Self-Knowledge for Self-Helpers
Rooted in God's image
To fault Peterson for being just another misleading self-help guru (and steering us away from God-help) is hacking at the tree and overlooking the roots. Peterson branches out with all kinds of (often well worn) therapeutic psychospeak, no doubt. If you need to clean up your room then his advice would be helpful. There's no need to bother God with that kind of stuff anyway, except perhaps to ask Him to give you the humility to listen to Peterson. But self-help is not the root of Peterson's work. If it were, then I would have done a quick read, stifled a yawn and moved on. I'm already one of the most self-helping people around. I'm the proverbial do-it-yourselfer, jack-of-all trades. Over the course of three score years I've figured out a multitude of construction skills: framing, drywalling, trimming, painting, flooring, tiling, cabinet-making, plumbing, electrical, etc. I've learned computer programming in a few languages and I'm experienced with internet and web design. I also know how to do the laundry. I've figured out how to stay married for 38 years, how to raise children, how to deal with Down Syndrome, how to worship and do church, how to camp and canoe, take pictures, etc. That's called competence, though it has done remarkably little for my status in the hierarchy.
But I am blessed. I have experienced this-worldly salvation and power throughout my life. I attribute it to God. It is indeed by God's help that I am where I am -- this I confess, and for this I thank God. But I am not naive. It's perfectly clear that there will be others out there who are equal to me in their competence - equally blessed - but who do not know God. And of those who struggle there will be as many who prevail with God as those who do so without. And there will be just as many believers as unbelievers who succumb in their suffering. Is true repentance instrumental in all of this? Are we doomed if we fail, consciously, to rely on God for our power? No, by God's common grace we are not. Everyone who pulls him/herself up by his/her own bootstraps is doing so with the help of God.
I'm sure that common grace is the glue that holds our world together. Sin has surely prevailed in many times and places to tip the balance towards hell, but, over all and in my own context, grace prevails. What is the root of this common grace in civilization? Self knowledge. Is this limited to Christians? Of course not. Calvin says; "Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern."
Self knowledge is also at the root of Peterson's thought. And while this precedes Peterson knowing God personally, the fascinating thing is that his own and imparted self knowledge is inextricably bound up with Biblical teaching. To know yourself then (Peterson would say) is to understand the necessity of sacrifice and to understand your creaturely mandate to be a creative force for good in this world through your Word (Logos). And this self knowledge, then, leads inexorably to at least some understanding of the nature and the reality of the God who created us to be this way.
I know God personally, and I'm sad that Peterson hasn't made the final step. But I am glad that his push for self knowledge is resonating in our culture and that it reaches so much deeper than the narcissistic, selfie-taking, identity-insisting currents that currently prevail. There is no need to reject this knowledge because it's incomplete. Whether or not they confess Him, God loves the world and He's got Peterson's back.
Henry J. de Jong