Our True Selves Are Beyond Us

Awhile ago I saw the Adjustment Bureau, a film that was presented as one man’s fight against the forces the sought to determine his life. To a degree, I suppose this is a valid expression of the film’s central theme, but beyond this fight against fate, what stood out for me was the protagonist’s use of desire as a touchstone to discern his path of fulfillment. At one point this became explicit when he challenged an adjustment agent (a.k.a. angel) about the divine plan that would keep him from the woman he loved. To this agent he said, “how can it be wrong if I feel so right?” The subtext of this expression is that one’s desires most surely reveals what is essential to oneself, and that the fulfillment of desire is the path of self-actualization. Certainly this idea is compelling, and in what I am about to say I don’t want to deny the significance of human passions and desire, but nonetheless, I find such reasoning to be the symptom of a profoundly attenuated conception of human nature.

From a Christian perspective, who we essentially are is not something that is directly discoverable through reason or emotion, for our essential self is bound in the redemptive activity of God in Christ. Our essence is embedded in our relationship with God, wherein his energies works through Christ to constitute us into the image he had of us in Christ from the foundations of the world. This means that our essence does not directly lie within us waiting to be discovered by whatever means. Instead we paradoxically discover ourselves by going outside of ourselves: outside of our emotions, our desires, and our limited understanding, and into the person of Jesus, who is the fount of all that is genuine about any of us.

The thing that is tricky in the above framework is that our desires can be both an indicator of what God, through his Spirit, is working in our hearts, and it can be an expression of the brokenness that continues to blight our existence. For this reason, though our desires should not be stoically denied, as Buddhist counsel might offer, neither should they be consulted as the final arbiter of what is most true about us, or what is ultimately going to bring us fulfillment. Instead, discernment is needed regarding the significance of our desires, which is precisely what the world cannot see. From the world’s perspective the idea that our genuine self and self fulfillment is somehow beyond us, and particularly beyond our scope of understanding, is just plain absurd.

All this said, if God was like the Chairman of the Adjustment Bureau, and his plan was as rigid and static as the movie indicated, then I would probably be rebelling as well. But, the fact is that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is a dynamic and responsive God, who made us to be dynamic and responsive beings. This God does not have a strict blueprint for our lives, but he certainly has endowed each one of us with skills, desires, and purpose that can only find their fullest satisfaction and expression in and through him.

2 Responses to “Our True Selves Are Beyond Us”

  1. Roger Green  

    And, I suspect, your last paragraph is the main point. For many. God IS like the chairman of the Adjustment Bureau (a movie I haven’t seen, BTW), seemingly abritrary and capricious, and is rejected on those grounds.

    Discernment is rather like liberal politics – soft and fuzzy- to lot of people. The black and white of “Thou shalt not” is far more comfortable, even as it’s unworkable without said discernment.

  2. Anthony Velez  

    Roger – I Absolutely agree. People reject God because the picture they have of God is like that represented in the Adjustment Bureau: a cold distant bureaucrat who seemingly establishes laws that are alien to our being, and who has a plan for us that is indifferent to our fulfillment. Regarding the main point, however, what I want to drive home is that our desires are not necessarily the best indicator of what will give us full and genuine satisfaction. No matter how deep and powerful they may be, our desires (given our present state, and the state of the world) are often misshapen, and misplaced, and are often in need of conversion and healing.