“Our wisdom . . . consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”John Calvin, 1530
Just a few days after my visit to the meadow, during a quiet time with the Lord, Jesus told me: “To know me fully, you must be fully known.” This proclamation was unexpected. I wasn’t asking, “how can I know you better?” I wasn’t asking anything at all; I was just being still with God.
You might think that I would pay attention all the more, given the unexpectedness of the declaration. I would like to think that about myself, but that was not so. To the contrary, my immediate reaction was: “That can’t be right! Surely Jesus already knows me fully! After all, he is omniscient. By definition, there isn’t anything he doesn’t know. I must be included in his limitless knowledge. If he knows everything, he must know me. How can he then say, ‘I must be fully known?’”
I took my doubts about his statement back to Jesus in prayer. I sensed that he can know me but will not know more of me than I chose to reveal. I doubted that interpretation, mainly because it was not what I would do. I still valued and desired knowledge. I hoarded knowledge, taking pleasure from knowing something others didn’t know; knowledge helped me feel safe and superior. Why would Jesus choose not to know something that he could know? How and why would that prevent me from knowing him?
Jesus Can’t Heal Fake
The linkage between knowing ourselves and knowing God is far from novel; I was “discovering” a well-known truth. Jesus was telling me a truth that has been discovered and known for centuries. John Calvin, in the sixteenth century, taught that unless we truly know ourselves, we cannot truly know God. Even earlier, around 500 CE, Augustine asked, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?” and prayed, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know Thee.” Benner’s The Gift of Knowing Yourself and Scazerro’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality both teach extensively about the dynamics of how we can become detached from and lose our true selves. We construct “false” selves as we try to mold ourselves into the people we think others want or expect or as we try to be who we think we need to be to survive. Over time, the masks we wear become the only thing we see in the mirror. We lose the ability to see our true selves, the unique persons God created us to be.
In the years since I first heard the Lord say, “To know me fully, you must be fully known,” my appreciation of this truth has grown. God desires that we are healed of the hurts of this world, and that we become able to enter fully into the depth of his love for us. But before we can be healed, we must understand where we are broken. As a friend’s grandma said, “Jesus can’t heal fake.”1
Repair or Restoration?
Why can’t Jesus just heal us, without our active participation, without us knowing our wounded and broken places? It is helpful to look at the relational rift that keeps us distant from God as a torn piece of fabric. In God’s creation, before the fall, man’s life was seamlessly integrated with God. Man’s fall into sin created a rift between God and us, a tear in the seamless unity present in creation. God means for our integration into his life and love to be so complete that we are like a single piece of cloth: the threads of his life interwoven with the threads of our lives. They are independent threads, his life and ours, but they are meant to be woven together into a single piece of fabric. Sin has torn and ruptured that fabric.
God’s goal is not to simply repair the tear, he purposes do restore the fabric. Restoration is different than repair. If we repair a torn piece of cloth, we might simply sew the two halves together, or perhaps we would sew on a patch. But a patch or a seam is not a restoration. The repaired fabric may look better, it may even be usable, but it is not restored—it is not a single, unified piece of cloth. Anyone looking at it could easily spot the repair; it has not been restored to its original state. The Lord’s goal is restoration, putting it back the way it was: our lives woven and intertwined with his.
No matter how carefully, how detailed a repair we could fashion, it would still not be a restoration. Even if we could, somehow, perhaps with a strong enough magnifier and tiny tweezers, tie each broken thread to its mate, there would still be a visible seam—the line of knots. It would be a repair, not the restoration the Lord desires for us.
The damage that flows from our sinful rebellion goes deep. In our metaphor of fabric, each thread is itself made up of spun and twisted fibers. When the fabric is torn, each thread is broken each individual fiber of each thread is also torn apart. To truly restore the damage, putting it back to how it was, each strand of fiber must somehow be twisted back together with its other end, on the other side of the tear. As the fibers are spun back together, the threads can be twisted back together, and the fabric restored. No clever job of mending here; not an artful patch, but a restoration of the fabric, woven back together to its original state. That is what the Lord wants for us. We want to be better; he wants us whole. We want to get by; he wants us perfected. We want a patch—usually a quick and easy patch; he wants us restored. Restoration is almost always a long and challenging process; shortcuts are rarely an option.
Being renewed in our spirits, made new again, not simply mended or repaired, is a theme of the apostle Paul:
- “Our inner person is being renewed day by day”2
- “You are being renewed in the spirit of your minds”3
- “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”4
- “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”5
In Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus declares, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”6 We are not repaired; we are reborn, made new. We are promised new life, not just a cleaned-up version of our current lives (2 Cor 5:17).
We cannot renew the fabric of our souls, but the Lord can—if we let him. We have to be willing participants in the process. That is where being known comes in: we have to understand where those tears are, with their multitudinous broken threads and torn fibers, but we likely no longer see them and thus cannot seek the only real remedy. The tear causes pain and ache and yearnings in our souls. Not knowing who can restore the fabric, we seek our own remedies. We devise patches, things we can affix to the frayed ends of the tear. We have tied off the loose threads, attaching to them our own remedies—our ideas of what will stop the unraveling and ease our aching souls. We push others down, hoping it will somehow lift us up and make us feel better. We strive for the approval of others, expecting that will answer the yearning in our souls. We medicate ourselves with sex, power, drugs, and alcohol, trying to numb our pain and distract ourselves. Our patches for our wounded souls are varied but never effective in the long run. We need to be restored, not patched.
We cannot un-tear the fabric, but God can—if we allow him to. We must expose the frayed ends of our “side” of the tear. We have covered, tied off, and patched them to protect ourselves from further damage (or so we think) and to ease our pain (or so we hope). We must now trust the Lord enough to re-expose those frayed ends of our lives. We must untie the knots to let go of the attachments. We must expose the pain and insecurities so that God can heal them so that he can restore each broken fiber and each torn thread and re-weave the ruptured fabric. We must untie the knots binding us to things besides Jesus. We have to rip off the patches we have sewn over our hearts, tear off the binding we have put on the ragged edges of our souls. Our goal is to stop the tearing—to soothe a spiritual ache. God’s goal is to restore the rift—to have each one of us reunited with him in his perfection—to restore, not mend, the fabric of our souls.
It takes time. It is hard. It can be painful. The process of re-opening wounds so that they can heal properly is necessary, but that doesn’t make it easy or free of pain. Formation, as this restoration of our damaged souls is sometimes called, is not a once-and-done event. It is a lifetime of learning to see the tears, identify our attempts at patches, and peel those off so that God can heal us. The older the wounding, the more calcified the patch will be. Wounds that are old and deep have been patched and re-patched many times as we attempt to mend our own pain. Working through all the protective layers is a long, hard, and likely painful process. Ultimately, we need to do nothing except allow ourselves to be known by God and give him permission to heal us.
The attachments we have can be hard to identify. They have likely been in place for years. We come to think of them as “us;” they can come to be how we understand ourselves to be. Even when we have identified them, peeling them away can be challenging. They are there for a reason: they are our survival tools. If we tear away our patch, no matter how shabby or ill-fitting it is, surely we will unravel! But that is what we must risk – exposing our real, wounded, and frightened selves to the only one who can put everything right. The thing we cling most tightly to is the one thing we must let go of.
Fear or Love?
This understanding came much later. Back in that moment, when I heard Jesus tell me that I must be fully known by him, I did not really know what he meant. My ignorance was a blessing. It allowed me to move forward in faith and obedience. I asked Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to reveal. What did I need to let God know about me so that I could know him better? I was fully expecting “anger” or “disappointment” but was very surprised when Holy Spirit brought “fear” to my mind instead. Disappointment and anger are just symptoms that come from holding back from God. When I hold back from him, he cannot free me and give me all he desires for me, giving rise to my disappointment and anger. It is fear that holds me back. What was I afraid of? Mostly it was fear of God not being there or of the whole workshop experience being an extreme case of self-delusion or, worse, a psychotic episode. I had (and have) plenty of other fears as well: fear that I would end up destitute, fear of illness, and fear of old age. In general, I feared that my Pops was not trustworthy and reliable. I didn’t believe that when the chips were down and I really needed him, he would be there.
My view of God was based more on being good and following “the rules,” not on trusting in his loving-kindness. Nothing illustrates this as well as my reading of Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!Psalm 139:1-12, ESV
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
When I read these words today, I hear David, the Psalmist, delighting in God’s unceasing care for him and complete knowledge of him. That is now, some six years after the fact. Then, I did not receive this psalm with any gratefulness or pleasure. To me, it was more like God saying, “Don’t you think you can hide from me! I know what you are doing. You can’t get away with anything!” I heard a judgemental God warning me not to step out of line. I read Psalm 139 like a divine version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:
He sees you when you’re sleepin’
He knows when you’re a wake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good, for goodness sake
Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why …
Such was the state of my soul then: I was afraid to let God know me, afraid because I didn’t trust his compassion and steadfast love. Mentally and emotionally, I never got to this part of the psalm:
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!Psalm 139:17-18 ESV
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
When I recall the circumstances of my childhood, with parents whose own struggles left them neither reliable nor dependable, it is not surprising that it was hard for me to trust God, to trust that his promises and his love were reliable and for me. But here, as I named and confessed my fears to the Lord, I encountered God’s grace and love. God was not surprised or angered by my confession.7 To the contrary, he was delighted that I could come to grips with my fears and bring them to him. In that moment, as I prayed, repenting of fearfulness and lack of trust, in the Workshop, my Pops took off his heavy leather apron, and he and Jesus embraced me.
This was a foundational step in my healing. Foundational, but in no way final. Our hiding from God sets up a vicious cycle. We hide because we are ashamed (see Genesis 3:8-11). Then, in turn, we are ashamed because we have hidden from God, which can lead us into deeper hiding. Knowing ourselves and allowing God to know us not only breaks that destructive cycle, but it also sets up the opposite: a virtuous cycle. As we are known, we experience God’s compassionate love and forgiveness. Knowing his love and forgiveness gives us the confidence and courage to broaden and deepen the self-knowledge that we can share with the Lord. As I write this, years after these encounters, I am still in those cycles. Sometimes I slip back into hiding; the defensive habits that we relied on for years are pernicious. But more often, I find myself in the virtuous cycle of learning who I am and understanding that I am loved for who I am, not who I think I am supposed to be.
Without really knowing it, I was, in effect, back down in the hole, doing the work of clearing the rocks that blocked the flow of life-giving water. Understanding who I really am and bringing that self to Jesus was a remedy for my past habits of shame and hiding. I was “naming” the rocks of fear, doubt, inadequacy, and shame. Each time I “named” a rock and brought it to Jesus, I was slowly but surely letting God’s life flow more freely through me. Experiencing my Pops’ love for me, the real me, was liberating and exhilarating. But God was about to turn my experience of him up – way up.
1Never underestimate the wisdom of grandmas.
22 Corinthians 4:16b HCSB, emphasis added.
3Ephesians 4:23b HCSB, emphasis added.
4Colossians 3:9b-10 ESV, emphasis added.
5Romans 12:2b ESV, emphasis added.
6John 3:3b ESV.
7Almost without exception, we think that God, who we acknowledge knows everything, will be surprised but some bit of news about ourselves we have been withholding from him. What are you hiding from God? He already knows it, so you might as well ‘fess up.