by Ethan R. Longhenry
The ancient Greeks told the story of Narcissus, a young man quite proud of himself and of his appearance, who had little care and love for those who loved him. One day he saw his reflection in the waters of a pool; he fell in love with the reflection, apparently not aware it was of himself, refused to turn his gaze away from it, and died there.
Narcissus’ story has been used ever since as a warning to people regarding falling so in love with themselves that others are entirely forgotten. Narcissus’ name is now used for an ever growing tendency in modern culture: narcissism.
Narcissism is best understood as an attempt to satisfy one’s vanity, continually displaying self-absorption and proclaiming one’s perceived superiority in various attributes. One could rightly consider modern Western culture as the “Age of Narcissism.” The philosophy of the day exalts the individual as the godlike determiner of what is right and what is wrong. Since self-promotion is the surest way to get noticed in a competitive job market and business environment, those with narcissistic inclinations seem to get further than those who display more humility. The cult of celebrity is all about the formation of narcissists; we see far too many young people grow up on television before our very eyes becoming ever more self-absorbed, immoral, and thus intolerable. Marketing promotes narcissism, knowing that the more you feel honored by a retailer or brand or entitled to a given product, the more likely you will buy. Social media invites everyone to participate in narcissistic behavior: your profile is your way of telling the world about you, giving you the opportunity to post what you think and what is going on in your life. We need look no further than the increased popularity of the “selfie”: “Narcissus” can now show the world everywhere he goes, everyone with whom he meets, and it is without a doubt because his face is always there.
Truly the “pride of life” is manifest today in narcissistic behavior (1 John 2:15-17); the easiest thing for us to do is to go with the flow of our world and our culture and become ever more enveloped in narcissism. But is narcissism ideal? Should we be excessively in love with ourselves?
The world is filled with arrogance and pride, but it would not be so among those who made up the Kingdom of God (Matthew 20:25-28, 23:12, 1 John 2:15-17). Jesus Himself should be the model and pattern for those who would follow Him. He spent His life in service to others, even unto death (1 Peter 2:18-25, 1 John 2:1-6, 3:16-18, 4:7-21).
We ought to recognize the vanity and futility of narcissism. We are not God; we all fall short. We cannot think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but remain humble and seek to find ways to serve others and to consider their interests and needs (Romans 12:3, Philippians 2:1-11).
Narcissus proves to be a good warning to us: life cannot revolve around how awesome I think that I am. Instead, we should seek to serve others for God’s glory, and find ourselves far more satisfied than we ever could while wallowing in self-absorption. Let us resist narcissism and instead serve God in Christ!
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