John Claypool draws on a medieval fable to illustrate, amongst other things, how circumstances often subvert our sense of self. In ‘The Stories Jesus Still Tells’, he tells of a tiger cub that is raised by goats because its mother died in childbirth. When in later years the cub encounters an older tiger, rather than growl, it bleats. The older tiger senses that something has gone terribly wrong. He leads the cub to a brook to see its reflection in the water. Understandably the cub has a fright of its life. It looks nothing like a goat. Thereafter starts a program of reorientation. This, Claypool reckons, is the Ministry of Jesus.
Scripture is full of characters who were ‘persuaded’ by circumstances to settle for much less than God put in them. Gideon, God’s ‘mighty man of valour’, protested that he was the least of the least in Israel. Jeremiah, chosen, anointed from the womb and “set…over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant”,1Jeremiah 1:10 said he was only a child.
“If one has to be more than he is in order to be somebody, he will never be anybody.”
This sort of personality ‘dysmorphia’ exerts a lasting power over all who succumb to it. It forces some to take precipitous steps that have the potential to confuse their purposes and scupper their destinies. It pressures folks to underestimate their natural abilities and trip at the first hurdle.
Take Moses for instance. Moses had a rude awakening as his vision of his part in delivering Jews under Egyptian yoke hit reality. When those he envisioned himself liberating turned on him, he discovered that life didn’t always play out to script. Reading his encounter with the angel who called him out of a burning bush, you don’t get to appreciate how heaven had contrived his upbringing to equip him with tools for his mission. The self-doubt that characterised his response to the angel is a far cry from the man who experimented with rebellion by stealth.
A Holy Ghost-filled St Stephen said:
“And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” 2Acts 7:22
But Moses said:
“O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” 3Exodus 4:10
Never mind that his slow tongue did not stop talking throughout Deuteronomy, he had bought into a lie that he was lacking in critical abilities. It is this complex in Eve that the serpent exploited. It assured her that she would become whom she already was if she ignored divine instructions. It said she would be as the gods if she ate the forbidden fruit. But scripture says:
“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” 4Psalm 82:6
A distorted perception of one’s self, the feeling of being inadequate and wanting more, one’s view of being or desiring to be something or someone else run contrary to the divine assessment of our estate at the point of creation. The bible says:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” 5Genesis 1:31
Life is structured to purpose. The faculties required for our purposes are hardwired into our being. Adam and Eve had dominion to manage the created world. They did not need a sixth sense. Moses had the rod required to cleave rocks, to turn rivers into streams of blood and to split seas, he didn’t need eloquence.
The Lord will not ask why are you not someone else. The question will be ‘Why are you not you?
The feeling of not being or having enough feeds a negative sense of self that drives folks to despair and desperation. The parable of the talents tells the story of the one who buries the only talent he is given because all else have more. When it comes to reckoning, he falls short of the mark set for him and draws the displeasure of the Lord of his calling. The point is that at the end of the day the Lord will not ask why are you not someone else. The question will be ‘Why are you not you?’.
The Lord illustrated this point in the gospel of John. He shut Peter up when the latter became fixated on what God had in mind for another disciple.
“Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper….Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” 6John 21:20-22
The gulf between a sense of low self-esteem and a knowledge of one’s purpose and the ‘gifts’ that God has given for such a purpose is at the root of what grew into a generational conflict in scripture.
God had conferred the blessing of Abraham on Jacob. But Jacob coveted the blessing of Esau. He went through an elaborate scheme of deception to acquire a ‘blessing’ that added no value to his purpose. His calling was to be a blessing to the world. Esau’s calling was to be a blessing to himself. Jacob worked hard to possess something much less than God put in him. When he evaluated his own journey in life, he was filled with a sense of futility.
“And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” 7Genesis 47:9
In his so-called few and evil days, he left much worse behind. Generations to come sought vengeance and wrecked havoc as a result. Esau’s descendants persecuted Jacob’s descendants for thousands of years. The matter was settled by a perpetual divine curse on the children of Esau. 8Malachi 1:3-4
The point of this is not simply about being a mighty, anointed, liberator. As Claypool quotes from Concepts of Personality, “if one has to be more than he is in order to be somebody, he will never be anybody”. Therefore, the question we must ask ourselves is, “What have I become? Who am I called to return to being?”
Life is structured to purpose. The faculties required for our purposes are hardwired into our being.
There are doors to our hearts that we must shut to the enemy. Cain failed to shut that door and we all know how that ended. 9Genesis 4:7 The conversation about who we are must be had with heaven only. All his life David was derided for being a Mamzer (a child from a forbidden relationship) by society, 10https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/280331/jewish/Nitzevet-Mother-of-David.html
his siblings despised him, 11Psalm 69:8 and his father was reluctant to present him to Samuel. 121Samuel 16:5-11 But David did not allow them to diminish his perception of himself. He went on to affirm his worth in the most glorious terms:
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” 13Psalm 139:14
David spoke for us all.