In the final part of this three-part series, Simon Edwards, Lead Missioner for the Zacharias Trust, continues to explore what the Christian faith says about the foundations for our personal significance in a world that places such a premium on status.
- Part One: How do we find significance in a world of billions?
- Part Two: Does Christianity have an antidote to status anxiety?
As a Father, I remember feeling so happy when I overheard my then 4 year old daughter Grace singing to herself in her bedroom when she thought no one was listening. And this is what she was singing, ‘Daddy loves me, he really loves me, even I’m really really bad, he still loves me, and Jesus will always love me too!’
And I thought to myself, she gets it. Her heart has received it. She’s loved for who she is, not for how she behaves or what she achieves. Unfortunately, it’s not the message she will get from Instagram, Snapchat, school, and one day university or the workplace. But it’s the message she will get from me, and it’s the message she should get from the church – because it’s the message that her heavenly Father has for every one of us.
The loneliest moment comes when you experience that which you thought would deliver the ultimate
Do you know, even that small percentage of people who do achieve the sort of wealth, fame, popularity and success that makes a person stand out from the crowd find, at the top of the mountain, that that sort of success alone is…unsatisfying. An anti-climax.
Perhaps the biggest somebody of the 20th century, arguably the biggest celebrity of the modern era was the King, Mr Elvis Presley. A reporter once asked Elvis Presley the following question. “Elvis, when you first started playing music, you said you wanted to be rich, famous and happy. You’re now rich and famous. Are you happy?“
To which Elvis replied: “I am lonely as hell.” And that was six weeks before he died.
Markus Persson is a legend in the world of gaming. The creator of Minecraft, one of the most popular and successful computer games in history. He sold it to Microsoft for $2.5billion. Months later he sent the following Tweet, “hanging out in Ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I wanted, and I’ve never felt more isolated.”
The actor Nicole Kidman said it was winning an Oscar in 2002 that made her realise how empty her life really was. The loneliest moment in life comes when you have just experienced that which you thought would deliver the ultimate, and it fails to deliver.
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?
If we were to measure human life on the scales of global celebrity and world influence, then, according to an article published in Time magazine in 2013, Jesus of Nazareth is the most significant person who has ever lived. Speaking once to a crowd of people, Jesus asked them the following penetrating question: ‘what good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?’
Did you know that it’s actually possible to gain everything in life which you thought would make you special, and in the process, lose the only thing in life which really does make you special, your soul?
According to Jesus, the most important thing about you is not anything that can be seen from the outside. The most important thing about you is your soul. Your soul is the life-centre of you. And it is more valuable than the whole world. It is the only soul you will ever have, it is made for eternity, and it is made for God.
And like a precious Stradivarius violin, your soul bears the image of its maker. And however invisible you may sometimes feel, you are not invisible to your maker, for you are – the Bible tells us – the apple of God’s eye. You are neither a mistake nor an accident nor a failure. You are here on purpose, made by God, created in His image. You bear his signature, the signature of the master craftsman.
And that’s why superficial and transitory things like money, or fame or success, though perfectly fine things in themselves, do not and cannot ultimately fulfil us. They are incapable of offering that which our souls most deeply crave, which is to be fully seen, and fully known and fully loved, everlastingly. Such love as this can only be found in God.
Soul-sickness causes us to objectify rather than dignify
It’s actually when we lose connection with the love of God that our souls get sick. The Bible calls this sickness “sin”. It is this soul-sickness that causes us to compete rather than cooperate, to objectify rather than dignify, to denigrate rather than to celebrate, to pull others down rather than lift them up, to envy and resent, rather than love and respect.
Our souls become sick when we swallow the big lie that life is a competition we somehow need to win if we want to be significant. When actually, our significance comes not from what we do but from who we are and who’s we are.
As American philosopher and Christian Dallas Willard put it, “You’re an unceasing spiritual being, purposely made, for an eternal future in God’s great universe.” Therefore, you do not need to make a name for yourself in order to become someone special, you already are special, you already have a name, an identity, and it is more precious than anything this world has to offer. And this life that we live is not a competition to be won – it is a privilege and an opportunity to love and to be loved.
This purpose of your life, according to Jesus, is to love, and to be loved. This is what it’s all about. This is the real music that our souls were created to play. To love and to be loved. And it all starts with receiving the love of God.
Jesus not only came into his home, he came into his heart as well
We see this so clearly in the story of the encounter between Jesus and the tax-collector, Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was almost certainly from a religious home. His name means “righteous one”. But, however he might have started off, Zacchaeus was anything but righteous. He was collecting money from his own Jewish people to give to the occupying Romans, and taking a cheeky slice of it for himself on the side.
He was a small man. Possibly easily overlooked, physically. But despite all this, by cleverness, cunning, relentless determination and hard work, Zacchaeus had found a way to become someone significant. He had fought and found a track in life that had allowed him to become very wealthy. He would have had people working under him. As a chief tax collector, he had reached the top of his profession.
Despite all these achievements there must have been something missing in his life because he went to extraordinary lengths to catch a glimpse of Jesus, even climbing a Sycamore tree to see over the crowd.
And Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he was not invisible to Jesus. Jesus knew him and he even knew his name. In a dramatic moment of encounter, Jesus said, ‘Come down immediately’
Zacchaeus at that point had a choice. A simple choice. A choice that we all face in our life. To ignore Jesus or to obey Jesus. To stay up high, or to come down low. Zacchaeus chose to humble himself. He didn’t put it off. He came down from where he was. And Jesus not only came into his home, he came into his heart as well.
And the result: a complete transformation. Zacchaeus says, ‘I will give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’ No longer oriented towards the question: how can I be special, how can I achieve, how can I get ahead. Thanks be to Jesus he now knew, in the depths of his soul, that he was special, that he was significant. That he was seen, recognised, valued and chosen…by God. And the song of his heart became no longer ‘how can I get’, but ‘how can I give?’
Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house’. Salvation means freedom. Soul freedom. And a relationship with Jesus that goes on forever.