Yesterday evening (as I write this in a plane) I found myself listening to an interesting talk by someone who considers himself to be a contemporary gnostic and an expert on the gnostic perspective. For a bit more than an hour, this gentleman discussed some of the ways that our age is a gnostic age like that of the Greco-Roman age during the last few centuries BC and first few centuries AD. He meant it to be a good thing, I am sure, but it is a very bad thing. The speaker saw the ways that a combination of authoritarian government of a corrupt nature and the declining faith in institutions has led to the rise of a large group of people who think that they can do better than those in charge (this is not necessarily false), and who view the decline of ruling elites in cultural and political institutions that are no longer trustworthy as providing the space for atomistic selfishness on a grand scale and the belief that the universe is being run by incompetents and is in fact a simulation. This is often combined with a search for drugs as a way to “expand the mind” as well as an enjoyment of mysticism and paranormal experiences that appear to open up the seeker to demonic influence, which is not precisely the best way to seek freedom in a troubled world such as our own.
One of the aspects of gnosticism that I have always found to be the most unjust is the way that the God of the Old Testament is blamed for being a cruel being who is hostile to the “divine spark” that is within humanity, when it is the god they seek in their rejection of spiritual authority and godly obedience to law and order that is responsible for the broken mess that gnostics suffer from so acutely. It is interesting that the subject of the world not being how it is supposed to be was explored by our congregation’s newest elder, who eloquently discussed how it is that the Bible consistently shows God’s mercy and His desire that all would choose life but His steadfast refusal to coerce people into obedience and his sadness over the repeated error and folly of those beings whom He had created in His image. I think, at least personally, that this earth is in large part a controlled experiment of sorts where we are being tested and our character is being refined, but that is not a negative feature but a positive one. We cannot be trusted with phenomenal cosmic power until we have demonstrated our capacity to handle it, and those who are faithful with little will be given much.
One of the aspects of gnosticism that has not received sufficient attention is the way that Karl Jung’s depth psychology–itself not scientific, but very influential in our larger society–is at the basis of a great deal of personality theory. Gnostic thinking tells us that if we understand ourselves we will understand our purpose and destiny. This is what drives those of us who are fond of personality theory and who seek to know our personality in various metrics as a way of understanding where we best fit and what our purpose is both in this world and our next. Even those who have no particular interest in personality theory as such still wonder how it is that the tasks and jobs that have filled the years of their existence will be used in the world to come. The answer may be very little if anything. If it is our character that is being refined, it is not so much the jobs that we have but the godly knowledge and practices that we have learned over the course of life that we will take with us into eternity. And the natures and talents and abilities that we have merely provided us with ways that we could best serve others and serve to the glory of God, and provided us with qualities that in order to be used to their fullest must be used in combination with other people with different talents and approaches which nevertheless form a unified body with us as honorable parts.
Understanding ourselves is not sufficient to understand our destiny. We were not created to be solitary beings cut off on our own quests for knowledge and insight and self-gratification and looking down on those who are not as bright or talented as we are, but rather we were created to be well-functioning parts of larger units in which we are joined and stitched with others in harmony, teaching and learning, showing good examples in some areas of our life and learning in other areas where we struggle from the good examples of others. This world is not the way it should be, but we are supposed to spend our time here becoming who we should be in order to live in eternity in the world to come. It is not without importance that without exception, everyone who I have ever seen who praises efforts at achieving mental health and is in search of mental health has terrible mental health in large part for having lived lives that are not conducive to good mental health. We will never find a world that is as it should be until we ourselves live as we should be, and until that example is then copied by others. And that world is not something we will be able to construct on our own, unaided, for we can create no world better than we ourselves. And we are not nearly good enough.