I long to see the glory of the Lord, but I cannot see His glory if my heart’s true ambition is for the world, pleasure, or the diabolical. The greatest glories, the most intense joys, are only possible in justice, modesty, and holiness. The knowledge of God drives out ignorance.
There is nothing more ignorant than self-satisfaction, the opposite of self-knowledge. The wise Socrates urged us to know ourselves. As a young man, God have mercy, I thought self-knowledge was taking an inventory of who I was and then affirming those truths. This is, of course, rot, lists of what is cannot replace what should be. Put simply, science cannot do without ethics. All science can give a man who looks at himself: what he is. There is not a word from science about what a man should be.
This is the deep irrationality of self-affirmation as a substitute for self-knowledge. I can list what I am like or want at the moment, but this does nothing to get me to what I should be. “I wish” is not “I should do.” In the Socratic sense, self-knowledge is knowing oneself in the light of the Divine truth. We see what the Good is and in that staggering, beautiful, utterly true vision, we know that we are a tragic mix of good and bad desires.
Few Christians quibble about this for our souls, but at times we forget that no Christian is merely an individual. To know self is to find a people, because nobody, not even the Son of God, is without a Mother, father, and nation. Jesus was the son of Mary and the foster-son of Joseph. He was a Jew in occupied Israel.
No Christian can be merely an individualist. Self-satisfied people take an inventory within and if they never look without are not disturbed. Self-knowledge illuminates the debt any human owes to family and society. As a result, we see that if our people are rotten, we participate in this rottenness.
The glory of the Lord cannot be contained in a rotten ark. The prophet Habakkuk saw this clearly:
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
The prophet Habakkuk’s Jewish people are unjust to the poor and cruel to the stranger. They labored for fire: they created their own destruction. At best, the few that avoided planting seeds of doom did nothing of value: they worked for nothing. I suppose it is better (!) if my own nation, America, fritters away her time rather than kill the unborn and extort cruel usury. However, neither the time waster nor the cruel will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.
We love that phrase, the beauty of verse 14. We forget that without the personal and social justice of verse 13, there is no hope of the glory of verse 14. If you do 13, you get 14.
The evil of laboring for fire, active injustice, drives out God. The decadence of laboring for nothing is incompatible with the presence of the Divine Logic of God (John 1;1). Against this is true Socratic self-knowiedge. The first result is humility. We bow to the Lord Jesus: King for all time.