This post comes to us from Bobby Goodrich


A general in the Athenian navy, Sophocles had seen the empire at its height, and he’d also seen it falter. He’d seen the dream that was Athens crumble under it’s own hubris as one Greek city-state, and then another, chafed under Athenian despotism and broke ranks. He watched as her people suffered under Spartan blockade and plague ravaged the city–and it was in the midst of this decline that he penned Oedipus Rex, a play that is actually not primarily about incest (Freud’s interest notwithstanding) but about human ignorance.

See, the real tragedy of Oedipus is not that he kills his dad and marries his mom. It’s that he doesn’t know who he is, and, worse still, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. He’s not some immoral scumbag who simply gets what he deserves. He’s presented throughout the play in the mold of a hero, brave and strong and intelligent, simply trying to do what’s right. However, because he’s ignorant of this one important thing–because he suffers from this one crucial blindness–it’s that very pursuit that secures his condemnation.

To put a really fine point on it: If Oedipus is the foreign prince he thinks he is, everything he does in the play is makes sense. Switch him out for any other person, have them do the exact same things, and the play is no longer a tragedy. That is, what makes Oedipus’ actions so horrible is not what they are but who he is.

If only he’d known…

Of course, Oedipus isn’t the only one to have faced that predicament.


It seemed so hilarious at the time. A bunch of idiot, high school sophomores, we didn’t think twice as we laid out our plans for crashing her birthday party, laughing the whole time as we imagined stealing the cake and exacting our revenge against the indignity of having been left off the invitation list. Lucky me, I got to be one of the ones to stay behind to try and deflect the blame. I got to be there, in the room, as the reality of what had happened slowly sank in for her, got to see the huge tears well up in her eyes as she stumbled around, asking–in little more than a whisper–“Why? Why would someone do this?” Over and over and over.

When I finally made it back to my friend’s basement, we ate cake by the fistful, chasing it with milk straight from the jug, and reveled in our genius. We were kings, crusading warriors against the Stepford suburbanites, shaking off the superficial niceties of the bourgeois it crowd and taking the respect we deserved. That night was a statement, a flag firmly planted, a future life claimed. It was the defining image of the kind of person I was sure I wanted to be.

More than fourteen years have passed since that night and I still carry the shame of it. I can’t even remember the girl’s name at this point, but, when I close my eyes, I can still see her face.

And the distressing reality is: the landscape of my life groans under the weight of those accumulated monuments, those torn-down altars, the ruins of past certainties, each one echoing with the same questions.

How could I have been so sure?

How could I have been such a fool?

The truth is, we’ve all been there. You’re sitting there, as your heart beat slows and your hands unclench, and suddenly the awful weight of what you just said, to someone you supposedly care about, settles onto your chest. Or, in the rare clarity of a quiet evening, the floor of your convictions on one topic or another gives way a bit and all you can think about are all the people you cut out of the “us” in your life because you were so sure of this now defective dogma. Or, maybe years later, you summon up the memory of some great moral victory and find it doesn’t shine quite like it used to. Or…

friedrich-herlin-reading-saint-peter-1466[1]In the midst of the emotion and self-justification, it seemed so right, didn’t it? Maybe you congratulated yourself for finally being able to say it. Maybe you felt sorry for those other people who had no idea how wrong they were. In your own Oedipal ignorance, you drew a big, red line around what you knew was right, and quietly thanked the Lord that He’d seen fit to show you the truth. Maybe you prayed for the courage to defend it.

Then later, as you rehearse the memory of your triumph, you realize that, out of the corner of your eye, the “Lord” looks an awful lot like yourself.

Of course, the scriptures ring with the theme of Oedipus. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” the Proverbs caution, “but in the end it leads to destruction.” Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jesus makes his way to the top of a hill and proclaims: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

The horror of our sin is that it disguises itself as righteousness.

We stumble around in the dark, groping for our sunglasses. We sprint down roads that will lead to pain and repentance, completely overcome by the siren song of our own hearts–and, like Oedipus, we have no idea.

It really helps one to sympathize with the disciples who cried out, after listening to a particularly hard teaching of Jesus, “Who then can be saved?

It’s the quintessential human response, isn’t it? If you’re telling me that I’m so blind I don’t even know I’m blind, that I’m so inwardly spun around that even when I try to do the right thing, I only add to my guilt, that my heart – rather than a beacon of sincerity and truth – is actually complicit in my self-delusion, what hope is there that I could ever escape? What could anyone ever do?

How could you ever be sure you knew or believed things that were true?

I was raised in a hodge-podge of churches–Baptist, Evangelical Free (Lutheran), Non-denominational, etc.–and even spent time in a Third-Wave, Charismatic church. Then, in my freshman year of college, I found my way into the Reformed branch of theology through a combination of my own study and a persistent friend who constantly challenged and prodded my beliefs (patiently enduring my anger-fueled rants) until I finally had to admit I had no answers for hers.

I remember feeling so ashamed as I went back and catalogued all of the things I’d thought were so right that I now knew were so wrong.

Without an ounce of self-awareness, I hurled myself once more into another new theology, became as zealous for it as I’d previously been against it. The same anger I’d held for my friend for daring to challenge my previous doctrine, I now bent against those who’d taught it to me. The same absurdity, even immorality, I’d ascribed to her, I now heaped upon them. To protect myself against further error, I enrolled in seminary and studied languages and history and systematic theology, the right systematic theology, and traded out all of my old certainties for new ones.


However, since then, even some of those certainties have begun to fade–replaced, no doubt, with fresh ones that are equally self-evident.

The thing is, at each stage of that journey, I wasn’t alone, taking up the standard of my beliefs and fighting a war that no one else wanted to fight. Rather, in all corners, I found legions of others, just as committed as I, just as sure of the foolishness or ignorance of everyone else, just as willing to argue and post and judge.

Like Oedipus, the trouble isn’t with what we do, exactly. The trouble lies with who we are. We are the blind, hell-bent on leading ourselves, to say nothing of all the other the other blind people “out there,” and all the while we ignore the only “fix” that Jesus ever offered anyone: “Come to me.”

Jesus didn’t offer us the right set of doctrines, or the one, true denomination. He offered us himself..

I know there’s an objection here. In fact, I can hear it in a younger version my own voice: “That’s all well and great, but how can you come to Jesus without defining who he is? Don’t you run the risk of worshiping some other god by mistake?” Well, younger self, is that how any other relationship has ever worked in your life? When you met your wife, when you sat across the lunch table and were captivated by her smile, when you first thought, “I could spend my life with her,”–were you ever seized with fear that, unless you could perfectly define or explain her, you might end up pursuing or even loving someone else by mistake?

Have you ever, throughout the decade since you joined your life to hers, actually been able to define or explain her?

So, what exactly are we afraid of, here?  

The solution, for all our copious blindness–whether relational, theological, or personal–is not more of us, more of our striving or studying, or more of our attempts at humility or wisdom or self-control. The solution is, as it has always been: “Be still and know that I am God.”

To which, my daily response must be, “Lord, I believe. Please, help my unbelief.”