I recently preached a sermon regarding the cunning attempt of the devil to tempt Jesus to ‘prove’ that he was the Son of God. Bill (not his actual name), A friend of mine who doesn’t attend church and is more a vague theist listened to the sermon and gave me some excellent feedback. Among other things, he asks the following question:
‘What of the need to prove ourselves to our kids, to our parents, to our spouse? I’m not talking status, I’m talking intimacy. The 'burbs are anything but intimate. But families, I do feel pressure to prove to my kids that I’m a certain role model. I want to prove that certain values are worth living for. I want to prove to my parents they raised me right. Prove to my spouse she made the right choice with me. It’s not about me, or maybe in some way it is, we all have egos, but it’s about my effect on others, these very significant others.
My reply: Hi Bill, I love your question! I think that there are times in which we have to prove ourselves, in that we display certain qualities and competencies to others for the sake of their well being, trust, a business venture, faith, etc. For example, a minister who doesn’t prove he or she is trustworthy is probably not going to be very helpful and perhaps not even employed very long. An athlete must prove he or she is worthy of playing time, if you will. I guess what I am suggesting is that when it comes to the very essence of who I am, my inherent dignity or worth or majesty, that is something that cannot and should not be proven. So, aforementioned pastor may be incompetent or an athlete may not be worthy of playing time but both remain inherently sacred beings, full of dignity and value, in spite of their mastery of a skill, or lack thereof. In short, seems to me that the devil wants us to equate identity (inherent worth and value) with mastery/ability and Jesus doesn’t fall for it. I think that when we begin to fall for that, we will fawn over gifted people, prostituting ourselves, ignoring their vices and correspondingly enabling them. We see it when coaches create spoiled players bc they can play better faster than others. We see it when, say, those WIP hosts who mistreat half of their callers, go ga-ga over a pro athlete who calls in. Again, value dispensed according to skill or mastery. We see it, tragically, when the third Reich or other totalitarian regimes dispense of the feeble or sick bc they can’t ‘do much’ for the regime and therefore are not deemed worth keeping alive, etc. I think, Bill, that one of the reasons I am a (pretty hypocritical) Christian is that Christianity’s core assumptions seem to create conditions (qualified though they are) in which human beings can most flourish. So, for example, if people are made in the image of God, then it will be far more difficult to abuse and dismiss them than if people are simply random accidents made only of matter, in a chance and impersonal universe. So, I confess that I am a Christian not always bc of supposed ‘evidence,’ but bc of ‘consequence,’ if that makes sense. Funny, when growing up, people would believe something bc it was ‘proven’ true through some sort of empirical means. Today, and I have sympathy for this, people tend to believe not bc they think something is true, (they think that truth is impossible to ‘prove’) but they believe that something is true bc they see or experience it, as ‘good.’
Wow. You always bring out the reflective side of me, Bill! Thank you. As always, your response is welcome and appreciated.