Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jesus of Narcissus

I have been thinking lately about how most people tend to see God as a kind of a reflection of themselves.  This "self reflection" of God takes many forms.  It ranges in everything from the image that we have of Christ, when we think of the person of Jesus (I used to live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and many of my friends who are from the major religion of that city used to see Christ as a blond haired, blue eyed super model), to the clothes that God wears (There is a cathedral in France that I visited once that features a statue of Christ wearing a full suit of medieval armor and carries a sword).  But most of all this tendency can be seen in the way that we sometimes see the challenges that we face as not just a mere hurdle that we must overcome, but a challenge to God - the creator of the universe.

I have a friend who often tells me that he is, "under spiritual attack."  Because I believe in spiritual attack, and that there are many other spirits in the universe (small "s" spirit), and in this world, that are other than the Holy Spirit, I often listen.  The conversation usually goes something like this.  "I believe I am under spiritual attack."  "Tell me about it."  "Well, I came into late work yesterday, and my boss told me that if I keep coming in late, he will fire me."  "I see, well how do you think this is an example of spiritual attack?"  "Well, because my boss knows I am a Christian, so I think he is just singling me out because of my belief system."  "Do other employees have the same problem?"  "I don't know, they never come in late."  "Ok....let me ask you a question.  Have you tried to come to work on time, and see if that changes anything?"  "Oh, so you are just like my boss - you are attacking me now too!!!"  (ugh:-).

You can also see this tendency in the names that people use to address God.  When I hear people pray to God with the phrase, "Jesus, we JUST want to thank you...", I often think that there is an attempt to bring Jesus down to be JUST a pal or a friend.  When I hear people pray, "Dear God," I sometimes wonder if there isn't a small part of them that wants to sanitize God, or antiquate God a bit.  As in, I wouldn't say to my wife, Star, "Dear Star, can I ask you something?".  If I did that she would think that I had done something really wrong.  All names for God, of course, fall short.  I often pray to "Father", which I am sure means that at a deeper level, I am in need of a comforting, strong, steady (and sometimes severe) figure who is God.

In Greek mythology, the figure of Narcissus, was, of course, a great hunter who was known for his beauty.  Greek myth tells us that Narcissus was the son of the river god named Cephissus, and a nymph named Liriope.  Narcissus was full of pride, and he shunned those who tried to love him.  Another god named Nemesis (and that is where we get the word for an arch-enemy - "nemesis") noticed how Narcissus pushed away all the people in his life who tried to love him.  So, Nemesis attracted Narcissus to a pool where, while looking into the water, he saw his face in the reflection, and instantly fell in love with that image.  Narcissus did not realize that what he was looking at was really only a reflection, and not a real person.  So entranced was Narcissus by his own image, that he was unable to leave the water's edge.  Eventually, so the myth goes, Narcissus lost his will to live.  He kept staring at his own reflection until the day he died.  And, of course, Narcissus is where we get the psychological term, "narcissism", which is a fixation with oneself, and ones appearance.

Where am I going with this blogpost?  Just this - the hardest thing for humans to do is to get beyond ourselves.  While we may not be so obsessed with ourselves that we decide to die beside the reflection of our own image, like Narcissus, most of us just have a very hard time moving beyond ourselves.  As Christians, we believe that the only way past ourselves, is not to say, "I'm not going to think about myself today."  That is an impossibility.  The moment we say this, we are thinking about ourselves, and it makes the problem worse.  The only way is to know and love a God who is different from us, who is bigger than us, who is stronger than us, and most of all is not - US.  If we make God into an alter-image of ourselves, we can find no ultimate salvation beyond ourselves.

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote the lines, "Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us" (from,  "To a Louse").  What we believe as Christians is that our God has the power to not only see ourselves as others see us, but more importantly, to see ourselves as we see ourselves.  And to see beyond that.  And to love beyond that.

Every Sunday, I close the worship services that I lead in Goleta with a simple Benediction; "Go in the name of the God who loves you, even more than you could ever love yourself.  In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

And, at least in my own case, that is sometimes saying something:-)

What about you?


All For Now,


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