Has anyone ever caught you talking to yourself? It’s a little embarrassing. Why? It’s embarrassing to feel so exposed. It’s as if someone has accidentally seen us naked. Our internal life—something that few people ever get to see—is suddenly out in the open. Consequently, it’s usually when we think we’re in a private place that people often catch us talking to ourselves. For example, when I think I’m alone in the break room, I might say, “I told myself that I wouldn’t drink more than two cups of coffee today.”
We all understand, of course. Talking to ourselves can be cathartic and can help us process our thoughts. We’re not too surprised when we catch someone talking to himself, because we each have an internal conversation happening in our hearts all the time too. Self-talkers have simply made their thoughts explicit. We had probably already talked to ourselves a couple of times that day anyway, saying, “Is it really time to get up?” or “Maybe I will go to the store. . . . No, I think I’ll stay home.”
We reason about things in our hearts. We debate things in our hearts. We are amused by things in our hearts. In reality, little of our communication within our hearts makes it out into the world. Most of it remains hidden in each of us; each of us is a world unto ourselves.
I sometimes wonder what Eve’s internal conversation was like as she talked with the serpent. We can only imagine. We do know something about her reasoning, of course. The Bible says that when “the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Gen. 3:6). Yet we don’t know the specifics of her internal conversation as she further thought about the serpent’s words. Perhaps she thought,
“That fruit looks really delicious.” “I bet it will make me so much wiser.” “Maybe I should trust what this serpent says.”
We know, of course, that Adam and Eve chose wrongly. They were deceived. Adam and Eve’s internal conversations resulted in a fatal error. They knew what God had said, they listened to the serpent, and they willingly disobeyed. Satan’s ploy introduced self-deception into their hearts. At some point in their interaction with Satan, Adam and Eve learned to lie to themselves.
Self-deception is a strange subject. Consider the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s (SEP) introduction to the topic:
Virtually every aspect of self-deception, including its definition and paradigmatic cases, is a matter of controversy among philosophers. Minimally, self-deception involves a person who seems to acquire and maintain some false belief in the teeth of evidence to the contrary as a consequence of some motivation, and who may display behavior suggesting some awareness of the truth.
Adam and Eve had received a paradise and had been called to tend it. God gave them everything good and nothing bad. They had every reason to trust God in their interaction with the serpent. Yet, they didn’t. Throughout their interaction with the serpent, they had some faint awareness of what the truth actually was. The SEP goes on to say:
And yet insofar as self-deception represents an obstacle to self-knowledge, both individually and collectively, it is more than just another interesting philosophical puzzle. It is a problem of existential concern, since it suggests that there is a distinct possibility that we live with distorted views of our selves, others and the world that may make us strangers to ourselves and blind to the nature of our significant moral engagements.
Humans have a problem. It’s not just Satan who is a liar. We also are liars. We don’t just lie to others; we lie to ourselves. This “suggests,” as the SEP puts it, that “we live with distorted views of our selves.” Indeed, we are deluded. What we think is reality isn’t reality. Our hearts are a fun house, all smoke and mirrors. No wonder that Jeremiah, seemingly in exasperation, exclaims, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Psalm 15 asks the questions: “Who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (v. 1). It then answers, “He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (v. 2). This short Q&A gets at the problem of Eden. Who can be in God’s presence? Someone who isn’t like Adam and Eve. Someone who is obedient to God’s Word and speaks truth to himself.