Thursday, September 13, 2007

The ZigZag Café

We will be convening here at the ZigZag café, Suisse, on Thursdays for conversation and dialogue.

I invite you to stop by every Thursday for the question of the day. Your thoughts and participation are most welcome. Pull up a stool, avec un café, un thé, ou un chocolat chaud, et un croissant, and join in here on Thursday at the ZZ café.

For today:

What would you see as advantages or disadvantages of self introspection in the Christian life?


Anonymous said...

OK Greg - I hate to see this unanswered.
I think there could be a few understandings of the concept of self-introspection. On the one hand, if you are living Christianity introspectively, wouldn't it be much easier to live as Jesus taught, especially in MT 5? A monastic life would allow less of the world to get into us, but then again, we wouldn't be able to be salt & light would we?

Self introspection could also be looking inward to yourself to find truth about God. While I think that I can use self introspection to learn about myself, and how I react to God, it would be difficult to trust my thoughts and desires as anything true.

All that said, I believe we have to take time for self introspection to evaluate our own thoughts, ideas, and reasoning, and if those match up with God. Even prayer can be at times trying to have the same mind of God regarding our lives.

So, which kind of introspection? Fun just thinking through some of it...wish I had more time!

Thanks Greg!

Greg said...

Thanks for your helpful thoughts. You put it well. In my work I have been faced with two extremes: one that allows for little self introspection, although in practice it may take place often, and the second, that thrives on self introspection without limit. Both extremes seem to be problematic and maybe this is one of those areas where we can talk about degrees.

The Walk said...

Great topic!

All things in moderation, as they say.

For myself, I find that I tend to swing to the extreme of too much self-introspection. I like what Randy said--that "it would be difficult to trust my thoughts and desires as anything true."

Often, self-introspection leads me to focusing on myself--my emotions, past sins, etc.--instead of on Christ. As I try to focus on Him, often He will help me to recognize things about my life, my character, etc. that need tweeking.

Greg said...

The Walk,
Thanks for your perceptive words. Turning to Christ is a key for avoiding extremes and deepening our spirituality.

Jasie said...


I find introspection to be an extremely valuable thing in understanding myself, and as I see more clearly my own machinations, it helps me to have a better understanding of other people as well. However, I've noticed that one danger of introspection is that it is easy to start viewing the world and other people solely in terms of how it relates to you. I.e. an event happens, and I am limited by understanding how it affects me, but perhaps missing the larger implications. This can be true when thinking theologically as well, in that my view of God becomes in some sense limited by my own experience.

Also, excess introspection has the potential to increase, rather than decrease, self-deception. You often talk about having a dialogue with scripture, the world, etc. and I think in introspection it is particularly important as something of a 'check and balance' in helping to avoid self-deception and me-centric thinking.

Greg said...

I like it. Great comment. You've got good insights. Thanks.

John said...

Greg, you once told me in an email "Introspection should lead to redemption and is not an end in itself." I have stuck by that quote, remembering that when introspection leads to despair and depression/discontentment, it has gone too far.

Instead, introspection should lead us back to the Gospel and what is true about our identity in Christ. Often when I introspect, it is about past sins; sins that are now forgiven now that I am in Christ. Of course, those sins being paid for does not take away the Earthly consequences or the effect they have on my spirit, but I am a new creation.

So I guess I agree with Randy, the Walk, and Jasie. All great insights into this all-important topic, especially for those of us who are thinkers.

Greg said...

Thanks John. Well said. Today's post may be relevant.

Michel said...

You write: An informed faith, with the book of Scripture, culture and nature open will help us be more credible representatives of God’s mission to the world.

I agree with you that God has given us a brain to use and that its use should not halt before our faith and scripture. However, where do we draw the line? Where do our conlusions become our self made religion? How do we distinguish between what is Truth and what is not? How far are we allowed to interpret scripture. And if we ourselves do not interpret it, whose interpretation should we accept? Many passages of scripture can be used to make points on either ends of the scale. Should we read and interpret scripture in our current cultural and historical setting or should we rely on the historical interpretation of scripture? But then, how reliable is that interpration and did the historian get the real meaning? etc...

Presently I've come to believe, that we cannot grasp Truth in this realm of existence with our intelligence if we want to keep close to God. If we would know what Truth is, we would possess this knowledge and knowledge is also power. And power corrupts. This knowledge would create a big divide between us and God. If we go back to the beginning of creation, this is exactly what happened with Adam and Eve: they ate from the tree of knowledge and it separated them from God. It created a divide between them and God. We will never know Truth (again, at least not whilst we're living in our present form) like we know that 1+1=2. And even this is purely theoretical. Transposed to real life 1 + 1 rarely equals 2. Let me explain: Take 2 apples and put them side by side. To our children we would explain: look, 1 apple and 1 apple = 2 apples. But this is not really true. If you would weigh the apples, one would notice that one apple is a bit heavier than the other. So if you take the heavier apple as reference, you would get less than 2 if you add them, if you take the lighter one you get more than two. Or should we take an imaginary apple, representing the average weight of all apples, as a reference? But then this reference would change constatly, as different apples are being grown constantly all over the planet. Now this is a great image to apply to our interpretation of scripture: Some people take their translation of the bible literally and say: 'Here it is written this and this. Therefore it means this.'. Now how do they interpret their scripture? First there's the fact that different Bible translations produce different images and thoughts. Then there is the influence of our church tradition which makes us interpret scripture in a certain way. In addition our character, or culture, our social background our experience all influence our judgment. So how can we truly know what Scripture says? We can't put ourselves in the exact mindset of its authors. Some would say that scripture is inspired by God and the Holy Spirit opens its meaning for us. I agree with this but only to the extend that it is like a formula, like the addition 1+1=2. But once applied to real life things become more blurry. Augustine once said: 'Love, and then do anything you like'. I believe this is the key to grasp Truth and how we should read scripture. Love and humility should be foremost. What then springs out of this will be ok. And this can be very different from person to person, from culture to culture, from denomination to denomination. But hey, we have a very creative God! One additional aspect that helps me on the right track of how to read and interpret scripture is tradition of the church and the life of great saints of history. Now I think it is important here not to make a dogma or a doctrine out of this, but if we look upon tradition and the life of the saints under the aspect of how they produce love for God and neighbor and humility it will put us in the right frame of mind to read scripture and discover some more of what Truth is, and by this also of who Jesus really is. What do you think?

Greg said...

Thanks for stopping in and welcome to Living Spirituality.

Wow. Where to start? Maybe one way of talking about this would be to say we have sufficient, but not exhaustive truth. The former is available, while the latter escapes us.

In regards to biblical interpretation perhaps we can say there are better and worse interpretations. For some texts there is a wider semantic domain of meaning than for others. There may be 5 better interpretations, but there are not 5,000. Language just can't be stretched that far. Making it up as we go along is a problem. Whenever we read Scripture we interpret it and hope to come to understand it sufficiently, which I think is a real possibility.

I agree that tradition can be a helpful guide and that we always build on the shoulders of those who have preceded us.

Michel said...


This topic is really something that is bugging lately. We say all scripture is inspired by God, but what does this mean exactly. Does this mean, that he has inspired it with exactly one meaning? Or does inspire mean there we should look at the bigger story being told in scripture and all interpretation of scripture fitting this story also fits Gods inspiration? But then again, this bigger story also leaves a lot of room for speculation. Or does it mean that when we read the scriptures their meaning is revealed in a very personal manner to us by the holy spirit. Could it be that this 'revelation' always is personal and individual and as soon as we try to extract 'General Biblical Truths' from these revelations, they loose their value?

If 'sufficient truth' is available to us, What would you say falls under this category and how can I apply this when reading and interpreting scripture? Extreme legalism as well as a careless liberalism can issue from our interpretation. What objective reference point(s) do we have to stay on the right track, without slipping into one or the other? How and on what grounds do you judge that an interpretation is better or worse? Many questions, I know... But I'm hoping to find a fellow pilgrim, who can shed some light on my path.

Greg said...

Good questions. How about this? I don't think that the inspiration of Scripture has to always be limited to one meaning, but this depends on the genre of the particular text one has in mind. Psalms and parables, for example, lend themselves to broader meanings, while historical narrative would have a narrower meaning.

One of the problem with reducing meaning to personal meaning is that the text would be saying 1,000 different things to 1,000 different people. If this were the case, we would be following the notable literary critic Stanley Fish, who says something like - the reader's response is not to the meaning, it is the meaning. Of course there is more to his position than this. But texts are more determinative than he makes out and there is meaning in the text itself - sometimes more fluid and sometimes less depending on the genre.

True, the extraction of general truths is difficult and it may unwittingly turn Scripture into a systematic dissertation and have it die a thousand deaths. Exegesis first and general truths second.

A better interpretation is based on good exegesis and will be concerned with context - historical, literary and theological, with author intent, with textual meaning (grammer, structure, etc), with the present, all of which involve the Holy Spirit.

Hope this helps a bit.