“Ye shall be as gods.”’ Gen. 3:5 (KJV)
“You shall be as gods.” This was the deception that so appealed to Adam and Eve that they were willing to confuse their humanity in favour of what seemed to be a better deal for their lives. How are we similarly tempted by such flattery in our lives? How do we fall prey to the deceptive spirit that says to us, “You should be as gods?”
We all carry images of ourselves that can be said to be divine projections of who we wish we were. Maybe you call it your ideal self—a projection of the person you think you ought to be. Maybe it applies to your ideal body, your ideal status, your ideal of how you should act, or how people should relate to you. Sometimes this is a good thing. But more often than not it involves a blanket rejection of our humanity, a denial of the very God-given earthiness of who we truly are.
We all have difficulty accepting aspects of our humanity that fall short of the ideals we carry for ourselves. There is of course nothing wrong with bettering yourself in life. But if this comes from a spirit of guilt, or from anxieties we feel over the inadequacies of being human, it is certainly not the spirit by which God leads us. It is more likely the voice of the accuser appealing to an inordinate sense of God-envy. Tempted with its allure we risk succumbing to the very same suggestion that trapped our first parents: “You really should be more like gods.”
Our idealized images of ourselves diminish us. And then we wonder why we lack inner peace. The opposite of self-acceptance is to be anxious about the self that we are. This might seem like basic pop psychology but, at its core, lies a fundamental theological error regarding our true sense of self. And such errors always bear bad fruit in us.
There are two ways that the rejection of our humanity do so. On the one hand, projections of our perfect self often puff us up. We all know people who are “legends in their own minds.” Perhaps we too at times overly relate to our ideal self in ways that appeal to our vanity. Refusing to accept ourselves as anything less than we think we should be, we also project our idealized self onto others. We are afraid of letting them see us in our unfinished state. Because we reject our own poverty of spirit, we assume that others too will likely reject it. All this because we have believed the original lie that “you should be more than what God made you to be.”
The other way that the ideal self erodes our soul is by the sense of failure and guilt we feel when we are so painfully aware of how we fall short of that ideal. We end up loathing our poverty of spirit in the false belief that we should really be more divine than we are. We reject ourselves as we are, and this sets us up for a life of conditional love. Whenever we live up to our ideal persona we love ourselves, but we loathe who we are when we fall short of it. And that’s clearly not how God loves you—God, whose heart is most moved by compassion precisely because of our poverty of spirit. And so should we also be moved to accept with compassion the very poverty that Jesus calls a blessed state.
What do you wrestle with in your sense of self that prevents you from fully accepting of your humanity? What would it mean for you to embrace your poverty of spirit? What would help you to accept the humus of who you are with the same compassion that God does?
Embracing the reality of our creaturehood sets us free from the lies of the imaginary, ideal self. Let us welcome the earthiness of our lives as something that God has not only created, but also loves.
“Reverence stands in awe of something—something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits. When we stop trying to act like gods ourselves, we will be led to the proper reverence of the creature for its Creator.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World