Monday, October 22, 2007

"Become God's You"

A new book by a popular television preacher holds out the hope that you can “Become a Better You.” The book’s instant success, I suspect, is the result of both the preacher’s popularity as a television personality and his up-beat, relentlessly positive message that feeds our need to succeed by telling us, “There’s a shortcut, a secret, to success.” It’s the perfect book for the “culture of self-esteem” that wants somebody …anybody… everybody … to tell them that it really is “all about me.”

But if the author really is interested in talking about the biblical perspective on humanity, the book is mistitled. The Bible has no interest in your “becoming a better you;” it's interested in your becoming God’s you. We are not sui generis beings (of our own kind or genus). We are not free to become anything we choose to become (indeed, most of what I euphemistically call “my choices” turn out to be, upon closer inspection, not “mine” at all but merely the result of good marketing or genetic predisposition or the influence of others). We are only “free” to become what God had in mind for us when He woke up one morning and said to Himself: “I’ve got a great idea! I’m going to make me a ______________” (insert your name).

Can you imagine, for instance, a situation in which Hamlet in William Shakespeare’s play were to say to the author: “All right, Will. I get the idea. I see where this whole thing is going. Why don’t you take the day off and I’ll take it from here."? Of course it could never happen because there is no “Hamlet” apart from the creative imagination of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare as Hamlet’s author “thought him up,” so to speak, and if Hamlet tries to be “Hamlet” without Shakespeare, he will not thereby “find himself,” he will only self-destruct. In the same way, you and I were made for God. He is the author of our lives; He “thought us up” like characters in a play, and apart from His will and plan and purpose for our lives we self-destruct.

And so, it’s not about you or me; it’s not about “becoming a better you;” it’s about becoming God’s you. Any other “you” is a fraud whose life, severed from its Source, cannot be sustained.

I’ve always loved the story attributed to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He dreamt one night that he died and stood before the Great Judge of all and was called to the Dock to give an account of what he had done with the great gift of life he had been given. Heschel says that, to his amazement, he was not asked about what he had done on such and such a day, or any other specific thing. He was not asked why he hadn’t been more like Moses or Maimonides, or David or Einstein. Instead, he was asked one and only one question: “Were you or were you not Abraham Joshua Heschel?” And Heschel says: “Then the Holy One, Blessed Be He, leaning forward to hear my response, said to me words that haunt me still. He said: ‘It’s important to me, you see, because you’re the only one of him I made!’”

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