Examine Yourselves, Test YourselvesFr. Barnabas Powell
It is said that Aristotle once declared “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” And yet, St. Basil taught that the most terrifying thing for a man to do was to look into the “abyss” of his own soul. It seems one of the most important activities of one’s life is also the most difficult.
But that makes sense. We humans are notorious for noticing the weaknesses of others all the while remaining blind to our own. But the war within is always going to be the most important battle we fight in our lives. And it’s in putting this hard work off or ignoring the necessity of this hard work that simply prolongs your agony or your shallow passing from this life having never really lived. What a horrible thought!
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 13:3-13:
BRETHREN, since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me, he is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we shall live with him by the power of God.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray God that you may not do wrong – not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. What we pray for is your improvement. I write this while I am away from you, in order that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority which the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.
Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
In today’s lesson we are invited to embrace a paradox, a process, and a purpose.
The Paradox is in the fact that, instead of being embarrassed by our weakness or trying to avoid dealing with our weakness, the best way is to embrace our weaknesses as gifts! Bookstores are filled with advice on how to “get ahead” or “conquer your fears” or “succeed” by “maximizing your productivity” and “focus on your dreams.” Of course, all of this is with the best of intentions, but the weakness is all that advice won’t help you until you face your weaknesses and your brokenness. As long as you hide from yourself by pretending you aren’t weak or broken or have actual “sins” you are going to stay a stranger to yourself. In other words, until you embrace the paradox that you are actually strongest when you’re weak, you’ll stay weak!
The Process is to “examine” yourself and “test” yourself. But this can’t be done “BY” yourself! The path to spiritual maturity and a free and peaceful life (isn’t that what we want, after all?) always includes the humility to seek out another to help you face reality and stop hiding in delusion. Paul tells us that “Christ is in” us. The Church reminds us that “as many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” And this assurance is meant to allow us the courage to “do” this spiritual struggle knowing that Christ is right there with us to look into those “dark” places in our souls. And He’s not there to judge us or shame us. He’s there to be our Companion to help us clean up those areas where we are weak!
Finally, the Purpose is found in the knowledge that all of this hard struggle is for “building up and not for tearing down.” One of the greatest enemies of our own spiritual maturity is the nagging lie that God is “upset” or “disappointed” or “unhappy” with me. God knows you better than you know yourself. He sees all your weaknesses and bad choices as well as all your strengths and wise choices, and everything in between as well. And yet, He longs for your life to be peaceful and loving. But He knows that you have to “want” to do the hard work of examining and testing yourself if you are ever going to be free. You were created to be His companion forever, and far from shaming or rejecting you, He lovingly invites you to join Him in this look inside!
Today, are you examining and testing your own heart? How well do you know yourself? Why do you think the Church has the Divine Mystery of Confession? It’s all to help you not try to do what you cannot do by yourself! So, let’s do this hard work together and be Orthodox on Purpose!