what's the problem with looking inward?

I’ve noticed something that’s gotten under my skin and has made me think. In certain Christian circles, there is a resistance (at best) or an all-out stigmatization (at worst) of internal wisdom. I don’t know if this is some new emphasis or if I’m just noticing it now as I pay attention, but I’ve been hearing that all our answers can be found externally, in God. This can be related to our search for wisdom, a quest to find our calling, a need for strength to get through certain circumstances - or any of a number of other situations. 

 

This statement is only half wrong, and I don’t agree that these two criteria (“externally” and “in God”) have to go together. I agree with the conclusion of those who are opposed to looking inward: God is the source of all good in the world. In God, we find what we seek. What I take issue with is where we find God. The school of thought that opposes inner contemplation identifies God solely as an external being. We may invite Christ “into our hearts” in Sunday School, but to seek the divine (God, Christ, or Spirit) we must look outside ourselves. 

 

My theology, on the other hand, conceives of a God that transcends all of creation. God not only grounds all things, God is in and around all things. Created in God’s image, humanity carries at least a spark of God’s divine nature with us. As Christians, we are calling upon God to actively supplant any negative or selfish nature and replace it with more of God’s divinity. How can God possibly be a being known only through external awareness? 

 

I’m sure those in the anti-inward school of thought leave room for the trinity’s in-dwelling, but they see the heart of humankind as desperately wicked and therefore incapable of being relied upon for any sort of revelation. A theology of total depravity does lead to a view of God that is external, and a view of the self as being incapable of revealing anything good or wise. Such a theology would necessitate an incessant looking-outward.  So here again I protest, but tread with caution. 

 

A philosophy of humanity’s inherent goodness lies at the other end of the spectrum and the differences between these two views spark perpetual debate: at our core, are we basically good or basically evil? If we’re good then sure - there’s no problem with looking to ourselves for wisdom, clarity, etc. But if the heart truly is “desperately wicked,” then by all means - do not trust yourself! 

 

Lately I’ve been leaning toward the idea that we are basically good - stay with me here. If, at the outset of the Biblical creation story, God wants us to know that we are created in God’s image, how could we be anything but good at our core? But this obviously doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t account for the sin and evil in the world. Whether we follow the Puritans and declare “in Adam’s fall, we sinned all;” or are free will-focused in our interpretation, there is no denying that pain, suffering, wickedness are prevailing corruptions throughout creation. 

 

Above, I referred to the “spark” of God’s divine nature that we all have within our being. This is God’s fingerprint upon humanity. This is the “basic goodness” intrinsic to each person. This is what we are turning toward when we look inward for what we need. So we are not basically good in the sense that we - our own self-created egos - carry with us, independently, what we need. We are good in the sense that God is good, and has marked humanity with God’s image. 

 

I agree with those who are suspicious of inward wisdom, that there is nothing to be gained by relying upon our sinful human selves. I agree that we find what we need in God. But I suggest that we find God precisely when we look inward because God’s image is a part of our very being.