In part 1 we discussed how we were made in the image of God to work. Work was meant by God to be a rewarding experience for us. God worked in the creation of the world and he is still working (Jn 5:17). Because of the fall, work became difficult, but because of Christ, work can be restored to its proper place of glorifying God and being an aspect of the meaningfulness of our lives. This meaning in the pursuit of life for our own sake, for his sake is what will drive us when we become mature. It is something we will do perfectly in eternity.
Today and tomorrow I’ll consider some of the things that can drive us instead of the pursuit of righteousness and abundant life. Because the world is in sin, working in the way we are discussing, in a redeemed way, is rare. We have already discussed in part 1 the cycle of working hard to seek comfort and pleasure. Consider now the following drivers of the people of the world.
Status Chasing Treadmill
If you have managed to outgrow pleasure seeking and comfort chasing, then there is a good chance you are driven by status seeking. Remember what happened in the garden (Gen 3:11)? Shame. Fear of our own nakedness means that we don’t like who and what we truly are.
Sadly, the way most sinful humans deal with this is to compare themselves with others, hoping to find some reason to believe that they are higher somewhere on the ladder of status than those with whom they are comparing.
The worst part about this is that the way the vast majority of us choose to do this is to mine the world for the opinions of others. Everything we do asks the question: “What do you think of me in comparison with them?” You can live your whole life this way and never quite realize it, or know how to stop. Why? Because only one person at a time can achieve the highest place. There can only be one best person. And the secret is that even that person won’t know they are the best.
Consider how this happened: You are a bright kid with lots of potential. Your parents are proud of you, a little too proud. Every time they hear about the achievement of someone else’s kids, they feel anxious and begin to push you a little harder than before to succeed at everything that you do. When you win, or succeed, they seem to really love it, and love you. When you don’t, they say something about how it’s OK, and they love you no matter what, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same. They get so very elated when you succeed, and you can hear the joy oozing from their voices as they brag to their parents and friends about how great of a kid you are.
You pick up on this and learn that the most important thing you can do is impress them. You also learn that impressing others impresses them the most. You are good at piano. They like to hear you play, but they love to hear you play for their friends. If you’re young enough, your parents were on Facebook and projected this unhealthy pattern to hundreds, if not thousands. And you? Somehow you have become the same way. You can’t wait to tell them about the A that your kid, the grandchild of their loins, got on his math test. You may have mild discomfort about all of it, but you ignore it, because everybody is like this. Not everybody, but the vast majority.
Where did this start? The garden. I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid myself. The image of the little creators was broken and hopelessly screwed up. The history of humanity has shown the sad results, starting with the murder of a brother because he was envious of him and not able to master the sin that was crouching at his door (Gen 4:7), and right on until today. Here are some ways we can turn out as a result.
Some philosophers have called them second handers, others call them agreeable, and most call them people pleasers. These people have no idea who they actually are. They’ve learned from an early age to become experts at reading others to find out what they should value. These are non thinkers who often get possessed by ideological positions, either on the left OR the right, probably depending on who they most interact with. They make up herds, crowds all driven by the same idea. How great that I don’t have to think in a herd! A thousand people can’t be wrong! They make up mobs, crowds all driven by the same emotion. Again, I don’t have to think, feelings make me feel alive! And they make up gangs, all driven by the same idea and emotion. These are all ways of experiencing groupthink, and they can be virtual online crowds, or actual physical crowds.
One sad example of a second-hander is the overwhelming number of young people today that aspire to become celebrities. In surveys of young people, the number one aspiration tends to be fame of some kind. Famous for what? For being famous! If all the people that want to become famous, become famous, then none of them will become famous. Fame truly is a zero-sum game.
These people don’t bother thinking very much. They chase the feelings, or at least they run from the bad feelings. Consider the idolization of romance. God made us male and female and created sex and romantic love for the purpose of godly families and joy in marriage. Those who are addicted to romantic relationships, making it their highest purpose, tend to go from relationship to relationship searching for a feeling. If they do stay with one person, the codependency will be certain to cause distress for both parties.
Emotional dependents may find one person to depend on emotionally, or they will depend on everyone to varying degrees. Consider the overbearing mothers who felt distant from their father, so they married a man just like him who they also feel distant toward, and then she has a son. This baby boy will fulfill all her dreams of connection and closeness, and will grow up to have a codependent relationship with her, ruining his future marriage, as he looks for another mom in his choice of spouse. This person has been taught that he is a bad boy if his mother is not happy with him. This translates to everyone must be happy with him and all the time. He will never have an enemy, because he will look to win everyone he ever meets. Someone upset with him will consume until he can win their approval, or find a reason to write them off and try to forget they ever existed.
This doesn’t just happen to boys. In fact, women struggle with this more than men. Remember the overbearing mother. There are books and books written about how we got this way, but for now, remember that the main source is the knowledge of good and evil that came, not from God, but from man’s disobedience to God, which led to shame. Shame drives the behaviors and emotionalism that keep us from being who we actually are as image-bearers of the great I AM who made us to be creators. Emotional dependents create nothing except validation pipelines from themselves to everyone.
Once in a great while a musician, or an actor, or some other kind of entertainer will come around who truly seems to be doing what they do for the art itself. These people, in my experience, are one in a million. Most of them, like 98%, were driven to perform because of shame. Actors probably are especially prone to this because of the allure of becoming someone else in a performance. But more than that, spend time with them (I am speaking from experience as a former singer-actor), and you will see that they are always on. Do they know they are always on? Not usually. Sometimes those who have been driven by the most pain will eventually come to terms with this. Those who find God will begin to see the idol of the opinions of others as what drives them. Cultivating a relationship with God can help someone to stop getting the reward from performing that they were getting, as they learn to worship God alone, but this will likely be a lifetime struggle.
But one doesn’t have to become a professional entertainer to live their life as a performer.
Consider the rise of social media and the tendency to curate an image. People can carefully consider everything they post, designing their online personality to be exactly what they want it to be. Or consider those people who do that in person. They are salesee. They always have some agenda. You never quite know what is behind their words. You get the sense that you don’t really know anything about them, even if you have “known” them for years.
Have you ever seen someone who smiles all the time, but you sense they are wound up so tight that they could explode at any minute? Have you ever caught someone like that when they don’t know anyone is watching, and their face returns to the look of desperation that was hiding behind the huge smile all along? Then when they see you looking, BAM, smile is back. This is a performer. They don’t even know themselves, and they probably think they don’t want to know. Sadly, I think a lot of clergy fall into this category, forgetting we are called to be truth-bearers, not salesmen, and that people are God’s children and sheep of his pasture, not potential customers and clients.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus did not die just so that we could go to heaven some day. He died to heal us, to restore our broken image back to the glory under God that we were meant to have as we reflect our creator. I’ll come back tomorrow to talk in part 3 about a few other more dangerous ways that our broken image can manifest.