Coop's Column - Craving to be Adored

The longer I live, the more I become convinced three things are true: 1. God does exist 2. I am not God. 3. The first two points are worth remembering—always.” Wise words from an aged Roman Catholic priest. How easy to slip into the sin of what St. Paul terms “thinking too highly of ourselves.”

The longer I live, the more I become convinced three things are true: 1. God does exist 2. I am not God. 3. The first two points are worth remembering—always.”

Wise words from an aged Roman Catholic priest.

How easy to slip into the sin of what St. Paul terms “thinking too highly of ourselves.” We “push our way to the front,” becoming “obsessed with getting [our] own advantage.” (cf. Philippians 2, The Message). Foolishly, we imagine the entire universe revolves around us.

Experts have a name for such an illusion about one’s grandiosity. It’s called NPD: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. “A narcissist’s adoration of himself,” says David Brooks, “is his most precious possession. It is the holy center of all that is sacred and right…If someone threatens his reputation, he regards this as an act of blasphemy.” A narcissist reckons he himself is supreme. He thinks he’s God, and, vice versa, that God is he himself.

It doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to identify narcissism’s presenting symptoms. All it takes is an honest and careful look within one’s own soul. Anyone who’s brave —and honest—enough to have a sober look inside his proud and swollen chest soon discovers a heart pumping forth a steady stream of self-centeredness. Its telltale marks:

  • Exalted sense of one’s own importance
  • Fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Feeling of entitlement to link up with other special, high-status people (or institutions)
  • Ego that thinks it deserves other people’s admiration—even their worship
  • Willing eagerness to use others to one’s own advantage or ends
  • Little concern for the feelings and needs of others
  • Haughtiness of thinking and action

John Calvin is correct: “Every one of us is, even from our mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” Among our fondest idols, claims Calvin, is the false god called “Self-Exaltation.” “For, such is the blindness with which we all rush into self-love that each one of us seems to himself to have just cause to be proud of himself, and to despise all others in comparison….Thus, each individual, by flattering himself, bears a kind of kingdom in his breast.”

Neighbors of a narcissist may be irked, perhaps even repulsed, by his tireless efforts to magnify himself at their expense. But that is nothing compared to what God thinks of such a person. God hates human attempts at self-exaltation—he loathes them, abhors them, considers them abominable. Why such strong Divine disgust? Because self-love keeps a person from acknowledging God for who God is—namely, God alone. It prevents a person from offering God due worship and service. As Calvin puts it, “There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit of God than confidence in our own intelligence.” Thus, God will thwart—always—anyone who makes assault upon God’s very holiness, who vainly tries to sit where God sits.

The best antidote to (my) incessant tendencies toward narcissism? It is to set my mind and heart, carefully and intentionally, toward God, and to direct my Psteps toward “the sanctuary,” God’s dwelling place (Psalm 73.17). In other words, make it a priority to get to church and to worship God regularly.

For it is precisely there—“in the sanctuary,”—that I can “get the whole picture”,again. It is there that I am (appropriately) brought up short. It is there I hear the reminder that I, too, participate in humanity’s frantic “endless struggle to think well of ourselves” (T.S Eliot), and thus must make daily effort “to tear out [my own] self-love by its very roots,” (John Calvin). It is there I can see how perilously “slippery” the road is on which those who fail to acknowledge God are walking, and how life-threatening is the “ditch of delusions” into which they’ve slid. It is there I can hear God’s bracing assessment of NPD’s: “There’s nothing to them. And there never was.” (Psalm 73.20)

But in the sanctuary I can learn, too, about the (only) way out of that ditch of delusions, and be invited to walk a safer, more sure-footed path. There my head can become clear again, and my heart becomes set right. There I hear of Jesus’ work to save me from myself and my heap of foolish delusions. There I receive assurance of his Spirit’s presence to empower me to live as my Savior and Lord did, selflessly and in service to others.

“In the sanctuary,” God sounds a clarion call to his people: “You shall have no other gods in place of me.” His words are a warm invitation: God is bidding his children to adore One far more worthy and satisfying than themselves. His words are also an uncompromising command: He is warning that the consequences of not doing so are dire.

Prayer

O Lord, grant me heavenly wisdom, that I may learn above all things to seek and to find thee, above all things to relish and to love thee, and to understand all other things as they are, according to the order of thy wisdom.

Thomas a Kempis

Imitation of Christ

15th century

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