JUST BE YOURSELF?
Written by Doug Ponder on September 22, 2013
Yourself Is Not a Good Starting Place
To understand anything in life, including yourself, you must have some point of reference. What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be male instead of female?
Christian Scripture says that the beginning of all knowledge is the fear of the Lord is (Prov. 1:7), that is, true understanding begins with recognizing that there is a God and we’re not him. This isn’t the kind of fear that you have before a robber with a gun. It’s more like the feeling of wonder and the gripping sense of inadequacy that you feel as you stare in awe of the height of Mount Everest, the brightness of the Sun, or the width of the Grand Canyon. There is a God who made the entire universe and all of its trillions of stars and planets and galaxies out of absolutely nothing but his delight.
This truth changes everything. How could it not? There is a God, and we’re not him. He is infinite, but we are finite. He can create from nothing, but we can only fashion from what is already existing. We paint with colors, but he invented color. Our plans are often frustrated, but his abide forever.
There is a God, and we’re not him. He made us, defined us, and explains what it means to be who we are. Without God as a point of reference, we could not accurately answer life’s most pressing questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
No God = No Meaning, No Point
Yet there are those who find the idea of God, especially our need to recognize him, highly repulsive. Instead of finding freedom in the potter’s design, the clay rebels against their Maker with their words and with their lives. For example, Richard Dawkins, the popular atheist author, believes “There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point…The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it” (Dawkins, The God Delusion).
Never mind the fact that Dawkins offers his own presumptuous take on the meaning and point of your life, the bigger problem with that way of thinking is that it ends in absurdity. The meaning and point of our lives can obviously can’t mean anything we want it to mean. Some things (e.g., death) are fixed and unchanging, whether we like them or not.
The idea that ‘ life is what you make of it’ is called existentialism. Instead of having real meaning and purpose, life has only personal preferences and individual choices. But as Woody Allen humorously points out, real life doesn’t work this way. “I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.”
The hard truth is this: If there is no God, then when you die you rot. That’s it. You’re life is just a memory. And everything will one day disappear completely after the Sun enters its red giant stage and engulfs the Earth in flame. So much for your memory. So much for humanity. So much for any meaning, or purpose in life. Everything you ever did won’t exist. Everyone you ever loved or cared about doesn’t matter. Life would be nothing but pointless, bleak, and ugly.
God Is God, And You Are Not
So it’s no use saying, “Just be yourself” (whatever that means), because you can’t even know yourself unless you first look to the one who made you. We must know the real story of which our lives are a part. For that story alone determines what is a success and what is a failure, what is meaningful and what is pointless, what is true and what is false, what is good and what is evil.
What we are speaking of here is God’s authority. He has the right to act and to do as he pleases. But so often we try to put ourselves in God’s place. As Isaiah wrote, “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8). The problem, since the very beginning, is that we have rebelled against our Maker. We have sought to “be like God,” setting our own standards and going our own way. This hasn’t led to greater freedom and happiness, only disorder and despair as well as alienation from each other, from ourselves, and from God.
Our rebellion does not challenge God’s authority, however. “You turn things upside down,” Isaiah the prophet warned, “As if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” (Isa. 29:16). Trying to rebel against God is like shaking your fist at hurricane winds. It won’t stop anything and you only look stupid in the process.
The God Who Is There
There is a God, and we’re not him. The last half of that truth is good news, too, because the God who is there is Jesus.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:9-19).
So if we want to know who we are and what life is all about, we must look to God. And if we want to know God, then we must look to Jesus. He is both the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) and “the light of the world” (John 8:12) who overcomes the darkness of our hearts (John 1:5).
Jesus is also reveals that, as God, he is our creator. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” Indeed, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
Jesus reveals that God is good. In everything from his rebukes of our rebelliousness to his atoning death for our sins, Jesus shows that God is holy and just. He hates sin and evil because they spoil the goodness his creation. Sin breaks the peace between God and the sinner, between the sinner and another person, and between the sinner and God’s world. God is for the good of his creation, and therefore, against sin (Acts 10:31).
Jesus reveals that God is love. If God is against sin and evil, that puts you and me in a precarious place, for we ourselves are sinful by nature and by choice. Yet Jesus shows that God is love by dying for his enemies. It’s not that we loved God or deserved his forgiveness in any way. Rather, he loved us and sent Jesus to be the atonement for our sins (1 John 4:10).
What better news could we have for the world than that? There is a God (you’re not him), and his name is Jesus.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.