Thursday, August 4, 2011
Augustine Explores the "Double Knowledge"
“Lord, let me know myself; let me know you.”
-Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
In his Confessions Augustine not only tells about the events of his life but he also explores his hidden motives and secret thoughts. His honesty and insight are remarkable! Nothing of its kind had been written before in all of literature, exposing the negatives of one’s inner life and then the transformation process after coming into relationship with the Triune God. In fact, nothing written ever since has matched Augustine’s openness and profundity.
Augustine prays, “Lord, let me know myself; let me know you.” This is referred to as the “double knowledge”—knowing the Lord and knowing ourselves. All of Christian growth is based on this double knowledge. John Calvin picks up on this theme in his Institutes and emphasizes it throughout his teaching.
Augustine realizes that he needed to know honestly—not in the superficial way of knowing ourselves that we speak of today that focuses on our abilities and ambitions. Rather, this church father realizes that he needs to understand himself honestly—with all his disordered desires, addictions and driven-ness.
In this brief prayer, Augustine implies: Lord, let me know myself in order that I might know you. The more we really face ourselves—our dark side, our selfishness, our twisted cravings—the more we come to know how much we need a deliverer. We not only need to “get saved” but we need redemption in the here and now. We desperately need to be transformed from the inside out, changing all of those distorted desires into pure, clean ones.
Likewise, the more we come to know the Lord on a personal basis, the more we come to know ourselves. The closer we get to him, the more light shines on us. In the light of God’s truth we see on the one hand that there is more darkness and hidden sin inside us than we had ever imagined possible. Thus knowledge of us leads to knowledge of him leads back to knowledge of us.
On the other hand, we come to know just how valuable and precious we are in God’s sight! Despite all our darkness, God loves us with an everlasting love! If you and I truly understand the depths of our depravity, the thought of his loving us will blow our minds!
Moreover, we are created in his image. As the Triune God exists in three Persons, so we reflect that “threeness.” In particular, Augustine highlights the three main functions of the human soul: memory, understanding and desire. By “memory” he means not only our ability to remember but our consciousness, our personal history and even our personality. “Understanding” refers to our ability to think and reason. “Desire/will/love” is the driving force of our lives. What we desire—what we love and will to have—determines the direction of each day. How fearfully and wonderfully we are made!
If you have never read the Confessions, you are missing one of the greatest writings in all of Christian literature. It is really worth your while! Although someone can describe it to you, that is not the same as seeing it for yourself. Reading the Confessions is a great way to grow in the double knowledge—getting to honestly know yourself and God. The process of such self-knowledge is more “caught” than “taught.”
No matter where each of us is in our knowledge of self and God, there is more to learn. God is unsearchable—we will get to know more and more of him throughout eternity and never scratch the surface! Created in God’s image, we also possess and unfathomable depth. There is more to learn of our need for redemption and more to learn of our value and preciousness in his sight.
“Lord, let me know myself; let me know you.” This is our prayer as we press on to grow in the Lord!
There are a great many translations of the Confessions available. Some of the free versions online are in older English and rather difficult for most modern readers to follow. One newer version that I would suggest is Saint Augustine, Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. World Classics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
2011 © Glenn E. Myers