Anatomy of the Soul


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Despite the interest in spirituality in much of the West, and North America in particular, our overall experience of God's power and life-giving vitality is often limited -- especially when it comes to growth and reconciliation in our relationships. We often see life in Jesus as being more about survival in this life until we "die and go to heaven" than about grace, adventure, and genuine, concrete, life-giving change.

This is partly due to the way we encounter the process of knowing and being known. We tend to place a great deal of emphasis on the ways and the degree to which we know God (or know things about God) rather than to the degree we are being known by God. Yet in his first letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul emphasizes the connection between our love for God and our actively perceived, sensed, and felt experience of God's feelings, sensations, and thoughts about us:
Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (I CORINTHIANS 8:1-3)
Pause for a moment and ponder the following. When you consider the state of your own or someone else's spiritual health, how often do you ask, What is my experience of being known by God? Or, Does she demonstrate that she is being known by God, and if so, in what ways? If you are like me, you often inquire or reflect on what or how much you know or know about God. This is to be expected in the world in which we live.

The same can be said about how we encounter each other. When evaluating our friendships, we frequently consider them in terms of how well we know our friends or how well they know us, not so much in terms of how we experience being known by them. This distinction is important.

From the emergence of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth century through the mid-twentieth century, "knowing things" became prized above all else. But not just any way of knowing. We have most valued knowing facts, knowing the "truth," and knowing that we are right. Right about the way things work, the way to behave, and the way to think about issues of faith. Research that is "valid and reliable," as conducted by "experts," has become the standard by which we judge the trustworthiness of any idea. We even subject our experience of faith to research scrutiny in order to give it more weight apologetically.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that research or knowing empirical truth is unimportant, but I am emphasizing how much our lives revolve around knowing in a manner that assures us we are "right." We have failed to see that this need to be right, to be rationally orderly and correct, subtly but effectively prevents us from the experience of being known, of loving and being loved, which is the highest call of humanity.

At the same time I recognize that over the last fifty years our society has begun to operate as if this way of knowing -- comprehending facts, knowing what is true, and being right -- is no longer a valid way of engaging the world. We no longer believe that we can know something outside of ourselves with certainty because everything has been deconstructed to our subjective experience. However, even though our society now insists that we cannot make objective truth claims for others ("I can't claim that what I believe is true for you, let alone the whole world"), we in fact all live as if objective truth does exist. We still live as if we believe cold-blooded murder, for example, is wrong. Knowing things is still important to get us through everyday life. We need to know that our cars will start. That gravity works as we have come to expect. That our friends will pick us up at the airport when they say they will. Knowing that we are absolutely right about a lot of things is very important to our survival and sense of well-being. That includes knowing, or knowing things, about people. And about God.

It is not hard to see why we are infatuated with knowing things in this way. It gives us the illusion that we are secure and in charge. We are no longer vulnerable. We believe we are safe, protected, and happy. We delude ourselves into thinking that we know God, but God as we believe him to be -- in control and invulnerable -- not God as Scripture describes him to be: risk-taking and able to be hurt badly. We no longer have to trust since we've got him all figured out. Knowing things and being right is very important to us, but when overemphasized it comes with a price. . . .

Taken from Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson, M.D. Copyright 2010 by Curt Thompson. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, 351 Executive Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188.

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Anatomy of the Soul
Thank you. I so needed to read this today. One thing I know is that God is love, and nothing can separate us from His love, but I had forgotten that God can be the Father waiting and watching for His prodigal son to return. Holy Spirit, please bring to mind daily that "I" do not have to always know and be right, because YOU already are for all of us!
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