Triumphs of the Will
May 19, 2018
There’s a saying: ‘Knowledge is Power’; and so I ask, does this saying, if true, mean then that the pursuit and accumulation of knowledge is just another ‘trip’ our egos take; one by which we become able to push others around and have them do our bidding? Is this power, if there is any, arising out of knowing a lot, simply the same stuff which has produced the mega-corporations with their CEOs whose arrogance and audacious reach is obscene; or else is it that same in kind as that brute force which is reducing Syria to rubble and bringing death to its peoples left and right?
Is this all there is to accumulation of knowledge; it is done so as for the person accumulating it to have a manipulative advantage over others?
Sounds pretty dismal; given that it is really the case that a person cannot get away from the toils of the world even in the sphere of learning?
There’s a line of verse to be found in Christopher Marlowe’s drama ‘The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus’, which says:
“There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”
I do believe that one of many valid interpretations of this line of verse in Marlowe’s drama is that people by their interpretations of the purposes of, and therefore by their usages of, tools, words, ideas, inventions, sciences, and so on, will colour that tool, word, idea etc, so that it takes on an aspect for good or ill accordingly, and to the degree appropriate to the depth of their colouring.
This reasoning of mine then, if true, validates in its effects, a statement which is pretty universally accepted, and which says that people can make bad usages and also good usages out of the same item or tool. In an absolute sense our Lord Jesus’ word here applies: “To the pure all things are pure” and, I would add the converse – to the impure all things are impure.
Yet when there can be claimed for a discipline or a usage a higher court of appeal than to merely human attitudes and propensities, and such a court of appeal I am referring to is one of absolute judgement, and so I mean here, we appeal by using the ultimate value of God – I do not mean to speak in God’s place here – then were there to be agreed among us that God’s Word on a matter has been established as objectively as such establishment can be made, this will mean that tools, words, ideas and so on, all have divine purposes, and so they have ultimate purposes which are beyond the reach or the use of human arbitration to be judged finally upon.
These divine purposes for a tool or word etc then, would be, ipso facto, when under a Christian dispensation, those purposes recommended, even commanded to us by God himself; and those that we are obliged to look to, and to uphold them in our dealings with them, with ourselves and with others. “Blessed is s/he who keeps my commandments” says The Lord.
Of course, the choice which a reader of this essay will make whether s/he might accept or else reject the claim I have put forward for establishing the fact of an ultimate and divine value, a value which ever and always trumps and overrides human assessments of value, wherever these human assessments are incompatible with God’s wishes and judgements; this choice a reader might make will be, and will determine the tenor of, the whole and substantive direction of his or her lifetime.
People who choose to assent to either side of this Great Divide usually see the persons who choose the other choice to their own as being people having chosen the easy choice; a choice which in effect abrogates their requirement to take a proper responsibility for their own lives and decisions. The chooser for Christ will see the other alternative choice as being one which in part, maybe in large part, is an affrighted ducking, by way of a rejection of God, of the weight of that Godliness which The Lord has recommended and commanded to his followers that they should follow and live out.
Those persons who choose against a presumption of a divine purpose for an object, are likely to see Christians and maybe many other observers of religious practices, as people who have chosen to leave their personal life choices in another’s hands, and so have rested them in the safety of ‘being told what to do’ so that they no longer bear any heavy weight of existential crisis in and on their choices for their lives.
This presumption of correct judgement held on both sides, that each is in the right and the other in the wrong, and in this regard of taking responsibility for one’s choices; this is a natural and commonplace aspect of our human psyche; and it is also part and parcel of our innate certainty that our own convictions are also the definitive and object convictions on which all men and women ought to be acting. This assertion of mine about our will for ego-certainty, as put down here may sound too abrupt and direct; but nonetheless I am pretty sure this absolutism of our individual egos is more or less universal in we humankind; and I have stated it; it stands as I have stated it, and it stands undiluted. (Irony?)
What else does a Protestant mean when s/he says that ‘I have only the degree of light allowed me from heaven to guide me in my choices”. What else does a secular person mean when s/he says “My opinion has as much validity and value as the next person’s” or else says, ‘I will follow my own star.”
At the core of this triumph of the pride of the ego is I think an unwillingness to let go.
Each of us in our conviction for the primacy of our sense of wills, also I think has knit into this sense a great fear at, and a great repugnance, even outrage, at any suggestion that we should lose such a strong sense of personal security; it being in our belief a loss which imperils and disturbs us violently, shaking our psychological hold on things, and it is a fear which occurs for most of us whenever we envisage our wills and egos as not to be the prime and often the only motor forces for our actions. These fears in us of what happens were we to be loosing our reins on our wills and egos, or else of what happens when our human participation in life have become a ‘driverless car’; these dreads of ours are what prevent so many of us from taking a chance and so allowing ourselves to place a real dependence on that trust, and in those promises, which God’s Son Jesus Christ pledges to us.
Even consider the person for whom Christ, and maybe every religion, s/he feels are just not relevant to life; for such types of person to consider contemplating loosing the reins and so riding through life in a ‘driverless vehicle’; this is not only very scary to them, but often, and mostly, it is also taken very offensively – even as being insulting – to their intelligence, and an affront to their sense of themselves holding an inalienable right to personal autonomy.
The common concerns regarding these matters, and which arise in the minds of lots of followers of God, as also in the minds of most secular persons, are concerns which get formulated and impersonalised by them, and thereby they are made so as to appear to be objective considerations which are necessary to be addressed. Such concerns about ‘a giving-up of unilateral self-direction’ in their lives might be:
- “Were I not to look after my own business, no-one else would do it for me”
- “My self-direction is what I use to stave off the onslaughts from the chaos of the world upon myself and my family”
- “Life is a competitive struggle and I would be submerged were I to let-go”
- “How might I deal with being acted upon all the time and not acting myself
- “Not even in self-defence?” And how might the statement with which I began this essay; this saying that “knowledge is power”, how might such a statement fit into any such schema as this I am discussing, of proposing a ‘letting-go’ and so a loosening of the reins so as to let-in a world of events and actions etc for them to take charge over one’s life, and apparently wily-nilly?
How might knowledge be power for a person when all self-governance and assertion of the will and ego is abnegated by that same person? Surely in such a state a person is helpless in regard to the ownership and exercise of her/his own resources? It’s a flat contradictory statement in regard to power as power is commonly perceived.
Yet there remains an avenue of approach by which this flatly contradictory statement is to be resolved into a smooth conformity. It may not be an avenue a person wants to pursue; not many of us I think would want to attempt its path, and non-religious persons mostly will be sceptical and doubtful about the veracity and effectiveness of this path. Most of us prefer to keep a hold personally on our lives, and wish not to bow out of its control, even yet gracefully.
There is a statement in The Book of Proverbs in The Old Testament which asserts that: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”
Here then in this proverb is being proposed a special type of wisdom and understanding: i.e. a special type of knowledge; and one which begins (and I would also say it ends) in a person acknowledging and giving recognition to the divine, to the holy, and answering to its origin and source, which is to The Lord God.
This in itself is a big and major step in a life; one fairly hard to do at any time, although in our present era of apostasy and of puzzlement at any persons who propose such a line of advance, such a confidence in God becomes especially difficult to enjoy; but in the final instance it is God who disposes, and so he is hereabouts ever to usher into awareness of his realm, anyone who stands at the door hesitating, or who hovers on the cusp of taking him up.
This special understanding, this special knowledge, this being held in ‘fear of’ or in other words, in ‘recognition of and in deference to’ The Lord God, is characterised best by The Lord Jesus’ words when he cites verses he has taken from The Pentateuch, which comprises the first five books of what we call The Old Testament, and wherein The Law of the Israelites is laid out in full; just as it was given to Moses by God himself on Mount Sinai. Jesus answers a man who has asked him: “Teacher, what is the first and greatest commandment” by telling the man that: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”
Jesus is at pains to point out to his questioner that ‘upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”; which is to say that The Whole Duty of Man (and woman) rests in each of us performing these two commandments to the best of our abilities and throughout our lives. Within and upon this statement then, which says to us: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” rests complete that entrance for a person, the first step into, the special awareness and recognition which The Book of Proverbs recommends to us as being, the beginning of wisdom and understanding, and of what I am calling special knowledge.
It is an awareness and a recognition which for it to be authentic in us has to be played out with a real earnestness by us and in our day to day lives, so that it manifests as an assimilated recognition and awareness within us, of the presence and dominion of The Lord God over all things. This step of a person committing to a due and a practical earnest, this is a first step into obtaining wisdom and then it is also a first step towards a person ‘letting-go’ and loosening the reins of will on her or his life.
Call it a surrender, a surrender of the will, and of the ego, if you wish to, and go on to deprecate it, either as poppycock because of a disbelief about God and so consequently about his ability and will to provide, or else you might object because of the apparent spinelessness of such a resignation of autonomy by a person. You would be erroneous on all counts.
In the first place a person having obtained sufficiently a strength of assurance for that person to begin to step out and so to ‘let-go’ a little, is a massive achievement and is also an extremely difficult step to take, nonetheless. One man, T S Eliot, labelled its performance as being: “The awful daring of a moment’s surrender” and he went on to say “__which an age of prudence can never retract. By this, and only this, we have existed.”
Eliot as you might see considers that actually all of us make this ‘venture into the unknown’ inside ourselves at some time, and maybe for a few moments only, during our lives; and he sees that this “moment’s surrender” is definitive and inexpungeable for us in our lives, and so it is a necessary facet to our human condition.
Furthermore, for Eliot, who was a man of great insight, to have asserted that a mere “moment” in “surrender”, demands of us an “awful daring”; how much more daring and surrender might it need for a person for her/him to live wholly “letting-go” of ego and of will, and in the hands of The Lord God in permanency?
Eliot also noted in another place that such an act of “awful daring” occurs in and for us at a time when we experience: “A condition of complete simplicity, (Costing not less than everything)” This “costing not less than everything” of course is referring to that complete immersion and submission when we cede our selves into the hand of God for him to dispose for us wholly as his will decides; and without us raising objections or attempting to forego or else to work around his choices of disposal for us.
Sounds scary? Even to my readers to whom God is not considered part of their belief systems? I think so.
I have used this figure which is to follow before now so as to try to explain in graphic form this act of daring I am attempting to lay out in description here; it is taken from the movie “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”. In the final scenes the hero has a final ordeal to pass over before he reaches the resting place where The Holy Grail, which is the cup of which Christ drank his last from as Incarnate Messiah at The Last Supper, and immediately before he was executed on the cross. In this resting place The Grail is set down and held as a relic for the ages.
Indie’s final ordeal is to cross a deep deadly chasm, too wide to leap across, and apparently without a rope or a bridge to help him. The clue which he has, and has taken from his father’s old diary, is that the final ordeal demands a “leap of faith”.
He closes his eyes and puts his foot out into what seems mid-air and to certain death from a fatal fall, and steps. His foot prints itself down on a hidden ridge of rock running across the chasm. He walks across it into the sanctuary of the Grail. This ridge, invisible to the eye from the vantage of approach; but visible once a person has placed a foot upon the ridge and has thus taken the initial risk of that first step; this ridge as being invisible represents our views of God’s provision for us, from a point of view pitched in the world and emerging out of our state of mortality and secular standing.
This same ridge as visible represents that provision given by God to us, and hidden to us, before and until we commit to trusting him, and to our taking up that ‘awful daring of a moment’s surrender’. So it is that we find that, as one of The Psalms, again written in The Old Testament, a word calling upon us: “O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusts in him.”
This then, is that resolution I spoke of to the contradiction concerning living a secular life in which the command of power, and this includes all power which is derived from a person having knowledge, can only be held and enjoyed provided that one’s ego and will are also held and asserted, usually with some force. Conversely, us being in that state being without ego and will, there is no way to enjoy the material or other fruits of knowledge in secular life. Thus this commitment of trust in God which leads us into an ’awful daring’ by which we are happy to surrender our wills and egos and thereby and thereafter to live to God; this is entrance and absorption into a greater and a special knowledge of the divine and of the holy; it is an immersion whose fruits are lavish and which are always generative of good things and of good consequences
The Lord Jesus has promised us this assurance of provision to us by God, for and in our lives, and he has also pledged his blessing upon our ‘daring’ to subsume our haughty selves to his own guidance. He has said plainly:
“….love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike, If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
And now, at the last, we come to the means by which we are able, enabled, to surrender ourselves to God, and to his will for us, and to do so without murmur or regret, fear or doubt.
This essay has seen me write much hereabove on what to do and why to do it; now and Christ in his words, which I have copied down above here, there has given to us the vital knowledge we were in need of, and about how we should be able to access this absorption for ourselves into God’s will, and so thereby abjure ego and wilfulness, and obtain to a selflessness without ego, without interfering fractious will, and allowing us doing only God’s will.
The key, the key word, the key to the Kingdom, the key to this special knowledge, the key to an entrance into God’s provision for us, the key to enjoying the exercise of the power in knowledge but without us also exercising the audacities of the world; all of these thing rest in one word, and this word is: Love. Jesus is very clear in his words that love is the sine qua non of Christian life and practice
His apostle St John is said to have said as his dying advice to his own disciples: “Love one another”. It is safe to say that a person who offers and displays love, and only love, to others, to allcomers; that person rests in the hands of the Living God, and being in such a situation proverbially is said to be “a fearful thing” to be fallen into.
But let us recall that to love God is that other primary commandment, and that St John is said in The Bible to be “the disciple Jesus loved”, and that this same St John tells us accurately and graciously, that ‘perfect love casts out fear’.