The first time I took a personality test was in college. It was the Meyers-Briggs, a well-researched measuring tool that groups respondents into 16 personality types based on their answers to 94 questions. I couldn’t wait to get the results, and if you’ve ever taken a personality test I’m guessing you felt the same way. We love those tests because they tell us about our favorite subject: ourselves.
The results of my test were clear, placing me in a category that probably would not have surprised anyone who knew me. How I felt about the results was less clear. On the one hand, I loved gaining insight into how my preferences and judgments shaped my responses to the world around me. On the other hand, I was a little deflated to learn how predictable I was. How could a set of unremarkable questions so easily sort me into the correct bin? And why were there so few bins? Come to think of it, why were there bins at all? My perception of my own uniqueness, my “specialness,” felt a little dented. Not only that, but the test assessed not just my strengths but also my weaknesses. I felt exposed. If the test could diagnose my shortcomings that readily, it seemed likely that everyone I knew could as well.
We humans want to think we are incomprehensible
The premise of the Meyers-Briggs, and of all other personality tests, is that behaviors and preferences can be generalized. They find order in what we perceive to be random combinations of preferences and judgments. And they challenge our treasured belief that we are complex creatures. I believe they also point out how unlike God we are in a way we find unsettling: We humans want to think we are incomprehensible—unable to be fully understood—but we’re not.
We are knowable. Completely.
But not by a personality test or by another person. Other people can gain insight into our strengths and weaknesses, our virtues and vices, by means of observation or by a tool like the Meyers-Briggs, but they can’t know us fully. One reason this is true is because we are masters at concealment, even from those we love and trust. We excel at showing our finer qualities while carefully tucking away our shortcomings. And because other people have a limited interest in plumbing the depths of our character, we can get away with it. “Man looks on the outward appearance,” and is content to do so, being so typically intent on his own hidden issues that he has little time to concern himself with the hidden issues of his neighbor.
No, our neighbor cannot fully know us, but far more concerning is that we do not and cannot fully know ourselves. One of the most frightening truths the Bible implores us to acknowledge is that we do not know our own hearts. Reflecting on this, the psalmist asks, “Who can discern his [own] errors?” (Ps. 19:12). The prophet Jeremiah warns that our hearts are characterized above all else by an internal, pervasive treachery that thwarts self-knowledge: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9)
We don’t know our own hearts. I am keenly aware of this truth every time I hear a sermon on the subject of sin. As the preacher warms to his topic about sin X, I begin compiling a mental list of all the people I know who need to hear this message and repent. I cull through lists of those who have offended me with sin X, plotting about how I can off-handedly relate the wisdom of this sermon to them and give sight to the blind. But how rarely, how belatedly does it occur to me that the message was for me? So unaware am I of my own sinful tendencies that I come to the sermon to sit in judgment on others, rather than to submit myself to judgment. So ignorant am I of my own bondage to sin X that I completely miss the word of correction being graciously extended—to me.
Knowable and known
I want to believe I am the special case, the exception to every rule, the possessor of an extenuating circumstance that others are not aware of. When correction is offered to me, I tell myself that it is offered in error. If people really knew me, they would know that they are wrong to find fault. And my deceitful heart is happy to perpetuate this lie all the days of my life. Thank God, He allows no such thing. He graciously holds up the mirror of His Word, and my heart is laid bare. I am reminded that I am fully knowable, fully known.
God is not only an expert on God. He is also an expert on me.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:1-6)
He knows me fully—every thought and every intention, every perception and every judgment, every response to the world around me, no personality test required. He understands my biggest strengths and my besetting sins. Even the temptations I face are so known to Him that He calls them “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, He is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I know only in part. Though I do not know Him fully, what little I do know is cause for the deepest love the human heart can produce.
And out of this love, I learn to trade the myth of human incomprehensibility for the mercy of human knowability. I learn to trust the expertise of God.
No, I am not an expert on my neighbor. Only God is. It may feel good to be quick to diagnose my neighbor’s faults and prescribe a course of treatment, but my desperately wicked heart deceives me with the lie that I have any skill to do so. Recognizing this should help me walk in compassion toward those around me.
Rather than assuming I understand their motives and their difficulties, I can assume that neither I nor they can fully diagnose the problem. But God can. And then I can be quick to intercede for them instead of to judge. If I am fully known and not rejected by God, how much more ought I to extend grace to my neighbor, whom I know only in part?
No, I am not an expert on myself. Only God is. His Word gives a true diagnosis of my state, expertly shepherding my thoughts and intentions toward the path of life. Recognizing this should help me remain keenly aware of my propensity to believe my own self-promoting version of who I am. I must remember that the sermon has a word of correction for me before I look to apply it to someone else.
And no, I am not an expert on God. Only God is. Such knowledge should cause me to worship. The depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God should bring me to my knees. His unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways should inspire right reverence. And the glorious fact that he makes Himself known in ways my finite understanding can grasp should cause me to celebrate, to devote my life to the joyful duty of discovering what He has made known of Himself.
He reveals Himself to those who seek Him, and in seeing who He is, we see ourselves more clearly.
Content taken from None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, copyright © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187.
Listen to Jen Wilkin talk about the attributes of God on FamilyLife Today®, and order a copy of None Like Him.