How many criminals and ne’er-do-goods do we read about (or hear from) who have seen the light and turned to faith?
by Charlie Leck
I often wonder what it is they mean!
These folks who’ve wasted so much of their lives in selfish and even narcissistic living, who eventually run up against a wall of nothingness and hopelessness, and then turn to “faith” or “God” in their moment of crisis, kind of drive me crazy!
One can only sit back upon hearing from such a person, about their new found faith, and ask: Really? Oh, my!
Prisons are filled with such people! So are families! And so are nations!
I’ve heard from such a fellow recently. He’s not been kind and generous with love, friendship and helpfulness in his life. I guess if I wanted to define narcissism, I would tell you about him – a full personification of the word. Amour-propre, the French call it (an expression that translates as pride, but is much more abundant in its meaning than that – more a deep pride and self-love).
This fellow hasn’t had much time for other people in his life. It’s easy to see the symptoms of that when one is in his presence. He has difficulty in conversations and therefore simply chooses to dominate them. He can’t perform the simple act of sitting back, crossing his legs and listening thoughtfully and generously (and lovingly) to what someone else has to say. No one in a gathering with him can say much more than a sentence or two before he grabs the topic or idea and then runs with it as his own oratorical presentation that might last several minutes. Most times such orations are about himself or about his own experiences; and they, most times, include references to far-away, exotic and expensive places or occurrences. When he goes off on one of these unreserved tales, I can see the eyes of his listeners roll to the top of their heads and more than one person usually blushes with embarrassment (if not anger).
I wonder sometimes, as I listen to him, if he has a friend in the world. I don’t mean hangers-on, acquaintances and jerks who want to take advantage of him! I mean friends – others who care about him and cherish moments in his presence – and people who look to him for love and advice.
But the big question always becomes for me this: Who is this God they’ve suddenly turned to?
The fellow I have in mind hasn’t led a very meritorious life. Quite the contrary, he has been so consumed with interest in the materialistic life that he hasn’t had much time to think of grace, goodness, kindness and spiritualism. Such concepts, I imagine, are totally luminal to him even though, many years ago, he was surrounded by such kind and giving people in his life. In other words – words of harsh truth – he grew up to be a snob! Driven by such strong desires for wealth and an easy, consumptive life, he, of course, began to dabble in corruption and malfeasance.
Even after being caught, exposed and incarcerated, he still had notoriously fictional explanations for his unacceptable and inappropriate behavior. One would think that viewing one’s self in such a state would be a humbling and jarring experience.
Narcissism is, however, a disease of great depth, defined often in erotic terms of self-affection and admiration of one’s own physical and mental attributes. It is an infantile stage that virtually all human beings go through and out of which most pass. Those who get seriously stuck in such stages of self-centeredness and egocentrism are, indeed, psychologically ill.
Narcissus (from the Greek, Νάρκισσος) was a great hunter in Greek mythology who hailed from the region of Thespiae. He was famous for his great and glamorous beauty. The key that we may discover in looking at the myth of Narcissus is that he disdained all who loved and admired him. I vaguely remember, from a Greek mythology class, a description of the divine punishment that was levied upon Narcissus. He was to spend eternity gazing at his own reflection, so captured by it that he could not drag himself away from such beauty.
What a turn it must be from such self-involvement to a relationship with God!
Whatever one believes of God, one has to sense that the great IT must be the exact opposite of narcissism. No? I find it terribly difficult to define for people that which I believe God is. Yet, when I contemplate such self-involvement and self-love, it seems an easy stride to the opposite of it; and that is other-involvement and love of others; yet not to the abandonment of care and respect for one’s self. Somewhere here, in such thinking, we are moving close to a depiction of God that may be accurate.
I remember a remarkable professor I had in graduate school, drawing the defining triangle on the black board and I have always carried this chalked imagine in my mind.
God is not something distant and removed from us. Rather, God is in us or with us. When you understand that, you can truly experience God in a real, relevant and meaningful way. The trick is not to anthropomorphize God. “God is Love,” the epistles try to explain to us. And my diminutive professor drew arrows in all sorts of circling directions and appealed to us to understand that God was to be discovered in the act of loving others as much as we love ourselves and, in so doing, by loving God fully. One can not understand God without such love and respect for both our neighbors (the others in our life) and for our self as part of the great circle of love that leads to God.
Encountering God is earth-shaking! It is reformative and liberating.
One hears from plenty of people who have encountered God. For me, it is not difficult to measure or evaluate that claim. Some time spent with a person who makes such a claim will, to me, reveal the truth of it. How other-centered is the person? Does he have a healthy, rather than consuming, love for himself; and does he sincerely love other people? Such a test I can impose upon those rapscallions who claim to have finally encountered God and been saved by God.
No eternal punishment, it seems to be, would be more cruel and painful, as being condemned for eternity to contemplate only one’s self.
Please understand, I am not claiming here to have discovered
the nature of God. Read more between the lines than that.
I am certain I know what God is not. I am not so certain about
what God is. It helps me in such discourse never to use the
pronouns to refer to God – no “him” or “her,” you see.
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