The Culture of Self
- Friday, September 19, 2003
When pondering life's deeper mysteries, do you instinctively turn for insight to...your local sportscaster? If not, I guess maybe you don't live in Philadelphia.
The sports radio talk-show hosts in this city are amazing. History, stats, the sports rumor-mill-they know it all. These guys have clearly devoted their lives to gathering every conceivable fact about sports, and their listeners love it. It's during those rare lulls in sports activity, however, that faithful listeners experience the flip side of such exquisite specialization. As the sportscasters are forced to venture into non-sports talk, we quickly learn that these guys don't have the first clue about anything except sports!
One desperate time-filler that runs during these lulls is called the "Mystery Question of Life." In this segment, poor, bewildered callers submit their "Mystery Questions" to these philosopher wanna-bes. Do you lie awake at night wondering why there are roughing penalties in full-contact sports? Or why we drive on parkways and park on driveways? These are the kinds of deep issues tackled on slow sports days in my town.
What is your Mystery Question of Life? It's probably something a little more weighty than the ones mentioned above. Maybe it's, "Lord, why did you make me the way I am?", "Why did you allow this to happen to me?", or "Will my life ever amount to anything?" Mystery Questions are the ones that linger at the edge of thought, unanswered and unwanted, ready to move in and rudely rearrange one's emotional furniture at the slightest invitation.
These "Who am I?" and "Where am I going?" questions are universal. At one time or another, we all ask them: when reflecting on the difficulties or failures of our past; when honestly examining the gaps between who we are and who we project ourselves to be; or when pondering the uncertainties of the future and the potential implications of our decisions. They are unsettling questions because they can upset our most comfortable assumptions about ourselves.
I, Me, Mine: Single in the Culture of Self
Few people are paralyzed by these "Who am I?" questions, but all of us live with their influence on a daily basis. Christians are no different in this regard-how we deal with them determines our decisions and our general outlook on life. As a single adult you no doubt have your own take on the "Who am I?" problem.
The current secular solution is to focus on "self-hood," as if how I feel about myself is the key to identity. Here is the secular mindset: we are fragile, innocent, and frequently victimized creatures who need to continually cultivate love of self. My selfhood has been shaped by what others did (or didn't) do to me (or for me) in the past. A pleasant past produces a generally "healthy" sense of self. A difficult past produces "inadequacies." My goal is to "know myself," to "make peace with myself," and to "like myself." My future selfhood depends on how well I protect myself from those who would harm me. The ultimate goal of this secular mindset is to love ourselves as fully as possible. Self-love becomes the cornerstone of a "healthy" and "well-adjusted" sense of personhood. It is the proposed secular solution to our Mystery Questions of Life.
A multimillion-dollar industry has grown up around this preoccupation with, as one critic calls it, the "Imperial Self." Much of the information directed to the Christian single adult demonstrates the impact of this Culture of Self on the church. Consider the following quote from a popular book for Christian singles:
Singlehood is a state of existence, a way of being. It is a condition of encouraging, affirming, and maintaining one's integrity as a self. It is being willing-and learning how-to become increasingly self-aware, self-preserving, self-affirming, self-fulfilling, and autonomous (self-governing).
Or consider this advice from a handbook for pastors of single adults:
The church has a role in helping the single adult to become aware and accepting of self. The goal is to become overcomers of low self-image...the church can assist the single in learning how to make a self-commitment. Whether individual or group counseling, the result of the work must be found in the principle for self-esteem.
The problem with Christians adopting this self-centered approach to identity is that it teaches the exact opposite of Scripture, so it can never please God or lead us to him for help. In contrast to the secular approach, biblical truth on self can be summed up in two points:
1. One thing we don't lack is love for ourselves. (Matthew 19:19, 2 Timothy 3:2)
2. Far from being fragile and innocent, our selves are rebellious and willful. (Romans 7:25, 12:3)
God does not portray himself in Scripture as a facilitator of our self-image goals. Rather, he is the one to whom we must give account for every selfish, sinful word and deed. A Christian single who embraces the Culture of Self is missing out. The world has promised you answers that are nothing but worthless counterfeits.
A preoccupation with Self drives us to view everything and everyone crossing our path as having meaning primarily based on the way they affect us right now. Relationships become self-serving. Possessions become our security. Our thanksgiving and worship toward God are driven by our assessment of how well he does what we want him to do (we call it "meeting our needs"). The Christian immersed in the Culture of Self is preoccupied with the temporal, while the eternal lies unappreciated and unexplored. To be trapped in Self is to lack both the joy of living in the good of God's love, and the only effective means of wrestling with the daily questions of life.
If the search for meaning and order cannot be found in the love of self, where do we look? Why not go back to where your new life began? Next time we'll begin to examine a more glorifying and biblical view of self.
- The Rich Single Life by Andrew Farmer: "The truths contained in The Rich Single Life could revolutionize your understanding of singleness. Andrew Farmer skillfully shows single Christian men and women what a rich and valuable opportunity they have. Just as importantly, he explains how to take full advantage of that opportunity. This book will help you live the single life in all the fullness of God." — Joshua Harris, author and pastor. Available from the Sovereign Grace Store.
- When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch: Pride, oversensitivity, defensiveness, avoidance of others, easy embarrassment, people pleasing, needing approval.... You'll be surprised to learn how the fear of others controls you-and what you can do about it. The sin the Bible calls "fear of man" is universal. Yet many Christians aren't even sure what it is, or why it is so serious. Find out why, and learn how to overcome it, that your fear might be reserved for the Sovereign One who loves you.
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