|December 15, 1998|
|Archive | Subscribe to Nehemiah Notes | Blaine Smith's Books | Support NM | Home|
"We must resign ourselves to this indissoluble connection between . . . the person and its personages. For we are not only one personage throughout our lives; we are innumerable personages. At each new encounter we show ourselves different; with one friend we are the serious thinker; with another, the wag; we change our demeanor to suit each new situation. We are even many personages at once. . . .
"The tension that always exists between the person and the personage is one of the conditions of our life, and we must accept it. It is part of the nature of man--indeed, it is what makes him a man."*
When we turn to Scripture, we find interesting support for the conclusions that Harvey and Tournier reach, and many other helpful insights besides.
To begin with, the Scriptures stress emphatically that genuine impostors do exist, and warnings about them permeate the Bible. ("Genuine impostors?" Well, that's the limitation of our language!) Examples abound of false prophets, cagey magicians, unscrupulous rulers, and religious leaders who use the guise of spiritual power to dominate others and further their own selfish ends. The Bible minces no words in condemning those who are real impostors, and in warning us to beware of their menace.
"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely." (Lk 20:46-47)
On a less condemning note, Scripture gives examples of individuals who, with good intentions, entertained taking on roles which were not truly suited to their individuality. David wanted with all his heart to build the temple for God. Yet God responded that he lacked the right temperament for the task, which was to await the reign of his son, Solomon (1 Chron 17:3-12, 22:6-10). The demon-possessed man from the Gerasenes whom Jesus healed longed to travel with him; Jesus, though, told him that he should return to his home town, and tell everyone there what Jesus had done for him (Lk 8:38-39).
But at the other extreme, the Bible is flooded with examples of individuals who fulfilled God's will by taking on various roles--roles which probably did not seem fully natural to them at first, and in some cases may never have. We see graphic instances of individuals who were clearly uncomfortable with the early stages of a role into which God called them. Moses and Jeremiah were both frightened of public speaking (Ex 4:10-13, Jer 1:6; terrified is probably the better word in Moses' case). Gideon suffered from such low self-esteem that he was incredulous at the angel's assertion that he was the right man to lead Israel's army against Midian (Judg 6:15). We infer from the various times that Paul exhorted Timothy not to be afraid, to rekindle his gift or to apply himself to his pastoral task, that Timothy was timid in his pastoral identity, and may well have suffered some impostor feelings--this in spite of the fact that he is set forth as the prototype of a good pastor in the New Testament! (See, for instance, 1 Tim 4:12, 4:14-15, 5:23; 2 Tim 1:7, 1:8; compare 1 Cor 16:10.)
While Moses, Jeremiah and Gideon seemed to get over their initial uneasiness as they became acclimated to their roles, Timothy apparently continued to feel insecure and needed frequent propping up from Paul. It is interesting, though, that God never allowed these men to cave in to the awkwardness they felt; it was never a reason to assume they were not qualified in God's sight to carry out the role in question.
It's in the same spirit that the New Testament exhorts us in various places to understand our gifts, and to give our closest attention to developing and using them. To do so invariably requires assuming some new roles, both as we cultivate a gift and as we apply it in new situations. The chances are good that we will experience some impostor feelings as we adjust to new roles and identities that aren't yet natural to us. Yet never does the New Testament tell us to hold back from using our gifts because of these feelings.
Rather we are told emphatically, "If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it" (Rom 12:6-8, Phillips).
And in case there is any doubt that it is okay for us as Christians to assume different personas in different situations, there is the extreme example of Paul, who proclaimed, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:22). We have evidence that Paul sometimes felt profoundly uneasy in roles he took on (1 Cor 2:3-5). While he never declared that all believers are required to go to his extreme of adapting to diverse cultural situations, his example does suggest convincingly that some modifying of our outward persona is not only permitted, but will probably be needed as we seek to realize our full potential for Christ.
Role Playing in Scripture
Of greatest interest to me personally, though, are those instances in Scripture where individuals actually did play-act in order to make a point or accomplish a goal, and fooled others in the process, yet are not presented as being out of God's will in doing so. There is the moving episode where Joseph's brothers come to him in Egypt to seek grain during a famine; for some time he doesn't let on that he is their long-abandoned sibling, but lets them assume he is merely an Egyptian official (Gen 42:1-45:15). Then there is the incident where the prophet Nathan, with a straight face, tells David a fabricated story of a rich man who has stolen a poor man's only possession--a beloved ewe lamb--as a creative technique for leading David to a point of personal brokenness over his stealing Bathsheba and arranging for the murder of her husband (2 Sam 2:1-12).
Or consider the occasion where David pretends to be insane in order to escape capture by King Achish--foaming at the mouth and scratching at a gate with his hands (1 Sam 21:12-15). Here he acts in an unquestionably deceptive manner, and we might think he had to be violating God's perfect will in doing so. Yet, intriguingly, David wrote Psalm 34 to celebrate the victory God gave him in this incident, and in that Psalm he shows no remorse for his play-acting, but implies that through it God enabled him to escape capture by a tyrant. Particularly interesting is the fact that he also declares in this psalm, "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit" (v. 13 RSV). This would suggest that he did not think of feigning madness in this case as inconsistent with living a life free of deceit.
Of course, the lesson of the incident is not that we have a license to behave in a deceptive way toward others as our general manner of lifestyle. But the possibility is not ruled out by Scripture, either, at least in certain extreme situations where we might be dealing with a fundamentally cruel or irrational person, and our where own safety or someone else's is at stake (compare Prov 26:4-5).
But, in a more general way, we can take encouragement from David's example of feigning madness simply because it's so extreme compared to the role situations where we typically judge ourselves as fraudulent. I think this incident helps us put our own situations in a more healthy perspective, and jars us into realizing that our own "role playing" is usually mild in comparison with the level of play-acting involved in this case. And David apparently was not acting contrary to God's will.
In short, we need to learn to live the Christian life courageously. On the one hand, we should examine ourselves very honestly, seeking to understand our own hearts and motives as thoroughly as possible. We should boldly ask God to do whatever is needed to purify our intentions and to make our hearts pliable before him. As we come to recognize ways in which we are clearly living in a deceptive manner, or disregarding Christ's standards, we must make the changes that are necessary.
At the same time, we need just as courageously to take bold steps to realize our potential for Christ. We should seek to understand our gifts and temperament as best as we can, strive to develop our abilities, and look for the best opportunities available for investing our gifts and developing relationships. We should accept that in this process we will probably experience some impostor feelings at times, for with personal growth invariably come some journeys through untrodden territory. The fact that we feel less than authentic in a role doesn't necessarily mean we are sinning, acting contrary to God's will, or violating our true inner self. It may simply be that we aren't living up to our own unrealistic standards. There are times when we fail to live up to our own ideals and yet fulfill God's quite well.
Even when our motives are less than
perfect, we usually give God the best opportunity to
purify them as we stay in motion. God's pattern for the
Christian life is that we do take on some roles. Here, we
need to make the best choices we can and move on. I agree
"Instead of turning our backs on the outside world and concentrating on our own inner life, where the true nature of the person always eludes us, we must look outward, toward the world, toward our neighbor, toward God. We must boldly undertake the formation of a personage for ourselves, seeking to form it in accordance with our sincerest convictions, so that it will express and show forth the person that we are."*
|Back to Top | Nehemiah Notes Archive | About Nehemiah Notes | Home|
|Books by Blaine Smith | About Nehemiah Ministries and Blaine Smith|
1998 Nehemiah Ministries, Inc.
PO Box 448, Damascus, MD 20872
E-mail Blaine Smith or Nehemiah Ministries