God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves

It’s one thing to say that we have an inadequate or illusory picture of our self and body. It’s quite another thing to say that, because our picture is inadequate, there is no true picture whatsoever. Just because we cannot comprehend the unity that we are, does not mean there is no unity—no unity between body, perception, intention, deeds etc., or no “person” in the Christian sense: a responsible being whose actions can be judged, a lovable ‘thou’ who really is ‘thou’ to other ‘I’s.

In other words, just because our mental conception and view of who we are is riddled with falsehood (perhaps congenitally so), does not mean all selfhood is false. (Because we do not see as we ought, in God, we do not see ourselves as we could.)

St Paul sets as a horizon “to know, even as I am known.” To know himself then, even as God knows him now. For God knows us better than we will ever know ourselves, at least in this life. The Psalms, too, record in an almost rigorous fashion that God knows us as a unity, confirms us as a unity, even if we do not perceive or grasp this unity. God has knit together this unity from the womb; we have not knit it ourselves. But again, just because our fabrications miss the mark, does not mean all unity is mere fabrication; only that its source, the ‘source of our self’, is transcendent to us. God knows us, infinitely, knows the whole reason for our coming to be and our returning to him. That self is a gift, not a production. (As C.S. Lewis put it, the soul is a hollow “made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance.”)

So I would agree that the unity of the human person is not a unity we can see or deduce by our own mental workings, and certainly not the whole of who we are. But mind is not the only mode of apprehending reality. There is a heart-mode, and the heart (mysteriously) can see persons. We do treat each other as responsible wholes and we do hope for wholeness—ultimate wholeness which Christianity views through the lens of the resurrected body. These modes of apprehension and comportment are “God-given”, for we are acting as if we could see us as God sees us. ‘Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God.’ (1 John 4:7)

Do we believe that persons exist in God, that persons are of eternal value to God?

As a Catholic, I affirm that God does love us–not a mental fabrication, not our passing impression of identity (which is often deluded), but rather God loves the whole creature he created (made of desire/will, intellect, sense-affections; goodness, truth, beauty). He loves the person he gives us to be, who we are most fully us when we are in God qua God. Each human thou really is constituted a unity of mind, body, soul, and spirit: a whole person in Christ our Lord. This is a wholeness only he can give and ‘conceive’. The medieval German Catholics taught that God has had an idea of us from all eternity, and true freedom is to realize that eternal idea of us. This eternal idea of ourselves obviously far exceeds our cognitive capacity to grasp it, since God sees every instance and connection and consequence of our life simultaneously, whereas we see only one bit at a time, in other words, hardly any of it! (Hence the need for faith, to trust that He sees our way, even when we see no way at all…).

Likewise, by grace we are given the capacity, the heart-sight, to love other persons as whole persons—and so to love a bit like God loves (in a way that is obviously antithetical to ego). God gives us a glimpse of the vision he has of us, so we can understand the other person as an inherently lovable unity, for they are forever such a unity in God.

The Jesuits pray to see their gifts, not as they see them, but as the Holy Spirit sees them, and for the courage to surrender to what God sees and wills for them in the use of their gifts. There is plenty of self-illusion to burn through on that journey, but that is not the end of the story. There is a true and free self to become—the one God wills to be with our will. Or as Kierkegaard put it, to “will to be oneself” is to rest transparently in the power that establishes the self. Then perhaps we have a chance to “know, even as we are known.”

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