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Jokes are only funny if we possess the required categories of understanding. Without which we are like children who cannot grasp adult humor in movies. In the same way, if we lack certain categories in our discussion about God, we will not be able to reconcile our present knowledge with the wider understanding presented in this series. I say this because without a particular piece of the puzzle, the bible will always be subdivided into binary compartments. Since most of us were taught a win/lose paradigm, I now share this.
The piece I’m referring to is that of the False Self. The journey to God is impossible without the journey through oneself. John Calvin said in his Institutes: “Without the knowledge of the self, there is no knowledge of God.” All spiritual considerations are essentially assumptions about who we are, or what we are. These assumptions are the bedrock of every culture, tribe, institution, and system of faith.
We all go through life trying to convince others of what we think we are. We adopt behaviors and longings in keeping with that assumption. We live under a mask so to speak, because our institutions tell us that only certain parts are acceptable. This good/bad divide gives birth to the false self. Spiritual infancy is that period in our lives when we try and convince God and others that we don’t have a dark side or we have overcome it. The true self is honest about our imperfections and embraces them as necessary for our maturation process. Since we can never live better than we think (stage of consciousness), it’s the false self that unnecessarily appraises and presents itself as better than we are.
Then something beautiful happens…suffering. Pain enables us to get REALLY HONEST. We see and own that our motivations are not pure. We gain self-criticism for the first time and instead of deflecting, we acknowledge that we are not that good. The bible calls this metanoia (changing the mind) or repentance (2 Cor 7:10). Humility enables us to see everything differently. Our pain, confusion, loss, and even our gravest sin is requiring spirituality to exist within the context of our broken humanity, not despite it. The false mask of perfection gets tossed out as we follow the Christoform pattern through a dark dying process and into a new, risen life.
So far so good?
Thomas Merton says that the false self is the only self that God knows nothing about. Hold on to this because it is a vital key in this series. This is your new lens through which you can finally see the bible teaching about Hell and separation from God. God is perfect truth and as such can have no fellowship with falsehood. Perfect knowledge cannot know something false. Perfect love cannot love something that doesn’t ultimately exist, or that is not permanent, and is not true.
In the spiritual growth process, all false things are tossed out as we grow into conformity to the truth. False is refuse or trash. It is burned off as slag in the crucible of life and light (Isa 48:10). It is trash and as such is to be burned and consumed in the dump, or Gahenna (our word for Hell) as the bible refers to it. Now we have a context for the stern words of the Lord telling religious people to “depart for I never knew you” (Matt 7:23).
Thus the false self has no future, but it has an extremely noisy and confusing present. True spirituality gives us the eyes to see our overgrown ego’s, our tenacious self-focus, our over self-reliance, and our false distinctions that feed them. Our true self by contrast is humbly discovered through our pain and is permanently found in the perfect wisdom and love of God. It preexisted our creation and will outlast our death because it abides perfectly in God. This is the image of God that all humanity possesses. Those that begin to see the true self that is deeply loved and found in God, will see themselves as a loving God sees them. It is the false self that believes they are what is wrong with them and creates systems of self-righteousness to escape from themselves.
Now you are prepared for the other half of Jesus story with a sobering tale of an angry God.