Recognizing Beauty

Interesting how beauty catches the eye and draws the affections. We love to look at beautiful people, paintings, scenery, architecture. I have acquaintances who speak about beautiful people as “eye candy” admitting that the eye is drawn to beauty. Proverbs makes this connection of eyes and heart with the warning: Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes.

Most people that I know would say that they have high standards for beauty, but perhaps our standards for beauty are too low and we settle for mere created beauty. Could it be that our appetites for beauty are too weak?

C.S. Lewis writes in Weight of Glory, “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

What if we did more gazing or gawking at the Beautiful Savior who gave Himself for us? The actions of the woman in Mark 14 //John 12 show the eyes and heart of a woman who recognized True Beauty. What if our desire was that of the Psalmist? “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) If we did, wouldn’t we find Him more attractive? Wouldn’t we raise our standards of beauty? Wouldn’t our hearts follow our eyes?

Take a Look at Yourself

We must take a deep look at ourselves. When we contemplate our own hearts in the context of prayer and Scripture we will see ourselves lacking and  immediately look to God for his infinite benefits. When we look specifically at our sin and misery and rebellion, we are compelled to look upward for forgiveness, mercy and hope. His greatness produces great humility in us.
But we don’t aspire to want God and know God until we become displeased with ourselves. Are you pleased with yourself? Those pleased with themselves don’t want to know god.

Calvin comments, “For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is–what man does not remain as he is–so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? 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.”

We must spend our time looking at God then looking at self then looking at God again then looking at self. Looking only at God leads to external religion and a false sense of self, living the lie of a pretend self that never exposes the reality of our inner self to God and others. Looking only at Self leads to neurosis and self-fixation. We want/need personal, experiential knowledge of God and self. The real knowledge that transforms.

Fooling Yourself

The Christian life involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Today in the Evangelical church, we have focused on knowing God and serving God while we tending to ignore knowing ourselves. When we do this, the True Self never engages God. We then live out of a false image of Self in relationships that we begin to believe is the True Self. This produces a well- crafted external Religion along with an internal spiritual poverty because our True Self, the self that God knows, never engages Him. The consequences are great: broken homes, divorces, shipwrecked ministries, burnout, hurt and pain. Our self-ignorance has crated a gap between appearance and reality. We have become so good at faking it, we have even fooled ourselves!

Knowing God and Knowing Self

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” – Thomas Merton

Look at who would agree with the above quote. In his introduction to The Institutes, Calvin claims,  “There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.”

Moreover, Augustine writes, “I desire to know God and the soul. Nothing more? Nothing whatever.” He prays: “Let me know myself, let me know thee.”

So if the goal of the Christian Life is transformation, then transformation begins with Knowing the Self that God knows. True Knowing of  self demands that we know our self as known by God, and true knowing of God demands that we know God not just as an abstraction or as objective data but in and through our lived experience. Knowledge puffs up, but Experiential Knowledge of God and Self brings Humility. The Christian life involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known.

The Most Important Thing

What is the most important thing for your existence?  In seeking to answer such a question, most Christians would say …. “Finding God, Knowing God, Loving God, or Serving God.” Others might give an answer about connecting to Christ‘s body, the Church or mention relationship with others. But very few would make any reference to Self or Knowing Self.

We are taught to deny self, to forget Self, even to put self last. Many, including myself, have taught that if you want J-O-Y, you must live a life with the following priorities in this order: Jesus first, Others second and You last. To say that we need to Know Self sounds liberal, new age or like pop psychology. But the ignoring of Knowing Self has cost us dearly.

I confess that in my years in the ministry of helping people grow spiritually, I have focused almost exclusively on helping people Know God and have spent little time helping them Know Self.  But I have discovered that there is a strong interconnectedness and an interdependence between the Knowing of God and the Knowing of Self. (Knowing Self in God).

Thomas Merton (d.1968),  a trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsami in Kentucky who has been widely read by evangelicals answers the question from above, “What is the most important thing for our existence?” He says:

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”