At points in my life, I've been a sucker for 'personality tests' like the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. It was always entertaining to type in my data, click the analyze button, and, depending on the day, discover that I was a world-beating ENFJ or some less flattering melancholy artist type. But as interesting as it was to learn about my genius-potential (or my need for antidepressants, as the case might be), it seems like the experience inadvertently begged a deeper question. Why is self-knowledge so highly valued?
Forget the temperamental outcomes. Why did I even want to know? Why do any of us?
The fact that we are easily captured by the 'personality' issue is hard to deny. Go on and admit it, you're definitely tempted to check out the Keirsey link if you haven't already. But why are we so easily fixated with the question of personality? And why does the question exist? You would almost have to conclude that we are a people who do not know ourselves. When we sincerely try to “self-monitor,” we usually flounder. Occasional self-revelations are never the final word. And much of the time we prefer to disguise what exploration could reveal.
It’s strange that self-knowledge is so elusive. I know people in their fifties who are still discovering new things about themselves, and I suspect this is not unusual. The secret of personality seems to be one we can never quite unravel, a veil we can never fully pull aside.
Of course, forward strides are made. We meet someone who understands us, shows us a deeper side of ourselves. We go through a defining experience, and emerge enlightened. We take a helpful test, and gain some fractional insight. But there are always other facets undiscovered, reactions we didn’t expect, inclinations we don’t understand.
Deepening the confusion is the issue of life purpose in relation to personality—How does who I am pertain to what I ought to be doing? And what if I’m not doing it? Does personality shape my calling, or does my profession take precedent? American culture tends to favor doing over being, but such knee-jerk pragmatism is hardly the end of the story.
Thickening the plot still further is the gulf between "ideal" and "real." How do I explain the contrarieties of my own nature, and the constant war between my cherished self-image and the workaday version I’m forced to live with? Which is really me? We might (mis)apply Hegel’s dialectic here, with dizzying effect: My ideal (thesis) clashes with my experience (antithesis), forcing a confused meeting (synthesis), and what emerges is fully neither. Who am I?
Frost’s poem seems to fit:
We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
The fiber of our souls is so thick it seems to defy penetration. Nonetheless, honest self-appraisal is something we humans long for. And we can’t help it. Why?
I suggest it's because personality is a gift, not a random molecular formula. And a mysterious gift at that, “woven” into us by the Creator, who "sees all our days when as yet there are none of them" (Psalm 139). We enter the world as crafted persons, our natures linked inextricably to our purpose in life. Such a gifts entail a depth of knowledge we simply don't possess. But we wish we did.
Revelation states that in The End, Christ will present his followers with “a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but the one who receives it.” The image is symbolic, and explicitly-assigned meanings are elusive, but it does bring up a picture in my mind.
I "see," or rather "hear" Jesus saying these words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” he says, and that affirmation is enough to justify a life. But then he goes on: “Now I will show you who you are, in relation to myself…” Like a stream of clear sunlight, the mystery of a lifetime is illuminated in an instant. To a strikingly defined man, eternity brims with promise.
I suspect there is something else here as well, something even more inscrutable—a glimpse of divine reality. The complexity of our souls, and the tuggings we feel to explore, are a snapshot into a higher mystery. Our personalities, intricate as they are, offer the merest glimpse of a more enthralling character: God's.
As James Stewart, the Scottish theologian, wrote:
There is nothing in history like the union of contrasts which confronts us in the gospels. The mystery of Jesus is the mystery of divine personality.
But that's food for another post. Nevertheless, those who begin the "divine" exploration down here will have all eternity to continue it. (I'm not saying “complete” it.) And that’s a good thing; we’ll need the time.