I am someone that has spent far too much of my life concerned with what others think of me.
I have too often made decisions on the basis of the impact it would have on how others perceived me. When others seemed to think poorly of me, I found myself struggling; I felt I lacked meaning. The alternative was little better and far less frequent. When others thought well of me, I felt as if I had a shadow of worth and security but the problem in finding your identity in what others say is that they are always able to speak more highly of you, think better of you – and after a while you would wish them to.
This desire for human respect stems from pride – a vice that is not alien to any of us least of all me. C.S. Lewis writes that pride is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to rid myself of pride – the Bible tells us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves”. What comfort can I find in this request?
I believe that our conception of ourselves is fundamentally shaped by our conception of God. A.W. Tozer writes that “the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God”.
If I were to ask you what God is like, the reply would quite likely be either that he is non-existent or aloof, at a distance from the world that he made, not concerned or involved with its sufferings and pains. With this conception of God, it seems one may quite easily fall into the vice of pride. However, wonderfully, this is simply not how God has revealed himself to be. God sets for us the perfect example of humility, indeed the command given to avoid vain conceit is followed by these verses:
“as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
God is neither non-existent or aloof but rather Jesus Christ is God made flesh, being born in a stable and dying blood-strained and naked on a cross. I know that I have been pursued by God and as he humbled himself, his poverty won, for those who believe, the riches of heaven. The Christian message is not one that instils pride that I was in anyway magnificent enough to warrant such a sacrifice for it was my conceit and my wrongdoing that required, as a substitute for me, those hands that flung the stars into space to be pierced and that breath through which each of us was created to be surrendered.
My life is not one in which I am free from the concerns of what others say about me. But considering the person of Jesus Christ and the life that he lived and the death that he died for my sake and in my place, it allows me to know that my meaning and core identity is not transient or temporary but rather that I have been pursued by a God of humility, a relentless hound of heaven and hence am able to attempt to grow greater into his image.
My challenge would be what do you consider God to be like? Is your conception of God a being of non-existence or distance? Is it one that matches up with how he has revealed himself to be – a being that comes after us, allows himself to be crucified by us and for us, and not only calls us but empowers us to move greater into his likeness with the promise of eternity?