Nietzsche: TGoM (Preface, Part 1).

If we are seeking guidance, we are looking for an answer to the question “how should we live?”. If we find wisdom, we have found a good way to live. If we find ourselves reflecting on the beauty of the way to live, we become philosophers, lovers of wisdom.

But, before we begin to read, we must recall that not all wisdom is “from above” (Jas. 3:17). Therefore not all wisdom is “pure, […] peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial [or] sincere.” After all, “there is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 16:25). Yet, many will celebrate that way and give themselves to it. They, also, are lovers of wisdom but “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:16). While encountering them, we may be mocked or persecuted, but “even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened” (1 Pet. 3:14).

God, we ask for discernment as we seek wisdom.

Presentation

In the preface to his work “The Genealogy of Morals,” Friedrich Nietzsche writes:

“We are unknown, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves: this has its own good reason. We have never searched for ourselves—how should it then come to pass, that we should ever find ourselves?” (Nietzsche 1).

Analysis

How is Nietzsche communicating his wisdom here? He begins with declarative forms to point us toward the way of living he deems to be good. He opens with the two anthropological (concerning the study of humanity) claims that “we are unknown” and that “we [are] knowers.” Not intending such a broad statement, Nietzsche continues, “ourselves to ourselves,” specifying that we are both the ones with the ability to know and the ones with the potential to be known. Then, he supplies a reason for our state of being unknown: “we have never searched for ourselves.” Here he presumes the morality of this reason, having already described it as “good.” And setting his feet upon an unspoken law that we cannot know ourselves unless we search for ourselves, he leverages an interrogative form to rhetorically deny that “we should ever find ourselves” while “we have never searched for ourselves.” In just a few declarative and interrogative forms, Nietzsche has begun to communicate the way he believes life should be lived. Let’s pause to evaluate.

Evaluation

Remembering that not all wisdom is “from above;” we assume all that not all wisdom is to be trusted (Jas. 3:17). So, we have asked God for discernment while engaging with other spirits. And we have analyzed the passage to identify the claims made through the imperative, declarative, predictive, or interrogative forms in which wisdom is presented. Now, we can evaluate the truth of the claims we have identified.

We might be tempted to evaluate claims not made by this passage. And other questions may emerge as we read, such as: “Is knowing ourselves a desirable outcome?” But, in this passage, Nietzsche makes no claims concerning this other question. So, disregarding, or at least, delaying these other questions , we should focus on the words Nietzsche has written.

There are four claims to question in this passage. The first is the claim that we lack self-knowledge. Do we lack knowledge of ourselves? Clearly, none of us possess complete self-knowledge, and Nietzsche affirms this reality. The second claim is that we are “knowers.” Are human beings capable of knowing others and information about others? Again, the claim is easily embraced. Moving on, Nietzsche judges the reason, “we have never searched for ourselves” to be a good reason for our lack of self-knowledge. Is Nietzsche’s reason a good one? Perhaps, it is. Is searching for ourselves the only way to increase our self-knowledge? No, but Nietzsche hasn’t made that claim — at least, not yet.

So, let’s examine the passage’s fourth claim. Using a rhetorical question, Nietzsche denies that “we should ever find ourselves” while “we have never searched for ourselves.” This denial is equivalent to the claim that searching for ourselves is a necessary means by which “we […] find ourselves.” And that is false! Nietzsche cleverly equates the possibility of knowing with the act of finding, as though the only way to “know” ourselves is to “find” ourselves. Again, this is false! Indeed, there are ways of knowing that do not result from searching or finding. Our epistemology (theory of how we have knowledge) allows us to obtain knowledge by listening and hearing as well as by searching or finding.

Application

The one who believes Nietzsche’s words begins to integrate them with their other beliefs about the world. For example, the person who believes self-knowledge to be beneficial, would search to find knowledge of themselves. Others who fear what they might find lurking within themselves would seek distraction from their favorite pleasures, reasoning that “ignorance is bliss.” Either way, belief produces action.

As Christians, we may feel the draw of either application, but whichever way we are drawn, our reflex needs to be one of worship, celebrating the truth that unlike Nietzsche, we are known by listening and hearing others and not merely through seeking and finding ourselves. We rejoice and extend thanks to God for friends who tell us who we have become and where we are going. And, we expect these friends to obey the command to “encourage one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18). We are not required seek and find ourselves in order to be known. And having resisted a dangerously subtle deception and reaffirmed the truth, we are free to ask our friends to help us know ourselves, or go enjoy a favorite pleasure, giving thanks to God whose “perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).

General Review

As we review our process, we see that it starts with listening to the presentation of wisdom. We identified the claims made by analyzing the passage. Then, we evaluated those claims in light of truth we already know. Finally, we considered both how to apply the truth and how to resist the lies presented in the passage. This process provides a simple method for engaging with wisdom. Let us become increasingly righteous philosophers, as we rejoice in the beautiful ways of wisdom.

Works Cited:

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “The Genealogy of Morals.” The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Genealogy of Morals, by Friedrich Nietzsche., Project Gutenberg, 13 June 2016, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/52319/52319-h/52319-h.htm.

All scripture references taken from New International Version.

What Wisdom Shall We Love?

Few people become famous philosophers. A few more become philosophers. A few more study philosophy. A few more appreciate philosophy. But everyone follows at least one philosophy. We all love some word of wisdom — some goad for our seasons of straying. The closest exception to this rule are those who silently contend that “the value of wisdom diminishes because of examination.” But, even if some lead an unexamined life, they do so because they believe their lives are better for it. And though few people become philosophers, everyone relies on words of wisdom to guide them through life’s challenges.

So, shall we risk an examination of wisdom? Perhaps the silent contention that “wisdom diminishes because of examination” conceals a vital truth. Ecclesiastes reminds us that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow” (1:18, NIV). Nevertheless I say, let us gather courage and risk the sorrows of wisdom! And let us be watchful, lest we take care not to offend an idol, for every anxiety indicates idolatry. And it is more pleasant to walk with God through a sorrowful valley than to clamber alone on shale cliffs of angst.

As we begin to examine wisdom, it is helpful to emphasize the simplicity rather than the grandeur of it. For although many cultural shifts have been effected through philosophical writing and speaking, most of us will never be known alongside Socrates, Kierkegaard, Kant, Noam Chromsky, Cornell West, J.P. Moreland, or William Lane Craig — to name a few. As a student, I saw little better than to dabble in communities that read and discuss such accomplished philosophers. But I wish I would have embraced a simpler approach — one that didn’t isolate my cognitive structures from my bodily and emotional experience of everyday life.

Today, I find myself willing to try a simpler approach. Wisdom comes in four simple forms: Imperative, Predictive, Declarative, and Interrogative. Here we will consider one example of each form

Proverbs 1:8 demonstrates the Imperative form of wisdom. To apply this wisdom, one needs to obey the command.

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching” (NIV).

Proverbs 2:1-5 shows us the Predictive form. Predictive form statements delineate what the hearer should expect in cause-and-effect language.

“My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God” (NIV).

And Proverbs 25:18 exemplifies the Declarative form. The declaration announces an aspect of reality, expecting the hearer to act accordingly. Sometimes, applications can be plentiful and even vary by the challenge at hand.

“Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
    is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor” (NIV).

Finally, wisdom may be communicated through a question inviting reflection — the Interrogative form. One subset of the interrogative form is the rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions are not sincere inquiries from the posture of ignorance but rather artful statements from the posture of confidence. Proverbs 6:27-28 shows us such questions:

“Can a man scoop fire into his lap
    without his clothes being burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals
    without his feet being scorched?”
(NIV).

Clearly, one cannot encounter fire or coals so intimately without protection against the charring of their flesh.

Focusing on these four forms of wisdom may seem a strange approach to the “love of wisdom.” After all, the world nearest us, affects us, shaping our perceptions and imagination. The world makes many errors, but the error that seems most significant to me is the placing of more trust in human reasoning than in divine revelation. Among those placing excessive confidence in human reasoning, the critical limitation is human ignorance. Knowledge then, is the most valuable asset to seek, and its accumulation falsely promises a reservoir of deliverance. Should we imitate this error, and embark seeking knowledge more than wisdom, we could easily become puffed up and forget the creature’s proper fear of the Lord. But let us look for wisdom instead.

Confidence

Advice to be (relate to others) with confidence always offended me. In it, I heard the deceptive foolishness of “fake it till you make it.” I heard that faith needed no object, but that mere opinion, when asserted strong enough, could produce an effect. I heard people promoting a wonder-drug and knew they were offering a placebo at best and urging me to “drink the cool-aid” at worst. And their well-meaning demeanor defended them against my skepticism, as I knew their intentions to be good. I even believed it would work, as placebos sometimes do. Internally, a scorn of pragmatism sprouted. I didn’t want it to work! I wanted it to be reliable! I desired to trust something enough to confront the cowardice that resists the investment of my life, even unto death. So, confidence became a filthy word.

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Confidence always presumes a foundation! Might my objection have been against the foundation rather than the confidence itself? Private confidence often precedes public confidence. An individual’s secret certainty does not guarantee them to proclaim their message publicly. Within the metric of importance, one finds the threshold into active witness. For example, I have always believed I need to drink water, but until the value of this conviction emerges in me, I do not bear active witness through word or deed. I do not assure others of their need nor do I tip a cup into my own mouth. Confidence requires a foundation with the authority to communicate importance.

Does the disciple of Christ lack such an Authority? Has not all authority on heaven and earth been given to the Christ? Some fail to recognize the value of the scriptures, so they neglect their public proclamation. But for disciples, in our conversations, our holidays, our performances, our academic papers, our meals, our showers, our workouts, and our work, we bear witness to the truth. Comment to share the parts of your life in which you struggle to value scripture enough to celebrate it. Secularism doesn’t mind if you meditate on scripture in your showers, but how many of us do that?

Prayers of Christian Polity #1

Our Father in Heaven, whose Spirit counsels us, We unburden ourselves before You. Our sisters stand exposed before the accuser who prowls. Our sisters have renounced the evil deeds of darkness; they have submitted their self-condemnation to Your assessment: “Saint!” Now, what shame must they suffer, who are resting in the Christ? They were once as once we were: adulterers, murderers, idolaters, who offered their own children before our preferred Molechs. But you have washed them and joined them into a Bride for Your Son. So we beg You, Father, to comfort and assure! And though we dare not rebuke a lion, we utter Michael’s prayer before You: “Rebuke the one who lunges to tear this Body!” For we suffer where these daughters do. Shatter the man who acknowledges neither the Body’s smolder nor bruise, that Your mercy might be known as we assuredly celebrate coming Justice. Amen.

Let me Grieve in Peace

It happened, as I regretfully suspected to be unavoidable. I have lost a friend. One who lived within the sphere I imagine to segregate my friends from mere acquaintances. She had helped me experience a wonder of beholding a significance we could not understand, as we contemplated the Lord and his participation in the Triune Godhead.  She had protested the dangers of power unto arrogance, which binds into pragmatism a neglect of the oppressed. She had facilitated cooperative theological reflections free of vain rivalries. There was a world of ideas to explore, my first year at Bible College. And, she condescended to help me embark.

She had been abused, spiritually and emotionally. From time to time, I see parents who remind me of how I imagine hers to have been: self-righteous, steadfast in cognitive doctrinal propositions, and concealers of emotional chaos. Something of rage reminds me that I have yet to understand God’s grace toward humanity. But perhaps her experience of hardship attracted her to my case. While I remained of little use to the world, so she had shown compassion. But, the abuses she had experienced may have also precipitated her rejection of Christ. Still, we were friends.

I glimpsed this day’s approach with regret. We disagreed from time to time. But I resisted the day when our divergence of perspective would necessitate an act of distancing. I tried to control the situation again. I concealed my public witness for fear’s relief. But fear still encroached from other sides until more relief accompanied my exposure than secrecy.

Some see this as a moment of demarcation. They say: “Now Benjamin has experienced loss for the sake of Christ. Now he bears his cross!” They are celebratory as though my own hand brings about my participation in the rejection of Christ. They are smug as though my own righteousness is justified. These are the same who protest the oppression they perceive leveled against them and remind us of their right to religious freedom. They have no capacity for intimacy with God in public. Their emotions uphold their own causes. They have no need for God, but many uses for “him.”

They do not comfort me. I reject their words of ignorance. I have lost a friend.

“Will You restore her?”

Let me grieve in peace, or join me in this prayer.

Replications of Vanity

To the King with whom I alluded to an illusion of intimacy now eluded:

Your servant Elijah could claim a zeal for you — you alone.

Your servant Job could claim righteousness — and so the epistemic might of collective friends remains subject to ontological right.

And your own lips could beg that cup to pass on.

But I have abandoned my zeal; I condemn myself; I withdraw my will refusing to conflict with yours, let alone submit to it.

Will you not damn Judas? And why does He wish to be damned? Does he have no fear of God? Will you deliver the traitor, or does this comparison flatter me in another replication of vanity?

This Vital Distinction

This vital distinction between power and the abuse thereof.

God is good and powerful; Satan is powerful and the abuse thereof.

When those seeking justice,

fail to love mercy and walk humbly with their God;

They merge power and the abuse thereof — like Milton’s Satan beholding God

“Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 

“Lord, there’s a powerful influence spreading in the land”

“That is my powerful influence” 

Saul’s good intentions could not justify him.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression [such as the abuse of power by the powers that be], you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted [to abuse the powerful but innocent and fail to make this vital distinction].” -Galatians 6:1

Where I Hyde

Hyde here. Jekyll wasn’t a whole man either. I may be twisted, but he was fake. Not illusory nor ideal — but he was legitimately a lie. I am Narcissus. I am somewhat taken with the mad scientist and Van Gogh I see in myself. My emotions are mesmerizing. And I write much better when my emotions overcome the high walls of my inhibitions.

The women who show me love are beautiful and good and true. And I  value them primarily for their beauty. Yet, I’m not shallowly sensual. I’ve always seen their beauty on many levels. It is from their humility, gentleness, and courage that their beauty operates most powerfully. It summons my selfishness into inversion. It calls me out of myself while letting me be myself. It often inspires me to be a better man — but only for a while.

To manipulate, I imitate what is good. In pseudo-humility, I confess through boasts of analytic awareness. Its not hard to overcome denial when everything is plausible. And confession is an intimate act that invites reciprocal self-exposure.

A normative state of compliance assumes the value of every person warrants their equality in relation to insignificant entities such as truth and justice. I am a citizen of that state, so even my enemies tend to like me. My most aggressive acts often pass unnoticed; I secretly celebrate subversion in its most subtle forms; my insubordination is strongest in my compliance. You can’t help but trust me.

Even cynical assassinations of my own character only gain me accolades. Many people are too busy to push against my walls and to recognize the duplicity of my heart. Who want’s to tell the nice guy that he’s what’s wrong with the world?

Blessed are the pure in heart, but I’m both frigid and loose. This is where I Hyde.

Poetic Prostitutions of Depravity

My premise in brief:

Prostitution of our depravity
exhausts authenticity, tolerance, and empathy,
fostering longings for justice and truth,
goodness and beauty.

So my depravity, I prostitute
that you may despair of your precious virtues.

Poem 1: Usurper
Acid am I
Not agent of grace
Rejecting the gifts provided

Supporter am I 
Concerns do I raise
To temper your initiatives

Corrosive-laced sweet
I pass lips in peace
Compliantly, I kill my masters


Poem 2: Arrogant
I'll earn it, I don't say
I know I've received grace
But I'll carrot myself with receipt 

Till my ways are higher
My own feet to the fire
And Christ's desire for me is misplaced

That's it! I now exclaim
New techniques I explain:
His love will certainly claim my heart

But control I retain (or frigid I remain) 
His love is a two-lane
And I will not release my own part.

Can you taste bile? Or does this arrogant usurper evoke your precious virtues? Authenticity, tolerance, and empathy bind human horrors to one another. Let us long for something more beautiful before we are damned together.

Instead, long for justice and truth, goodness and beauty.

Lord have mercy
from the place of your faithfulness!
But don’t let us think You are compromising
like a pragmatic politician saying “this for that”
or a free-market trader
thriving on the shared glory of collaboration.

Au Contraire: “in You there is no darkness.”

To Resist What God Has Appointed

The State cannot correct the Church through coercion [threats or force] but only through demonstration of a better submission to Christ. Then, the Church, in recognition of Her shepherd’s voice, should follow.

But should “[the church] do wrong, [it should] be afraid, for [the state government ] does not bear the sword in vain.” (Romans 13:4).

Paul, the author of Romans, lived and died fully aware of an empire’s capacity for both order and tyranny. He saw their power and influence; he saw them through their prison bars on multiple occasions. He would eventually see their reflections in an executioner’s flashing sword.

He did not endorse the abuse of power or authority when he said: “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment (Rom. 13:2). Thus, sometimes, the Christian engages in obedient resistance to the authority God has appointed.

Two applications come to mind.

  1. When the state demonstrates a better submission to Christ through “religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father,” the Sheep hear their Shepherd’s voice and obey Him by visiting “orphans and widows in their affliction.” Hopefully, their familiarity with God’s written word inspires the sheep also to “keep [themselves] unstained from the world,” as they creatively discover better ways to serve and disciple the orphans and widows among their neighbors. (James 1:27)
  2. When sexual abuse happens among the members of the Church, the incident is reported to the governing authorities and the survivor is shown the small, informed community’s regret. They are never abandoned to grief but always accompanied in mourning, so that the survivor is never alone in his or her suffering loss. Later, the Church can respond to the criminal’s repentance with forgiveness, examination, correction, instruction in righteousness and the possibility of eventual reconciliation. Perhaps if the survivor consents, the offender may even rejoin the assembly.

May the Church be eager to hear its Shepherd’s voice and willing to resist what God has appointed where obedience demands it.