Brian has a charming, magnetic personality. He is extremely pleasant in public company, and able to make fascinating conversation. This is due partly to his vast intelligence, and partly to his self-reliance and ability to perform well. He has cultivated his many talents in eclectic ways and has become accustomed to being admired for them. He plays the violin with quite some skill. His academic knowledge often makes him the most learned person in the room. He is well-traveled and loves to experience new foods at the latest fashionable restaurants in his little town.
It started as a genuine quest for joy and happiness, and who could blame him? Over the years, he developed a craving for this feeling of superiority. He performed to cultivate the tinge of admiration in the voices of others. Adulation became the leitmotiv of his joy. He placed his hope in his super-sized abilities. He decided that his faith is best placed in himself.
Brian’s superior intelligence allowed him to outsmart most people with impunity: he realized he could get away with a great deal… and increase his status in people’s eyes—and in his own eye. The deceit and will-full manipulation started innocently enough; it was lying for a good cause—at first. He loved feeling in control of his environment through flattery. Over time, his insatiable hunger to be admired and in control, because it was met with success, enticed him to come to a powerful conclusion: he was truly superior to others. He started having adulterous affairs to soothe his ever-growing right to be loved, admired, and in control. He craved that feeling of being the giver and the receiver of all things—to be a god, really. He was growing closer to divinity—ultimate in control and power and influence.
For a while more, his self-deception worked well enough to mask the looming chasm of hopelessness. When it didn’t, light drugs bridged the gap and helped Brian maintain his own self-image and deep-seated sense of superiority. Not to mention, drugs gave him reprieve from the stress of having to remember the many threads of deceit in his business and his personal life. He increased the dosage when he needed drugs to drown his own accusing conscience until he forgot its voice altogether. What a relief!
Most recently, Brian has turned to more powerful drugs for yet one more reason: to dim the pain of wondering, deep down inside, if he is not as significant as he thinks he is. He is wondering if that is why he never really left his small hometown to try the “big leagues.” Better to be a large fish in a tiny pond, where he can use others as a self-reflecting mirror to boost his own self-proclaimed divinity.
Brian’s mom, his last advocate, keeps warning him to stay away from the lure of addiction to women and drugs. He ignores her. What does she know, the old hag? Unfortunately, he recently had to move in with her—he lost his business due to his drug addiction, and his latest wife just kicked him out after she found out he had slept with her best friend. He doesn’t even remember why he had married her in the first place. Her loss.
What would you tell Brian today?
Like most of us, Brian desires hope and joy. He turned to deceit and manipulation because he thought he could control them into a fastpass to happiness. They appealed to him because his heart was rooted in the wrong quest—the quest for happiness within himself. Our quest is rooted in our identity, and Brian’s identity is misplaced: he places his worth in himself. He has recently come to the unsettling realization that he might not be the equivalent of a modern-day god. He is created in the image of God, but he is not God. There is a world of difference.
As believers in Christ, we all intend to build our life with hope, joy, and faith. Brian shows us that there are two paths we can take in this life: the first is the road of deceit and self-deception that ends in death. It has pitstops and long residencies in manipulation, lying and adultery. The second path is the road of integrity and truth that ends in life. It lingers in and develops self-sacrifice, love, and self-awareness. This second path teaches us that we discover who we are when we are loved for who we are. Brian never allowed anyone to love him for who he truly was, and he never even allowed himself to love himself as he was—warts and all.
Brian doesn’t see that our physical world with its longings and passions is but a picture book of the greater spiritual realities that tug at his heart. Our gifts and abilities and talents are shadows pointing to greater spiritual realities. Brian mistook his many talents for divinity. He mistook the shadow for the real thing. He is imago Dei, but he is not God.
The Bible teaches that the universe is a stick-figure picture book to show us the great Reality of God. We humans live inside the picture book of the universe as the crowing act of creation. Our many abilities are shadows of a greater, spiritual reality—we are created in the image of God; we ourselves are not God.
Imagine a children’s book illustrating each alphabet letter with a corresponding word. Imagine you have never actually seen a duck, which is the photo for the letter D. Seeing the photo of the duck is not the same thing as actually experiencing the duck. Knowing it’s not a donkey, a donut or a dandelion is not enough to know what a duck is. If you have never seen a duck in real life, you cannot say that the picture book is a satisfactory substitute. The picture book is only a sample of the true Reality, a stick-figure shadow of it. The universe points to the Reality of God, but it is not the same thing as experiencing God in His fullness. How tragic it would be to be content with the picture book when Reality awaits! Brian has mistaken the 2D-flat rendition of the duck for the real thing; he has confused his many-talents imago dei identity with being dei–being God.
We have not yet experienced complete Reality. God is much more real, tangible and weighty than anything we have ever experienced on this side of the picture book. Unlike Brian, let us keep the eyes of our faith on the true foundation of our hope and joy.
None of us has ever experienced the fullness of the presence of God. And yet, in Christ, the Holy Spirit beckons us through wisdom to peek over the edge of the page into the glorious, bottomless infinity of God’s weighty glory and presence. Heaven and the material universe meet in Christ Jesus: God “has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2b-3a, NIV). Christ is pure and glorious and enthralling and intoxicating with otherworldly beauty. He makes Himself ours, and He calls us His beloved, His cherished, His bride. That is the foundation of our identity. It is the only solid ground for life-giving, long-lasting, true-Reality hope, and faith, and joy.