Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Think, Therefore ....

Jesus said, "If anyone would be my disciple, he must deny himself." He also said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Who is this self that is to be denied and/or loved? Recently in my prayer and reflection, I have been coming back to the concept of self. What is self? The existence of the self is a more fundamental question than the existence of God.

One of the first philosophical axioms I ever learned was Descartes' famous, "Cogito ergo sum." I think, therefore I am. I thought that he had it figured out. His reasoning is that if you are wondering whether you exist, then the thinking itself is proof that there is a thinker. I think, therefore I am.

But now I am rethinking that thought. I see the thinking, but I am not so sure about the identity of the thinker. Whenever I try to look him in the eyes, he dissipates. I know my self is here somewhere. I have been thinking about myself all my self's life. In fact I have been obsessed with my self. I am a pretty selfish and self-absorbed guy.

But now my self seems pretty insubstantial. When I look closely at my self, I seem to be more fiction than fact. No more than a story told and retold. As old Will said, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I appear to be little more than a constriction in consciousness, a cramp in the brain, an eddy in the stream of thought, a fabrication of the flesh. My self is a useful fiction for getting around in this world. It is like Newtonian physics - helpful in everyday life, but physicists know that quantum physics have made the old model obsolete.

God seems so much more real than I am. He is Truth. I seem to be more lie than truth. I tell stories to myself justifying my behavior and my insistence on living life on my terms rather than God's. I twist my memories to suit the circumstances. As Descartes said on another occasion, "I am indeed amazed when I consider how weak my mind is and how prone to error." My self seems to be a persistent self-delusion used to keep God's truth away. 

My self is more sin than saint, more chaff than wheat. Sin cannot survive in the holy presence of God. Chaff will be winnowed when Christ comes. God wants to be "all in all," and my self wants to be "all in all." One of us will lose. The good news is that Scripture says that Christ wins. Until that day, I will say in faith with the apostle Paul, "It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

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