Self as Subscript

My children excitedly await the significant and wildly intellectual publications to which they are subscribed: the Lego magazine and Nat Geo kids. When they arrive, we experience a mini household holiday with its accompanying sibling spats over who gets to read them first.

Besides the immensely cute pictures of unlikely animal friends, the favorite parts are the games, most notably the “What is it?” game whereby an extremely zoomed in picture of something is featured and they are to guess the larger context to which it belongs.

I believe that we, as humans first, then as a culture, and lastly and sadly, often as the Church, have often sought to live in such a zoomed in, overemphasized view of self.

To be certain, self has a place. After all, God created each human with a distinct self that was intended to be His delight; however, self must always be known for what it is: a dependent and derivative subscript of our gracious God.

We must be certain to begin with God and end with God in our knowledge of self and our leading others to know themselves.

As I have been preparing a women’s Bible study course, I have been wrestling with the concept of double knowledge,  summed up succinctly in Calvin’s Institutes.

“Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (Inst. I.1.i).

I long for the women to leave the short, blitzkrieg class with deeper double knowledge. To that end, we will be exploring Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways this week to learn how we have each been wired to experience God and His Word.

I have been hesitant in my heart to spend a week focusing on self. In light of our sinful hearts and our self-obsessed culture, I have feared that such exercises might only tend toward self-absorption or making time with Lord all about them or an experience. Then, this morning as I was praying and preparing, the Lord gave me the image of self as subscript.


Subscript is signifiant, but not central. One must begin at the main text to even need or see the subscript. When one rightly uses a subscript, be it a footnote indication or a cross reference, one is not meant to remain there. What is found in subscript is meant to compel and propel us back to the main text in a more informed and interested way.

Thus, there is a place for self-knowledge in the Church and in our relationships with the Lord. Relationships, after all, imply and presuppose two parties seeking to know and be known by one another. I want these women to know the various ways that they most naturally meet with God and experience Him. But all self-knowledge should exist to the end of pointing us back in a deeper and more grateful way to the God who has created self as significant subscript.

I was helped greatly through Knowing God by J.I. Packer in regards to not completely losing the place and experience of self in the fear of self-absorbed Christianity.

“The emotional side of knowing God is often played down these days, for fear of encouraging a maudlin self-absorption. It is true that there is nothing more irreligious than self-absorbed religion and that is is constantly needful to stress that God does not exist for our comfort or happiness or satisfaction or to provide us with religious experiences, as if these were the most interesting and important things in life….But for all this, we must not lose sight of the fact that knowing God is an emotional relationship, as well as an intellectual and volitional one, and could not indeed be a deep relation between persons were it not so.” 

As we seek to encourage others to press on to know God, we would also do well to remember that all our knowledge of God exists only because of His underlying, unbelievable loving knowledge of us.

“What matters supremely, therefore, it not, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it- the fact that He knows me. I am graven on the palms of HIs hands. I am never out of HIs mind. All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me and continues to know me.”(J.I. Packer, Knowing God).


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