Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why do we want to be awesome?

It hit me a couple of nights ago. The day had been crazy and busy and crammed full of good classes, and I spent the evening sitting around with dear friends, laughing and doing homework with a feeling of great accomplishment and satisfaction. Good fellowship, laughter, camaraderie, the joy of successfully helping others, managing to accomplish good things. Life was good that day, and I went to bed and lay there... completely confused and uncomfortable with life.

That was weird. I was happy. Really, I was so, so happy just then. And something was bugging me to death. It took a good while of lying in bed in the dark, arguing with my mind to try and get it to open up and tell me what was wrong. And finally, I realized that I want to not get what I want.

There are a thousand and one voices in my head. The thousand voices cry out for love, for happiness, for joy, for peace, for hope that does not disappoint, for dreams fulfilled. And they usually, but not always, drown out the one little voice, the one that wants me to be hurt and broken, wants to see my every hope cut off, my every dream crushed, my every love unrequited, my every desire trampled underfoot by the world without a second glance.

My favorite characters are always the noble, semi-tragic ones, who never give in despite all the darkness life can throw at them, the ones who love with all they've got and are never cared for in return, the Eponines who die for people who never loved them, who give up everything for something higher than themselves, whose own desires are cut off by their own nobility. And being a hopeless idealist, I want to be these most beautiful characters. I want to find the brightest star and reach for it.

(Photo credit.) Gratuitous superhero reference!

Thus the tiny disappointment with good days, the vaguely unsatisfied feeling I get from happiness. And maybe, after all, this is why I've this habit of opposing Aristotle so violently when he says that the good of man is happiness. (I know, I know, he was using the term to describe man fulfilling his purpose, but I still say that at least to some degree, he means happiness. Why else would he have used the term?) There's a noble pain that's lovelier than happiness, and I say it's better to have a lovely soul than a happy one.

Yes, there is justice, and you reap what you sow, so nobility does end in joy. Ultimately, happiness is tied to the good, sure. But what if it wasn't? Would we do the right thing even if it did us no good? Would we serve God though He slew us? Would we, if we could, agree to take Hell for someone even if we knew that we'd spend all of eternity in misery and that in that eternity, we would come to regret our decision? I know the world doesn't work that way, and I know that there's a way in which "if" is useless, because such things cannot change. But still, isn't happiness just a wonderful bonus to doing right? Happiness cannot be our aim, even if it leads us to seek virtue. We would then be making righteousness into an exercise in selfishness. Hypocrisy, that.

So my idealism tries to aim higher than happiness, tries to shoot instead for that specific sort of noble selflessness that is made more noble by the accompanying pain. And understand, Christianity and a certain, ultimate sort of idealism are actually quite compatible. God is good. God is sovereign. He loved me enough to die for me, and loves me still, and will love me forever. What's more idealistic than this worldview we Christians claim?

But at the same moment as I heard the idealism the little voice was saying, I also realized why I wanted that. Pride, people. It was all pride. I want to be awesome for pride's sake. I am disappointed in happiness because happiness doesn't satisfy my pride. I want to be noble because I want to be that beautiful. And that won't cut it. That's the funny thing about pride. It defeats its own purpose, because if you're proud, you've nothing to be proud of. Pride defiles whatever it glories in simply by its presence.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be awesome. We should rejoice in the prospect of goodness anywhere, even in ourselves, but if we want to be good so that we can have the pleasure of being good, then we defeat ourselves from the start.

What good is one who lays down their life for another just to be the noble character who gets killed? He wouldn't even be dying for his friend, then. He'd be dying for himself. In the end, it's no better than Aristotle's happiness. Virtue, goodness, nobility... If we seek them for happiness, we're just as selfish as villains. If we seek them for pride, are we any better then?

True nobility, that highest, most beautiful thing, is to forget about yourself so much that you are not concerned with whether or not you are beautiful. To be lovely because it's right, to be noble for a higher cause, and to seek all the glory not for oneself, but for God. And of course, the only way you get there is by being willing to be anything for God. Suffering? Sure. Living a quiet, unobtrusive, unglorious, happy life if that glorifies Him more? That too. To be "Content to fill a little space, if Thou be glorified," to completely forget ourselves in our effort to glorify Him. Paul said he had learned the secret to being content in all circumstances, good or bad. "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:12-13)

Am I wrong, friends? Isn't true greatness that which concerns itself not with its own greatness? Isn't true nobility that which is only noble because it cares so much about something outside of itself? Isn't true selflessness that which gives up everything and forgets itself entirely, except only as a tool for love? Isn't that truly good which lays itself down, pours itself out on the altar of goodness to be used however is best, rather than trying to take and claim goodness for itself?

So it turns out the best idealism was there in the Bible all along (surprise, surprise!), in a verse some dear friends and I were discussing this past Sunday: "And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'" (Matthew 22:37-38) To give it all up, not for my own glory, but for Him. This is the bright star I mean to aim for. To be willing to be invisible if only others will see Christ through me, forgotten if only they remember Him because of me, unloved if only they will love Him in me. But to want this not so much because I want to be epic, but because of a simple, innocent wish that He will be seen and remembered and loved. To praise Him for the happiness as well as for the pain. To live in pure, unadulterated selflessness, to forget myself so that I can focus all of my being on God, to hardly even care what happens to me, just so long as He is glorified -- that is right.

Because life isn't about me. It's about Him. It's all about Him.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for expressing beautiful truth so beautifully! I am rebuked and encouraged.