Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” He missed the mark.


Knowing yourself is important, of course. It is important to learn your predispositions, your talents, and your weak points. But the truth is we are poor judges of ourselves, and we see ourselves through delusional and self-justifying lenses. Introspection is important, but we aren’t very good at it.


The limitations of introspection is not the only reason Aristotle missed – or at least not the most important error of his quote. The most important error of his quote is that, assuming we can accurately get to know ourselves (a big assumption), we must know ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. For example, if you had never seen a fish before and you saw a rainbow trout in an aquarium, you’d have to frame of reference with which to consider the fish. Is this fish big or small? Are all fish this color? Is this a salt water fish or fresh water? You would lack context. In the same way, when we consider ourselves without reference to the world, we lack context.


So let’s get some context.


Cosmic Craftsmanship

In Genesis 1 we see that we – all of us – are made in God’s image. We are not randomly mutated pond scum, but rather creations of the most brilliant Creator.


While all of humanity is made in God’s image, and this is a great honor, those of us whom Christ has redeemed are also considered children of God. We are members of the royal family of God, and there are literal rooms in God’s house for us. Jesus reconciled us on the cross and thus afforded us the opportunity to become adopted sons and daughters.


Thus, we should have a high view of humanity. We should understand that the magnum opus of creation is not Mount Everest or The Grand Canyon or The Great Barrier Reef – it’s us.


Right and Wrong

We went astray, though. And more than that, we rebelled against our Maker. It’s not just that Adam and Eve sinned and we inherited the genetic condition of being sinners. No, we sin every day and choose to exalt our will over God’s.


There was a tragic loss of innocence that happened in The Garden, and it is the major distinguishing factor between humans and other animals. We know right and wrong now. We have a moral mind. A doe grazing in a field is uncomplicated, pure. She isn’t thinking about the conversation she had with her deer friends last night over tea. But in any human conversation – say two friends over lunch – there are moral questions and answers swirling around a mile a minute.


So we know right and wrong. And while we sometimes choose to do what is right, we also choose to do what is wrong. This is our nature.


We need help.


Knowing God, Knowing You

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)


If we approach the world as if we are the hero of our own movie, we will destroy anything and anyone that gets in our way – including ourselves. Wise living begins with understanding of who God is and who we are. God is God and we are not.


God’s wrath is terrifying. Even his passive wrath – that is, when God lets us do what we want – is pure horror. But because of the reconciliation of the cross, we have no reason to be scared of God. None whatsoever. He is our Father, and he is forever on our side. But for lack of a perfect word, fear is the only way to define the feeling we should have toward God. The proper feeling is a combination of love, awe, gratitude, reverence, and a recognition of God’s power.


If we want to grow in wisdom, we must grow in our understanding of God. That is the on-ramp to wisdom. Once we have established a proper view of God, we will learn who we are in relation to him. And then – and only then – will we begin to understand ourselves.


Maybe Aristotle wasn’t totally wrong, after all. He just skipped a step. To know yourself in light of God is the beginning of all wisdom.

In Christ We Conquer the World

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,


“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”


No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8:35-37)


Life is hard. People die, our bodies break down, hurricanes ravage our homes, friends betray us, and nations war against one another. It is just how it is. Suffering is a part of human existence ever since The Fall, and it will be until Jesus returns to make all things new.


There are two possible responses to suffering: crush or be crushed. The normal response is to be crushed by suffering, to lament over your misfortune and shake your fist at the heavens. When we are crushed by our suffering, we are defined by it. We form our identity around that which hurts us, and so we call ourselves cancer survivors, recovering addicts, or victims. We inhale the suffering and allow it to enter our hearts. When we allow ourselves to be crushed by suffering, we allow a wedge to be driven between us and God.


It need not be this way.


Christians suffer at least as much as non-believers. Becoming a Christian does not in any way guarantee you’ll live your best life now. So yeah, we’ll suffer. And when we do, because of our inheritance in Christ and because of the Spirit living within us, we can crush the suffering.


Now if I were you I’d be rolling my eyes right now. To crush our suffering sounds great, but it’s not realistic. So let me clarify before we move on. To crush our suffering does not mean we don’t feel it. It doesn’t mean that chemo doesn’t make you feel like each day is a new death or that losing a child doesn’t cause a heavyweight of despair. No, suffering is suffering and it’s rough.


The reason Christians can crush suffering is because suffering doesn’t get the last say. There is a hope we cling to because of what Jesus has done that puts pain into perspective. We are saved, redeemed, and adopted. An eternal inheritance awaits us on the other side of suffering. This short and sometimes painful life is merely the prelude to our story, and thus our suffering, when put in perspective, is rather small.


Further, our suffering can be seen as an unexpected gift. You see, when we live comfy and easy lives, we are blind to reality. The reality of this world is that evil exists, we’re sinful, and bad stuff happens. When bad stuff happens, our eyes are open to reality and even though it might be dark, in these hard times are when the light is most apparent. Turn on a lamp in a bright room and you get more brightness, but turn on a lamp in a pitch black room and it’ll make you shield your eyes. God shows up big in these hard times, and though there is much pain, the presence of the Lord is totally worth it.


We must understand God’s heart in our suffering. He does not send arbitrary hardships to see how we’ll react. He does not deal with a heavy hand. No, because those in Christ are adopted sons and daughters if we are in the midst of suffering we are still within the loving arms of our Father. He means well for us and, as Paul explains in Romans 8:28, all things work together for the good of those who love God. Our sufferings are redemptive, and because of God’s mysterious power, the very things which should destroy us can become vehicles for blessing.