The Mystery of Ourselves


For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:11

I think it can be quickly agreed by all that God is a mystery – we do not know God as we would like to know God nor is it possible to know God except by His own gracious gift. What we would not so readily agree to (unless we had all just read the Scripture cited above) is that we ourselves are mysteries – even to our own selves.

That God mostly remains a mystery – that other people are mysteries – all of this can be more easily accepted – but that I do not know even myself can leave us wondering, “Well then, what do we know?”

The answer is: “Not much.”

This is or should be a beginning of wisdom – certainly a beginning of humility.

Socrates age old admonition: “Know thyself!” is much more easily said than done. It is possible to know ourselves – St. Paul says the “spirit of the man which is in him knows a man.” But my experience says that knowing what my spirit knows is not an easy thing nor is their an easy remedy. Much time, quiet, listening – many things are required of us in order to know even this mystery of ourselves.

Surrounded by so many mysteries – why doesn’t the world seem a more mysterious place? Indeed.

We live in an age of false knowledge. Many people know much about trees (I’m not one of them) but they don’t feel mysterious to me because someone else knows many things. I could multiply such false knowledge. We do not expect to receive any great revelations from the world about us because we live in an age where others are tortuously extracting knowledge out of everything around us.

Of course, I will sound quite mysterious when I say that you can dissect a tree and study it down to its last element of genetic code and yet not know a tree. To know the logos of a tree – what it is before God – is given only to a few – and saints at that.

Armed as we are with such ignorance, we should go about our day in wonder at the wisdom and mystery of everything. Do your job, but become as a child, at least sometime during the day. But most especially when you are standing before the mysteries – of God, of the world, of your self, of another human being. In reverence and in awe they occasionally yield something of the mystery up and we know what can only be known by a gift. And this is marvelous indeed.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


6 responses to “The Mystery of Ourselves”

  1. Shirley Avatar

    This is a beautiful post…I agree, we know little, certainly we do not know ourselves.

    Was it not the blessed Apostle Paul who acknowledged that he didn’t know himself when he said, “those things I would not do, I do. And what I would do, I find I do not.” (paraphrase)

    Only by God’s multiplied grace and mercy can we hope to know Him and His saving love.

    Shirley Buxton

  2. Odale Avatar

    “The answer is: “Not much.” I had to chuckle at that.

    Thank you for this! I sometimes sit in my backyard, and belt out, “How Great Thou Art!” Only God can appreciate my singing…

    Yes, and He gives us much to look forward to!

  3. stephen Avatar

    to quote Fr. Thomas Hopko, it is impossible to know God, but you have to know him to know that. : )

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, “We live in a age of false knowledge…” how true. As our knowledge of the phenomenal world grows, our understanding and our abilty to live simply and in harmony with others decreases it seems. We dissect humanity and become so confused, we throw up our hands and say anything goes! We can not even look to the culture to guide us in understanding such seemingly simple things as what it means to be a man or a woman.

    In the previous thread you mentioned that American’s in particular became too analytical in confession, is that not another form of seeking after false knowledge, we don’t even know our own sins when we do that do we?

    I am reminded as I write of Jesus’ command to let our yes be yes and our no be no.

    How difficult not to engage in the endless orgy of explanation.

  5. Fellow Sojourner Avatar
    Fellow Sojourner

    “Concepts create idols. Only wonder grasps anything.”
    St. Gregory of Nyssa

  6. Fatherstephen Avatar

    Can’t beat the Fathers.

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