Our responsibility to be introspective…

Proverbs 20:5 – The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters. But a man of understanding draws them out.

Too often when we do things, we never really stop to question why. We suppose that we are somehow of higher intelligence than the animals because of our ability to reason. Maybe this is true. Maybe it isn’t true. But either way, we waste our ability to reason by not using it. We behave like robots. We behave in knee-jerk, instinctual ways. We are Pavlov’s dogs. Our real motivations are buried under layers of conditioning, and often work against our own best interest. This verse in Proverbs tells us to draw out those reasons and examine them.

But what do we do with these things once we have them? Without some sort of perspective, we are basically like a dog that caught a car! We can never really have perspective on ourselves (or much of anything for that matter). Early scientists used their observations to determine that the earth was the center of the universe. In the same way, from our own perspective each of us is the center of our own universe. We have to find some way to look from outside ourselves. Many people have found ways to do this through meditation, entheogens, trances, etc. But even if you find a way to use those methods to look at your life from the outside, there is still a problem. Anything we observe is subject to Von Newmann’s Catastrophe of the Infinite Regress.

Huh? Von Newmann’s Catastrophe of the Infinite Regress states that anything we try to measure can only be as accurately measured as the flaws in our measuring device. The infinite regress comes in by the fact that any device we put into place to correct the flaws in the original device are subject to their own flaws, on through infinity. Wigner says this conundrum is only terminated by the choice of the observer. So, in a mechanistic, dead, scientific world nothing can ever be known for certain without the understanding that it has been filtered through our own presuppositions and flaws.

This is even more of a problem when you consider this; our own nervous system is the first tool we use to measure anything. As difficult as it may be to determine what flaws we have superimposed on a device we are using to measure something, it is exponentially more difficult to understand the flaws in reasoning and the presuppositions of our own nervous system. If we want to know how long a piece of wood is, we can look at it and say, “That’s about 3 feet.” This is based on our ideas and recollections and skewed remembrances of what 3 feet looks like. Then we take a yard stick and lay to the piece of wood. Then we realize that it’s actually 2 feet and 7 inches. Then we look more closely and realize that there is thickness to the line that denotes the 7th inch. This throws off our measurement even farther. The closer you look, the more you realize that your measurement can never be exact. And that’s just measuring a piece of wood!

How do we get out of this? We have to look for some other source of knowledge. In order to have some idea of what objective reality is, we have to look to a being that is all-present, and all-knowing. God is the only possible device to measure anything with assurance. Proverbs 20:24 says “A man’s steps are guided by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” Without God we are, at best, groping in a dark room, seeing by flashes of distant lightning. We are looking at a newsprint cartoon with our noses to the page. All we can see is a jumbled chaos of color and dots. There is no way from our perspective to ever fully understand the whole picture. We have to rely on God to give us as many glimpses of the big picture as we are able to fit inside of our tiny minds.

So, what does this look like in practical terms? David asks God in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This is not a challenge. David is not saying, “I betcha can’t find anything.” He is acknowledging that without God’s perspective, he can never hope to really uncover all the deep-down motives for his actions. We need to follow suit. Whatever we do, whether it is good or bad, we need to draw out the depths of why we are doing it. We need to ask God to reveal our motives to us. So many “good deeds” are done from a wicked heart. Many more are done from an even worse place… a sense of “duty.” God wants our hearts to overflow with love. Our actions should come from that overflow. If we are ever to get to that point, we have to know why we do what we do. We have an incredible ability to lie to ourselves. The Spirit won’t lie to you.

It is tempting at this point to give up. If even our good actions are not really good because of where our heart is, then where is the hope? If it is not good enough to do something good out of a sense of duty, what do I do with the notion that sometimes I just don’t feel like it? This is where C.S. Lews comes in. He describes this in his book Mere Christianity.

“Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his “gratitude,” you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.) But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more or, at least, to dislike it less.”

So, there’s the trick. Don’t try to manufacture some feeling that you are doing good things out of a joy that you don’t necessarily feel. Don’t try to force yourself to do some stoic, Kant-ish good deed that has no ulterior motives. Just do the good that you know you should. Then ask God to show you the ways that you can do that good thing better, and from a better place in your heart. And ask God to show you how you can do bad, harmful things less. But let your main focus be on doing the good. If you worry with doing more good, you’ll find you have to waste less time on trying not to be bad. Let God guide you. You may be shocked. You may be amazed. You may be shattered by new understandings of the depths of your soul. But I can promise, you will never be disappointed.

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About Andrew

The Universe is Round. View all posts by Andrew

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