Today’s blog is taken from Richard’s new book, The Power of a Humble Life. Order your copy today – books will begin shipping December 8, 2017.
In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker writes about our great need for what he calls “cosmic significance.” He says this need is so powerful that whatever we end up basing our identity on becomes our deity. This need for cosmic significance explains so much of our natural tendency to be full of pride.
Dr. Tim Keller provides profound insight into this need we have for significance and how we allow it to corrupt our lives. Keller addresses this in a commentary on Philippians 2:3, which says,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit . . . The phrase “selfish ambition” actually means “vainglory.” It comes from the Greek word kenodoxia. The word doxa means “glory.” The word kenodoxia means a person is empty or starving for glory. Paul warns against selfish ambition, while acknowledging we are naturally hungry for glory.
In the Bible, the word “glory” means importance. It means “to matter.” Fundamentally we are haunted by a deep fear that our lives don’t really matter. Keller says the worst thing for a human being is not being disliked or vilified but instead being ignored and considered insignificant. The human heart fears being so unimportant and worthless in the eyes of others that our lives don’t matter to the people around us. For this reason, though we may not be aware of it, every human heart in its deepest recesses is seeking extensive glory.
We are driven to win the approval of others because we are starved for glory. A real and fundamental instability resides in our hearts because it is so easy to feel small and insignificant. As a result, we constantly look for ways to convince the world and ourselves that we matter and that our lives are important.
Vanity Fair magazine featured an interesting interview with pop icon Madonna in which you can see this desire for cosmic significance. Madonna commented:
I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy . . . I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. . . Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove that I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.
From this interview, you can see Madonna’s fear of being mediocre and of losing her status as a music icon. The ultimate fear of all human beings is to be a nobody and not matter to anyone.
So how do we handle this dilemma? We take matters into our own hands and seek to glorify ourselves. We travel through life on an unending quest to prove to the world our lives matter and that we are important. What better way to do that than to prove we are better or superior to those around us? This striving lies at the heart of pride and arrogance. However, even if we do find the success and fame that make us feel significant, we still have to deal with the reality that these will eventually fade. They will not last because we are disintegrating. We yearn for a glory that is permanent, but our lives are slowly passing away.
We will never find peace and contentment in this life until we come to terms with this conundrum. The ultimate solution is humility. The humble are continually at peace with who they are in the eyes of others. They are content with their position in life and what they possess. The humble are the only ones who are delivered from this great drive to prove to the world that “I am important!”