It is through the true knowledge of God that we see ourselves. We as human beings are prone to self-deception. We see what we want to see and how we want to see it. We may perceive that we are righteous, good people and project that idea every where we go. Yet, perception is not reality. Humanity is spiritually blind, unable to see who and what we truly are. Not only are we sinful creatures, we are completely oblivious to it.
When it comes to theology, it is not merely a task in which we seek to understand God, but also to see ourselves. For it is only in the light of his glory that we grasp a true vision of ourselves. Think to the prophet Isaiah. When he received a vision of the holy God on his throne, what was his response? An overwhelming sense of the weight of his own inadequacy before the God of the universe. His sin became like a millstone around his neck that forced him to his knees. Was Isaiah more sinful when he arrived in God’s presence than any other point in his life? No, he was just simply made more aware of it.
The Problem of Comparison: Basket Ball and 1st Graders
When we compare ourselves to other people we can seem righteous or even blameless. We can point to others and say, “I’m better than that guy, at least I didn’t ________”. We compare ourselves to other men to attempt to rationalize the delusion of our own righteousness. Yet, when we compare ourselves rightly to an infinitely holy, tracendent, and pure God, we don’t quite measure up. Let me give you an example. I love getting to play basketball against children. Why? Because I rock at basketball when I play against kids. I’m taller than them. I’m stronger than them. I’m faster than them. I dominate them. Now if I walk away from playing basketball with a bunch of children and say to myself “You know what, I’m pretty great at basket ball, I think I’ve got a chance to make it in the NBA I’d be a legend”. You and I both know that this is foolishness. How should I really test my basketball skills? Well I need to play one of the greats – a Michael Jordan, a Kobe Bryant, or a Lebron James. The true measure of my greatness in basketball can only be seen in light of the greatest players of all time. Although I may be able to dominate some 1st graders in a game of basketball, Lebron James would dominate me like I was a 1st grader.
So too it is when it comes to our spiritual lives. When we compare ourselves to other men, we may seem impressive in our righteousness, but when we stand before a holy God we are overwhelmed in by our inadequacy. We must see ourselves in light of who God is. This is the only way we can grasp a true knowledge of ourselves. So theology not only helps us know who God is, but helps us to know ourselves. The only way we can accurately see ourselves is by knowing God.
In the words of John Calvin, “The inference to be drawn is that men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.” (Institutes I.i.3) We will never see ourselves as we ought until we see ourselves in light of God’s glory. It is then and only then that we recognize our poor and lowly state. It is only in the radiant splendor of God’s glory that we realize how destitute and impoverished and desperate we really are. Why would we want to think this way about ourselves? Isn’t it better to go on with the delusion of self-righteousness rather than to be exposed for who we really are? No not at all, we do not want to be so foolish as to ignore reality itself. Do we not have pity on those who are blinded by their own delusion?
Singers Who Cannot Sing
Think about the show American Idol. Do we not all fill sorrow for these poor people who think they can sing like Aretha Franklin only to sound like a dying cat? Isn’t the most loving, and helpful thing for that person is to shatter the delusion they have been believing, that they can sing? We need to see ourselves as we truly are. We cannot live in a fantasy world of our own making, because if we are not shattered from our self-delusion than far worst consequences will result than just simply being mocked on national television, we will experience the fire of hell for all eternity.
Yet, for those who grasp truly their spiritual poverty there is hope. It is only by getting an accurate picture of ourselves that we see we have any need for the Gospel. As we grasp a vision of God, we see our own sinfulness and we see our great need. This is why Jesus announced in those beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). For it is only by seeing our spiritual poverty that we are ready to be filled with a gifted righteousness purchased by Jesus Christ. To see ourselves as we truly are is the only way to be saved from ourselves. When the delusion is shattered and we realize the emperor has no clothes, then alone will we reach out to the hand of the savior and take the freely offered garment he offers us.