Originally posted in late December 2012 in Journal Green. Names have been changed.
In Journal 8 earlier, I was writing about how I mistakenly overestimate people’s capacity to understand me (and in many cases in online arguments, the ability to think clearly and reason logically). I’m averse to thinking about this, because I realize I’ll have a tendency to be dismissive and “look down on” their intelligence. This is rather arrogant, since I’d be acting as if I’m so much smarter and wiser and more knowledgeable. But then, experience has repeatedly proven to me that I AM smarter than most people I encounter, and this makes things confusing for me. In theory, I realize acknowledging that you’re smarter or wiser than someone else/others isn’t inherently arrogant or presumptuous, if it happens to be true. So the danger then is in thinking highly of oneself for being smart. If I want to tell myself that I’m more intelligent than the vast majority of people out there, in order to make sense of reality (mind you), then I must do this in such a way that I do not think of myself as being better than others because of it. Pan out for a bit and consider that this is difficult or impossible to do if you don’t believe in God. If your universe is naturalistic and materialistic, what is your standard for determining if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ or if one thing is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another? Your estimate of worth would likely be pragmatic or merit-based. Without God, if you are smarter than someone else, then clearly you are better than they are, at least in that one sense! This kind of reasoning is inevitable when you pay no heed to the Cross and what it means—in this context, what it means about human goodness and the question of what makes one thing ‘better’ than another.
Consider briefly some evidence to confirm my reasoning here. Men without the Spirit—or men denying the Spirit’s power—will inevitably reveal that they think they are better than you (if not you per se, then at least someone). Christlessness is arrogance, because the fruit of the Spirit is humility [note: I checked and this one is not directly mentioned by name in the Galatians 5 passage, but it certainly wouldn’t be inconsistent]. Atheist Libertarian Guy thinks he’s better than me because he has more money—was born into more privilege. Grumpy Old Man thinks he’s better than me because of his age and life experience (and strangeliest, his daughter’s accomplishments). Depraved Greek Orthodox Guy thinks he’s better than me because of his academic accomplishments and (supposed) intelligence (Grumpy also boasts of his two Master’s Degrees). These are the more obvious blokes of which I have recent memory. I posit that their desire to assert themselves as being better than me has its foundation in their lacking theological views. Both Grumpy and Depraved would claim to be christians, but assuredly believe in a works-based soteriology. Libertarian Jerk, not having the luxury of pretending to belong to the Church, naturally has only the works-based option open to him. But the Cross says that there are none who do good—none, then, who are good. We are all in the same bucket, believers and unbelievers alike. God the Father looks down from heaven and sees two kinds of people: bad people, and Jesus. That’s it! Being a Christian does not mean nor make (by definition) you a better person. It means you are better off.
Likewise, then, I can take this knowledge and apply it to my intellect. See, I only have this wonderful ability to think the way I do by the Grace of God. My intelligence is a gift from my Father. And salvation is also a gift from God. You can’t earn a gift, and receiving a gift is not because you’re better than those who did not receive it. A gift reflects on the character of the giver, not the recipient. And so, if all the things I have, salvation included, are free gifts from God, then in the same vein as of salvation, none of these gifts are an avenue for me to brag. They are not for me to think highly of myself, but of God. They are not occasion for me to boast, or to make my name great. What God has given, God can take away.
I do not have any more intrinsic value than any other person. The theology of whether God loves the saved more than the not-yet-saved and/or the unsaved is a topic I could stand to study more deeply, but consider this: as a man, I am equal to all other men. As a son of God, I am equal to all of His other sons. I am equal in worth to all other humans. And if I’m inaccurate in my theological understanding, and God ‘values me more’ than the unsaved or the damned, then that is STILL only because of the gift of His Love! (And this is VERY humbling to recognize!) If He values me, it is not because I am valuable, but by Him valuing me, I am made valuable. God’s love makes us lovable. It is not the other way around.
Applying this to the original topic, I can think that I am smarter than others without sinning or being arrogant, prideful, or belittling of others. Because, I do not do it to be self-serving or to choose the convenient solution. Believe me, I have—and probably will for most of my life—introspected and considered that maybe I’m not smart, maybe everyone else is smart and the problem is with me—that I’m just dumb? I’ve been over this in my mind many times before. It makes no sense. It would violate a lifetime of objective experiences that affirm my reasoning capacity to be accurate and reliable. In the choice of me being intelligent or unintelligent, it is clear that I am the former. I’ve heard of the phenomena of geniuses having such a narrow, highly-developed intelligence that they have trouble communicating with other people –at all! – and in some cases, even doing simple tasks to competently take care of themselves. They’re all smarts in one area, and basically dumb on others. I believe “Flowers for Algernon” may have been about, or touched on, this. I can’t be sure. So, then, whether I’m smarter than I estimate, or less intelligent than I think myself to be, either way it’s a blessing and a gift from God, that I can think the way I do. It’s humbling and inspires a deep appreciation and thankfulness to Him.
I don’t want to belittle other people or tell myself that I have something to feel proud of myself over, to think that I’m better than others or deserving of some particular privilege or treatment or esteem. No, my first and highest concern is the Truth. If it’s the truth that I’m a “pretty smart guy,” I want to allow myself to acknowledge that, so that I can use that knowledge to make better, wiser decisions about how to behave or speak with others. I can’t draw the right conclusions without having all the pieces of the puzzle, and, much as it pains me to say it, because of the association with, and tendency to produce arrogance, the idea that I’m “smarter than others” looks like something I’m going to have to accept, but honestly, and humbly.
An avenue for investigation that this realization opens up is how to communicate better with other people—particularly those who use and expect to perceive emotions as part of regular communication. I’m very direct, and simply use words and their dictionary-defined meanings to transmit information from me to my audience. I’ve heard that I need to work on projecting empathy, so that’ll be something I’ll try to work on, next. I do find it surprising that, though I’ve often thought of myself as “smart,” I’ve never before, that I can remember, thought of myself as –categorically– “smarter than others.” But now I have. And you got to witness the whole thought process from beginning to end. While just thinking to myself, a complete thought-arc like this (did I just coin a new term?) can take 5 or 10 minutes to run through, since I’m a visual thinker, and abstract images can connect much faster than words on paper. Writing this entry by pencil has taken me two whole hours. Hence why entries such as this are rare by proportion to the number of total date entries made, and, consequently, one reason why I make such a great effort to write often, to increase the likelihood that I write an entry like this, where I pour out on paper what’s been on my mind, or alternatively, my heart.
~ Rak Chazak
PS the Journal 8 entry referenced read as such:
I put too much faith in other people’s reasoning, sometimes. Scratch that—ALL the time. I have avoided thinking this way because it sounds a lot like arrogance, but frankly, I need to recognize that most people are frankly dumber than me. I’ve taken a number of IQ tests on line, and the lowest I got was 124, the highest 145, the mode score being around 136. This is the 98th percentile—only 2% of everyone I’ll ever meet will be smarter than me, and a good half, or 2/3 even, will be significantly lower so as to be noticeable. But despite this, I realize that there’s a distinction between IQ (capacity for intelligence), intelligence, education, reasoning (correctly using your intelligence), knowledge, and wisdom (correctly integrating your intelligence and knowledge to reach the correct conclusions). I could divide wisdom up into wisdom (long-term) and sense (short-term; more intuitive and instinctive than wisdom). The problem is that in an effort to not be prideful I may have created a side effect where I’m blind to the fact that I can’t expect everyone else to reason the same as I do. It might seem fair (it does, I’m literally talking about how I actually think and feel), but in some sense it’s not realistic, or a good approach, because it treats people differently than they should be treated. If I think about it, I’m really treating them as extensions of me—my conscience—and that isn’t fair. It denies their individuality and it doesn’t acknowledge their unique needs when it comes to communication. …I’ve had the experience of communicating in a way that others can’t understand or connect to/with me before…many times.