. Here’s what the Bible says:
“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are! For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, we are [even here and] now children of God, and it is not yet made clear what we will be [after His coming]. We know that when He comes and is revealed, we will [as His children] be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is [in all His glory].”
1 John 3: 1-2
All other descriptions fade in comparison to this one.
Dr. John Thompson