Two poems today that I’d like to talk about:
The first one is “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson:
The second is “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
Reflecting upon both of these classics, it’s fascinating how perceptive they are to the human condition. As the result of some careful soul searching the past two weeks or so, it has occurred to me how as post-Genesis 3 humans, we have the seemingly paradoxical yet uncanny dual-capacity for pride and insecurity. I was having a discussion with my father and we were talking about some of the latest SBC politics and I was quietly noticing to myself the pervasive, blatant pride and insecurity in so many prominent figures while at once realizing how I have just as much of a problem as they do, only without the public spotlight with which to make such faults known to the masses.
Two very prominent figures long ago were overcome by pride with the simple assurance of a serpent that they would “be like God.” Such pride gave way to the pursuit of an empty promise of false glory. But only moments later they were found hiding amidst bushes because they were terrified and ashamed as a result of the failure of their pride to deliver on that promise.
Any pursuit that does not glorify God glorifies Satan. It’s far too easy to look at others and think they’ve got it figured out while you’re a miserable, worthless stain on the face of human existence. Of course, it’s just as easy to have the exact opposite view and think yourself to be great because of your own achievements or the press clippings with your name in the headlines.
My mother happens to be a fount of wisdom and insight. Something she recently told me while discussing these very issues is worth repeating here: It’s easy to have a low view of ourselves and a high view of others because we know ourselves better than we know others. You know your own sin. You don’t know the sin of the great men of God who speak at the conferences or have popular ministries, or write tons of books. If you did, you’d likely have a worse view of them than you would yourself. Why? Because you’re sick with pride. I know this because I’m talking about myself. This happens when we downplay sin in others.
Likewise, it’s easy to have a high view of ourselves and a low view of others when we downplay sin in ourselves.
Comparing ourselves to others and hoping for glory from men is a wicked means to an evil lie. It will only end in despair, emptiness, and alienation. We must never forget who we are, where we have come from, and where Christ takes us apart from any contribution on our behalf.
Don’t think you’re above this just because you’re not a denominational glad-hander, or a popular pastor, etc. Don’t think that you’re not just as susceptible as a seminary student, as a gas station clerk, as a friend, as a homemaker, or whatever.
If you forget who you were and who Christ is making you, along with every other co-heir, then you’ve lost perspective.
John Calvin echoed these timeless truths gracefully:
So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity. (Institutes, I.I.2)