Our society prizes authenticity, the desire to be “true to oneself.” And coupled with this is an innate longing for community and to be truly known by others.
However, if we’re honest about our “true selves” — that form of ourselves that only we know, what happens in our “inner life,” those thoughts we’d be ashamed of if others knew, the person we are when no one else is looking — there’s an equally true sense in which we don’t want to be known. We don’t want others to know this self, the true self that lies in the deepest recesses of our hearts, you might say. We only want them to know the “me” I want them to know. And so we curate our self-expression, our public face, our performative self. Know me, but only as I want to be known.
But then here’s the quandary: If that’s the “me” they know, am I really known? Does this satisfy my desire to be known?
We have a deep, deep desire to be loved by others. But when we only show others the parts of ourselves we deem lovable, are we truly loved, or is what they love just a parody of our true selves?
You see, we face a dilemma. We long to be known and to be loved. But given the ugliness that exists in the deepest levels of our human hearts we feel must choose between the two: either I will be known or I will be loved, but not both. For if people truly know me, they most certainly will not love me.
Our society says it wants authenticity. But only a shallow form. It wants authenticity without actual transparency. Actual transparency would be devastating to us.
But what if there was one who truly knew us, all our faults and brokenness, and loved us nonetheless, meeting both our deepest desire to be known and our desire to be loved, with neither coming at the expense of the other? Well, this is exactly who God is. He knows all the worst there is to know about us, in fact far worse than we even know about ourselves. Nothing is hidden before his sight. The scriptures say it’s as if we lie naked before him, entirely exposed. And yet he loves us nonetheless—not because he doesn’t know our deepest faults, but despite knowing them. Not first and foremost because we are lovable, but because he is loving.
And this is possible because of the gospel, the good news that in Christ’s death God satisfies the demands of this absolute knowledge of our wrongs by clearing them away at the cross when Christ dies in our place. And this, fueled by God’s love for us.
And not only so, but then God invites us into a community where others are shaped by this same reality. A “gospel-people,” a church. A place where — albeit imperfectly — we can allow ourselves simultaneously to be known and loved by others. A place where we can be honest about our true selves and own our failings because the gospel has already said as much — we’re all sinners, and we know it. There are no surprises. But place where, despite this sin, we love each other nonetheless because, after all, God, has loved each and every one of us despite our sin; and who are we to argue with that?
A God and a place where we can be known and loved. And this is the gospel.