This is quite a difficult concept for me to put down in words but it is one I get confronted with often, so therefore I will attempt to do so anyway. I say I get confronted with it quite often as I realise every once in a while that I have lost touch with my place in the universe and need to let my understanding and perception of things drift back to my actual place in time and rank in authority.
In the English language, the word ’I’ is the only pronoun I could now think of which is spelled in capital letters except for when people refer to God. There are obviously some good linguistic reasons for this but it, the ‘I’ towering above all else, is many times the way I end up viewing everything and everyone around me.
It is in a way a natural thing to do seeing that I have not lived life as any other person but myself, I haven’t been in any situation as you, although I could imagine what it would have felt like if I had gone through the same experiences and what I would have done were I in your shoes. At the end of the day every image we see, sound we hear, object we feel or taste, and gas we smell are only those that we, well, perceive for ourselves. In every argument we become involved in, the side of the story we can most clearly see and understand is our own. Basically, to us everything is more real and closer to the truth from our own perspective. No wonder we get caught up in the place where it truly seems the world revolves around the great I.
I was born in 1983 in a smallish town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. That fact has certain consequences. I know theoretically that I’m not the centre of the universe and that everything is not about me and that my dad probably knows a bit more about life than I do. Reality is, though, that I don’t live and act as if that is true. Many times what we tell ourselves and others we believe, and what we actually subconsciously believe due to the worldview and culture we adhere to, are two different things.
To us, everything is about the now, the present. As Anne Rice, author of the bestselling novel Interview with a Vampire, puts it when she quotes a character from a drama she once watched: “The world was made when I was born”. I also once heard of a comedian who put forward an attempt at being humorous by saying “I don’t get why people always say life is short, it is the longest thing there is.” I of course get what he was trying to say: of all our individual experiences, life itself is the longest. Yet, he again highlights the fact that we don’t fully realise we are only part of the life-on-earth-deal for a very limited time in our current capacity, and that we have a whole timeline of historic events to respond to. To us, every bit of history, no matter how great an impact it had on the people who lived during that period in time or how great the impact is that it still has on the world as we know it today, are many times merely minor detail which built up to the day we were born. Those folks from the ‘old days’ only helped the evolution of technology and culture to the place where it is today so that we could now live in, what seems to us, the most real and relevant time ever. We live with this notion that because we live in the present we are closer to and better able to access truth. Many times we tend to even scoff at the ways and ideas of previous generations because of the exalted position we perceive ourselves to live in. It might be true as far as our understanding through observation of things around us goes, but only up to a point though, seeing that every opinion we have of something today was built upon and shaped by opinions of the generations that went before us.
Some would agree with me but then argue that this is exactly why whoever is the generation living in the ‘now’ is the one with the most knowledge and who has a better understanding of truth, seeing that each generation digs deeper and deeper into the unknown and comes closer and closer to the ‘great answer to everything’. Is that the case though when we consider documented history and what is happening around us? If we start by looking at the very first people and civilisations we read about, all the way through history up to this point, we see that the names of people and places change but that every story is exactly the same in essence. People today still have the same big questions they had back then, and they still make the same mistakes over and over again. Everyone suffers from the I-complex and think that for some reason we know better, or that the same actions by us would have better or totally different results than it had for previous generations but it never does. And while we all fight so hard to discover purpose in what we’re busy with and give meaning to our ‘now’, we seem to fight even harder to have it set in stone that there is no reason and no meaning attached to our existence – just like people have been doing for years and years before us.
It is every time that I find the ‘I’ which represents me has become so massive and so central in my view in comparison to the rest of the world, that i just shrink back and become the little dotted guy again. Realising that the world was fully functional before 1983, that the people living in 1167 were just as arrogant as I am about living in the ‘now’, I conclude that the wisest thing for me to do is to consider what those did and said who came before me and compare it to what I see in myself and those who are here with me.
And to one of the greatest question of all? We can’t see God, we can’t prove him or disprove him. But is He there and does He care? Do we necessarily understand Him better than the generations which has gone before, or would they being closer to the origin of the universe and His previous visit to earth have a better understanding of Him? Stephen Hawking is one man who seems to have lost track of the size and significance of his ‘I’ regarding his view of life and God while John Lennox always seems to remain dotted (i) when it comes to approaching life and the treasures history provides us with.
When I look back through history and compare it to what is happening around us now, there is one moment through all of it which stands out among the rest, one moment when God actually did make Himself visible to us. He notified us beforehand that He will make himself visible. He then made Himself visible. Now everything I perceive around me supports the fact that it happened as it is written and that He truly was visible. My guess is that the cycles of uncertainty, new discoveries, and the continual habit of making the same mistakes, as the generations who went before us did, will continue as long as humans inhabit the earth. What I can do from my side, as a member of a group who were once considered future generation, presently considered current generation and one day will be considered (the not so intelligent) previous generation, is respond to the way in which God decided to make Himself visible to us at that one moment in time, and to make sure my i remains dotted in doing so.
“Greece got along fine before I was born, and Greece will be Greece long after I’m gone.” – Achilles in Troy
“Since I am I, I must make an act of self-surrender, however small or however easy, in living to God rather than to myself.” – CS Lewis