A place of not knowing


“A common religious pathology is a twisted understanding of “self denial.” Jesus said “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself.” Lets start with what this does NOT mean.

The religious understanding of “self-denial” is based on the false notion that our humanity is bad, and that in order to know God we must suppress it. In this view, practically everything we feel or desire is suspect, and the chief characteristic of following God’s will is that you shouldn’t be enjoying it. This view also tends to shame the body. Hence the often unhealthy religious views about sexuality. This is why in many religious traditions, the mortification of the flesh is viewed as a sign of being devout. Self-denial is not an obliteration of your body, identity, individuality, sexuality, interests, needs, or desires.

The whole notion of denying yourself to please others, including God, is misguided. Is it any wonder that codependency is so widespread in human relationships when it’s the underlying premise of our relationship with God – deny yourself in order to make God happy. You were born out of the image, likeness and being of God. Your true Self is complete, whole, and connected with God. There is nothing you can ever do to improve or diminish your true Self. You don’t need to do anything to make God happy. God is happy, and happy with you. The only thing left is for you to know and walk in the truth of this.

When Jesus spoke of denying oneself to follow him, he was referring to letting go of our insistence that the spiritual path be a certain way or coincide with our comforts and preferences. In other words, it’s setting aside all the things we think we know and the willingness to start from a place of not knowing. This is not an easy thing because we are attached to the things we think we know, and have likely constructed our identity around them.

The central message of Jesus was that the Kingdom of God had come. But no one could find it. Why? Because they had a notion of what the Kingdom of God should look like and what it would be when it came. That’s why the complete declaration Jesus commonly spoke was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come.”

In the religious context, “repent” usually means acknowledging and grieving your sinful condition, turning from your wicked ways, throwing yourself on the mercy of God, and pledging to do better… or else! “Repent” is one of those religious words that conjure up images of judgment, condemnation, and fear.

The word “repent” (metanoia) actually means a change of mind or having a new mind. The word suggests a radical transformation of how we process reality. Metanoia literally means “beyond the mind.” It’s the idea of stretching or pushing beyond the boundaries with which we normally think and feel. It often involves pressing beyond our religious conditioning about ourselves, God, others and life itself.

When Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,” he was saying that peace, freedom, fulfillment, and wholeness is present in every moment but it can’t be accessed or grasped in the typical way we understand things. “Repentance” as a way of life would mean acknowledging that what you most deeply want in life lies beyond what you already know or think you know. It involves approaching life from a place of “not knowing.”

Denying yourself is setting aside your preconceived notions. It’s a willingness to approach Truth as a beginner, a place of not knowing. It’s setting aside your preferences that Truth has to look like and line up with what you already know or is comfortable. Following Jesus’ Truth can be discomforting and an affront to everything we think we already know. Our ego is threatened by Truth and will fight it kicking and screaming the whole way.”

– Jim Palmer, Notes from (Over) the Edge

Latest Comments

  1. Steve Roberts says:

    Great post – love it Jim.

  2. eil1een says:

    “setting aside all the things we think we know and the willingness to start from a place of not knowing.” That’s so true. I’ve experienced incredible life change at those points when I made the decision to start at this vulnerable place of not knowing but trusting He will get me there.

  3. Mar says:

    So, so good … your book can’t come out soon enough! I am just now learning, after years in institutional church, how deeply what I call “worm theology” affected me. “I am bad and unworthy … God would hate/punish/torment me if not for Jesus, so Jesus died to save me from God … I continue to be fallen and easily deceived (especially as a woman)” etc.

    I definitely adopted an attitude that “dying to myself” meant ceasing to exist in a sense. “It is no longer I who live … I died with Him… etc” was so misapplied in my own heart.

    I am just now coming to know/appreciate/accept/care for and tend to my True Self. In doing that, I am seeing anew the person God created in His image, her beauty, her nobility, her compassion applied to herself. I have never been closer to His heart, I believe, because that is his heart of love for me. He is rejoicing, I believe, in seeing me appreciate the person he made and knows.

    I am so glad you mentioned the True Self, the one God created, the one

    • jenizme says:

      Finding and…reading like minded people after going on this scary and lonely yet exhilarating (sometimes i have to stop to catch my breath!) and freeing journey myself is well – wonderful. !~

      • Mar says:

        Thank you, Jenizme … I am always glad to meet fellow travellers too … My thought cut off, I’m not sure how I thought I finished it, but maybe “the one God created, the one he loves ….

  4. JustJohn says:

    excellent discussion, jim. my personal take on that unfortunate phrase is that one needs to realize “the world doesn’t revolve around me as a donut around my center” and that “it” all is really about everything about everyone all the time. that, in my opinion, is the kingdom of god in the here-and-now.

  5. John Siderius says:

    I love your perspective. It never made sense to me that God is mad, and someone is going to die to Him happy again.

  6. thoughtsalone says:

    I recently ran across your site when one of your posts (15 Thing Jesus Didn’t Say) was reblogged on a blog I follow. I’ve just spent my lunch period going through some of your other posts and am very impressed. So much of what you’ve written coincides with thoughts I’ve come to myself over the years as I study Christianity, the other major world religions, life, the universe, and myself.

    As I read through the comments about “15 Things…”, I was saddened to see so many use your site as a way to push their own agendas and attack each other. Such is the world, we can only control ourselves.

    One comment/question for you, as I read the Bible and other spiritual texts, I feel they are written for and to me. (I don’t mean just for me, bear through this explanation.) I don’t feel like they are rule books for others to follow, but one way in which God or Providence is speaking to me about how I live my life or look at things. Just wondering if you had any thoughts or comments about the Bible or other scriptures being a personal message to the individual, vice a doctrine for the masses.

    I’m not clergy or particularly religious but have had several friends who were. In my experience, I’ve found these open-minded, open-hearted pastors have provided the most interesting and sincere discussions on this type of topic, so just thought I’d ask you.

    Again, I enjoy your blog. As to this post, I too feel the common interpretation of what is meant by “I am the way, and the truth, and the light” is woefully off the mark. I’ve written on that particular passage before, but can’t seem to find it at the moment. Maybe I’ll write another on it today or not. Anyway, IF you have an interest, please drop by my blog thoughtsalone.com. I welcome your visit and comment. Wish you a wonderful day!

  7. lucyrowett says:

    Thankyou John!! This is the heart of Christianity, one that is inclusive, holistic and leads you inwards, rather one that is punishing, self hating, judgemental and divorces you from yourself. I detest modern, evangelical christianity. That says that their way is the only way, tells you that you are a horrible worm and only redeemable through Jesus, and that your spirituality is to be feared.. amongst other things! But your view I resonate with. It is of the same essence as many spiritual teachings I have read and practice, and I believe is what Jesus truly meant. So thankyou, John, you are helping me make peace with Christianity 🙂

  8. Ryan Glenn says:

    Gosh man I’m worried about these things. I realize you don’t know me and this is the internet so you’re used to people wandering in and out, tossing hand grenades and walking out again. But I’ve been reading several things you’ve posted up here and I think you’re missing a big truth about God. You claim God isn’t mad but He’s happy, that repentance isn’t about throwing ourselves on God’s mercy and following Christ isn’t about denying sinful tendencies and trekking into some universal spiritual path of discovery?

    But God is holy and set apart as He makes Himself known all through out the Bible. His ways are not our ways and it’s clear we are indeed born in iniquity, as the psalmist said. This is the truth you do not want to assent to and thus you have no need for a saving Christ for indeed, what shall He save you from? You have done away with sin.

    By your way of thinking, Jesus came for no reason. Jesus SAID He was God’s Son and yet was one and the same with God. He claimed to come to take away the sins of the world. But you would do away with sin and resign the Christ to a mere holy man with some good spiritual truths.

    But according to the Bible, the one you claim, this is what is said of Christ:
    He is the absolute Word (Logos, if you like) of God, the pre-existent King of Creation by whom John tells us all things were created and in whom all things hold together. Seeing Him was seeing the Father and by Him are sins forgiven and through Him has a new and better covenant been created eternally in the heavenly places with Christ as our High Priest and returning Lord.

    This is worthy of worship or else the Christ and the Bible are utter foolishness to be ignored.

    You can extract some moralisms if you wish from the Bible but to ignore it’s claims of God’s holiness and love and majesty and justice is to ignore its heart for a perishing world. If God is not holy and His truth not absolute, if we are not sinful and in need of the righteousness and goodness of Christ, then Christianity is a uselessly encouraging trifle.

    You’re right – God is our Father and Creator and we are made in His image and indeed, His perfection and His light is buried within – thus no one is too far that she/he cannot be saved. No one is too far from His knock. The goodness of His creation is to be celebrated and it is the grace of God that brings Life to the Death in us, that brings us skipping and dancing like a loosed calf in the light of a mercy and a love so good.

    I’d love to talk more about these things if you would. I’m not picking a fight nor stroking my ego but interested in some dialogue about what is True.

  9. az4christ says:

    I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (II Timothy 4:1-4 NKJV)

  10. az4christ says:

    To hate the judgement of God is to hate God. The is No Christian without obedience to Christ.

  11. Gordy says:

    I read your posts daily. This one I was going to discount as something that goes against my Episcopal Beliefs. I have a desire to listen even when I don’t necessarily agree. However as I read your clarification of terms, the way you break down Biblical writings in a new perspective increased my knowledge. Thank you for sharing a fresh view on words that are centuries old.

  12. ljandrie57 says:

    This is very affirming of the place I am coming to in my own journey of healing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s