Sunday, March 02, 2008

stamp thine own image

One of Hannah’s and my favorite pastimes, when we’re not going out, is watching Fraggle Rock. Recently we watched the first-season episode “I Want to Be You”, in which Red becomes jealous of the attention Mokey gets from her poetry, as well as the peaceful way she has of enjoying the world, and decides she wants to be like Mokey. She bemoans:
And how I wish I could change myself.
Change to somebody new.
And how I long to exchange myself.
How I wish I were you.
Now, Red is the impulsive, daring, spotlight-grabbing member of the group, and although Mokey is her best friend, she just can’t pull off the laid-back, hippie, artistic lifestyle. Her friends realize that she had been feeling neglected, and she realizes that she can’t win approval just by mimicking someone else, and the episode ends happily and affirmatively. It’s important to realize that making ourselves a mirror image of someone else won’t really succeed in changing our place in the world, or before God for that matter.

Except that often we speak or sing in words that echo Red’s:
O to be like Thee! blessèd Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
Those words are Thomas Chisholm’s. More recently, Kathleen Thomerson wrote:
I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
The star of my life is Jesus.
We may wonder as we sing these hymns—what do we mean? Once we cast off this “old man” (or “sinful self”, or “flesh”, as it is variously translated), what will be left? How much of myself will I lose if I become more like Jesus? The answer: everything and nothing.

A sort of trivial example: the Enneagram personality test has become popular in recent years, and I remember when I was introduced to it, the resource I was reading tried to specify one personality type or the other for Jesus (I can’t now remember which); fortunately, in my brief internet research just now I found no such hard-and-fast claims, though a few speculated 5 or 8 or 2. Others claimed that Jesus had the perfect aspects of all the personality types. In either case, where Jesus falls squarely on some vertex of the enneagram or epitomizes all of them, it’s easy to wonder what will happen to our personality as God takes over our lives. Will we switch from a doer to a lover? Will our distinctness be obliterated?

This is where we lose nothing. I mentioned last week that things gain their fullest character by belonging to God. There will be darkness in our lives and in our past that will be stripped away, but God will use the mettle he has put in each of us to glorify himself in ways peculiar to our gifts and position. As Paul explained to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

But there are many times we fail to be ourselves, by which I mean we fail to be free in the sense that Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. … Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” That phrasing makes it sound appealing, but we all know the difficulty of believing in and following the truth. Thus we must lose everything: our pride and willfulness, our timidity and slothfulness, our anger and covetousness, which are not marks of any healthy personality. We must give ourselves up so that we can be remade, and though we may not recognize ourselves at the end, it will only be because of added glory, not because of lessened selfhood.

When we want to be like Jesus, it is because we want to be closer to God and better servants of others. Our guilt has already been exchanged for his righteousness; now we long only for his strength in exchange for our weakness.

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