Wednesday, April 9, 2014

To thine own self be true. . .

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher quoted Shakespeare to us as an admonition against wandering eyes looking on someone else's paper during a test.  To thine own self be true.  It was her thinking that she might not be able to combat the quick and easy benefit of cheating but she might provoke a crisis of conscience in the offender.  Maybe it worked.  I don't know.  I was a Lutheran.  Guilt was not a stranger to me.  I lived in fear of being caught more than even the punishment.  I was scared of my parents finding out.  I did not cheat because I knew it to be wrong; I did not cheat because I was afraid of the consequences.

Now almost fifty years later the idea of being true to one's self has taken on a completely different connotation.  To thine own self be true has become be honest about who you are and what you desire and let these things shape and define you as a person.  Gay Bishop Gene Robinson's defense of gay marriage begins with a brief bio.  He tells us that he and his wife had an amicable separation after deciding that he could no longer live honestly as a gay man in a heterosexual union.  In other words, true to self meant suffering for his wife, his children, and his church.  But that is okay because it is better to be true to your self than to deny yourself, love and serve others before yourself.

His story is no different than the New Jersey Governor who found he could no longer live as a gay man in a heterosexual marriage and so he found the courage to be true to himself, come out, and end his marriage, cause his wife and children to suffer, and give up being governor.  McGreevey and Robinson are not alone.  You do not have to be gay to come to the idea that being true to yourself is the highest and most noble goal of life.  There are countless heterosexuals who have bought into the same idea.  My desires, my wants, my goals, my happiness -- these are the highest and most noble causes for my life.  Everything else must live in submission to my desires, wants, and happiness.

Robinson tells us that the reason one-night stands are wrong is that they are risky to our own hearts and to our selves.  In other words, they are not moral wrongs -- no, the only moral wrong is not to be true to yourself.  Millions of straight people agree.  One night stands (sex without consequences) are not wrong in the sense of, well, wrong.  They are wrong because they cannot do for you what you need, what you really want, and what you deserve.  If you loved yourself more, you would not harm yourself in these ways.  So, sin is failing to be true to yourself, failing to honor your self, failing to love your self, failing to accept your self, and failing to give yourself real happiness.

This is the psychobabble that gets written and read, preached and heard in so many places -- including churches that call themselves Christian.  But this is in complete opposition to the Gospel and the Law, to the Word and Will of God, and to the Christian faith.  It is nothing less than the first commandment broken, chopped up into little pieces and buried in the back yard.  It is the original sin that Adam and Eve chose not simply for themselves but for all who followed them.  It is making yourself your god, your idol, and making your feelings, your happiness, and your wants the sacraments and means of grace for this self-worship.

It is easy to see this in Gene Robinson's pitiful selection of lies, half-truths, and anecdotal accounts of gay life.  It is much more difficult to see in the people who may feel they got their sexual orientation right but who have used this ridiculous idea to justify harming husband or wife, children or parents, employer or co-worker, neighbor or stranger -- all in pursuit of the elusive goal of self-fulfillment and personal happiness.

I wish it was easy enough to combat with the favorite counseling words of an old friend:  Get over it!  But it takes much more than this.  It takes the Son of God in human flesh and blood.  It takes the cross that kills and the death which gives life.  It takes the water that offers death to the old Adam and the new birth of a person in whom Christ lives.  It takes the Word that delivers what it says whether you believe it or not.  It takes the bread that hides Christ's body and the cup that holds His blood.  It takes the Lord at work by the power of His Spirit or we would all be given over the ordinary conclusion of the true self that is nothing more than death warmed over.

Over the years I have gotten over my sixth grade teacher's attempt to appeal to the true self to be good.  I know her intention was good.  Every noble intention is born of good.  But original sin exposes the fallacy of it all.  I don't need to be true to me -- that is a dead end.  I need to be true to the God who made me.  And that can only happen where Christ has intervened and prepared the way.  By His death and resurrection my Lord has given me a higher truth than self -- the love that has redeemed me and born me of water and the Spirit to be a new man created in Christ for something more important than happiness -- for the good works that glorify God and show forth the genuineness of my faith.  So my wife is not a burden to my self-fulfillment but the very place where I live out my baptismal vocation of loving as I have been loved.  My kids are not distractions from my self-interest but the very arena in which my baptismal calling is lived out.  Service and sacrifice are not in competition with my self-interest but, in Christ, the means through we live out the new self-interest created in me in my baptism.  Luther's Table of Duties frames this out well.  To thine own self be true. . . not really.  He died for all that those who live should not live for themselves but for Him who died for them. 


ginnie said...

These comments are so good to read, take to heart and pass on. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

There is another reason not to cheat, ego.

I see this with my son. He wishes to see himself as good. Those who choose to suffer rather than make others suffer are also caught in original sin. When we see our own suffering as virtue rather than the consequence of our own sin, we sin.