True self-knowledge requires knowing God

Christopher Holmes discusses the miracle that is life.

The God of the Bible is anything but domesticated. In the pages of these Judeo-Christian Scriptures, we learn that God is not like us. Our Creator is not made in our image, though we are made in God’s.

Christian theology involves catching glimpses of who God is and attempting to explain this God, who ultimately, is beyond our comprehension. This activity of "doing theology" involves prayer, worship, and a willingness to hear truths that are anything but sterile.

One of the most important teachings about God is that God, unlike us, is uncreated. God has no creator since God is the fullness of being. Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe this. Though these religions have profound differences regarding many things, they are one in confessing God as the maker of all things.

It is hard for us in our narcissistic age to get beyond ourselves. Our obsession with social media, for example, encourages extraordinary levels of self-absorption.

When we consider the God we meet in the Bible, we discover that this God has no need of us. We are not necessary to God. Rather than being bad news, this is wonderful news. God does not create the world because God is "needy". Instead, God desires to share God’s life with what is not God. Our existence and the reason for there being anything at all, is a gift, an overflow of God’s love.

Being a Christian is about discovering God, that there is nothing better than God. True knowledge of ourselves, as created beings, depends upon knowledge of God, our Creator. We are created to praise God. This is humankind’s desire. As the greatest theologian of the ancient Christian church, St Augustine, writes, "You stir humanity to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself."

I vividly remember when, as a teenager, I beheld for the first time the northern lights while on a canoe trip in central Ontario. In a way I could not articulate, I sensed, vividly, my createdness. This led me to read the Bible, in particular the New Testament book of the Gospel of John. It was there that I discovered the one through whom I was made. Indeed, I learnt his name, the name of Jesus.

Far from denigrating our humanity, we humans arrive at a truthful understanding of ourselves and our world by acknowledging our creatureliness. As the Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart writes, "How odd it is, and how unfathomable, that anything at all exists; how disconcerting that the world and one’s consciousness of it are simply there."

We are created. And we are not created for ourselves. We are, rather, created for God, and for love of God and one another in relation to God.

How do we arrive at God? We arrive at God by loving our neighbour. This is of course hard business. And yet, God gives us one another as the means by which we love God himself.

As we learn to love God, we discern something of the terrifying majesty of God. Think of Moses and his encounter with God in the burning bush episode, narrated for us in the Old Testament book of Exodus. In faithfully reading scripture, we are again and again reminded of "the mighty one." God is not safe, to be sure, but he is good.

Scripture too reminds us of how quickly we forget God. A cure for forgetfulness of God is found in the Psalms. The Psalms are bread for the life of faith. The journey toward remembering God and our createdness begins with a simple truth. This is the truth God speaks to his wayward people Israel. "I am God, your God" (Psalm 50:7).

Recognising that we are created by and for this God is the beginning of life, indeed what Jesus calls "eternal life". I would encourage you to consider the life you have, recognising the incredible gift that it is, and from whom it comes. In so doing, may St Augustine’s words resonate afresh, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

 - Christopher Holmes is the head of the Theology Programme at the University of Otago.

 

Comments

Christianity does not call for nice. Most of the early 12 disciples were slaughtered. Most of the early Church fathers were murdered, for their faith. So many end in flame and with their head on a pike. Paul, who wrote half the New Testament, was decapitated. That sort of courage is not passive. That's what I don't understand about modern church lawyers and niceness. I think Christianity is a fighting religion, we have just forgotten the suffering and that the cross was a device of torture.

Augustine gave us two options, the city of man (of earthly pleasures and sin) or the city of god. It's to consider the eternal creator of the stars in wonder, and chose to serve god, or rather choose to rule man and the empty whisperings of mammon and pleasure.

Like your work. Keep it up.

Mammon & alleged Pleasure: strip joints on Easter Sunday.

We are not puppets of the Divine. We choose, not from handed down options of the numinous, but our human behaviour, Good, or Bad. One, or the other.

 

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