I saw a sign from God as I was walking through a shopping centre this week. Well, to be more accurate, I can’t be sure God put it there, and it was more like an “un-sign.”
Life isn’t about finding yourself
Life is about creating yourself.
According to an internet search, the quote is not attributed to God, but to George Bernard Shaw. It is consistent with Shaw’s atheistic religious views. However, that is not what struck me about the quote.
I wondered why it was on a large mounted poster. Why would anyone feel motivated by it? Why would it be so attractive that a person would give an amount equivalent to many cups of good coffee? I do not think there are many ardent followers of the philosophy of GBS around today.
That led to thoughts about modern culture. Since GBS died in 1950, we have moved from a generation where people dropped out of traditional society in order to find themselves, (Baby Boomers, hippies, and so on in the 60s and 70s) to new generations, more focussed on self-achievement. We import a culture of self-help books and success stories. We entertain notions that a person put out of work is so able to improve themselves that they do not need welfare payments for months. We frequently hear advice that you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it.
In other words, we live in a culture that believes that you can create yourself.
Traditionally, Christianity has taken the opposite view. God created us and continues to create us, as God does all other things in the world. The opening stories of the Bible, in Genesis 1 and 2, are the foundations of this belief. If they are too humdrum, then we have beautifully crafted statements about God’s relationship to us, as in Psalm 139, verses 1-18:
O God, you have searched me and known me ….
For it was you that formed my inward parts …
I come to an end – I am still with you.
(The psalm continues with some very human, and less uplifting, comments.)
What is more, as the psalm suggests, it is God who finds us, not we ourselves. This is the heart of our belief about reconciliation and what motivates us to seek out others (e.g., Romans 5).
The pernicious notion that a person can create themselves is just plain wrong. Many people do not have the power to be the agents of their own creation. Should we hold a person with a mental illness accountable for their state? What power does a trafficked person have to create a better circumstance for themselves? Can a person laid off from a local manufacturing company create a new factory? Certainly, we hear of the occasional success story. This is not the reality for most. Most of us are constrained by our circumstances. We might “make the most of these” but this is a far cry from “creating ourselves.”
“Life is about …” How should we finish this sentence? What does it mean to live? Our quote focusses all attention on the self. In opposition, I would say that living is essentially linked to relating to others. Our model of God is Trinity, the lover, the beloved and the love that binds.
Recently, I asked a friend “What is saving you, now?” He thought for a moment, then replied “My grandchildren” and told me about his Father’s Day present – a trip to a kids’ movie with a grandchild. His mood shifted from one of anxiety to calmness.
Life isn’t about yourself.
Life is about others … with others, for others, supported by others.
I invite you to think about how you live in relation to others.
On a personal note, the last few months have made me very much aware of the relationships I have with others. Thank you for the love and care you have expressed to me in many different ways. They have been life to me.Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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