Monday, March 14, 2011

Harden Hearts and Tall Walls

Imagine two chains attached to two horizontally-laying walls, and it is the weightlifter’s goal to pull the chains inward to raise the walls vertically and retain the position for as long as possible. While he is succeeding, all his muscles are strained and are rigidly defined, but eventually he will fatigue and let go of the chains. (If you are healthy and want to experience something similar, attempt a standing lateral deltoid raise with dumbbells suspended in the air.) When he lets go, his release will occur with a passionate display of exhaustion. He will heave greatly and even yell from the pain. Despite all his efforts to persist, the walls will fall back to the ground.

I have seen men attempt this feat in The World’s Strongest Man competition, and even the “strongest man” cannot keep the walls up forever. He wins by holding them up longer than all his competitors, but he is equally fatigued like his peers when it is over, and cannot exert the same force again until he is fully rested. Now if I step back and think about how many men can actually qualify for the competition, I cannot think a high number. Statistically speaking, men that do qualify have an abnormal body image compared to the rest of the world—the common Joe is not bulky enough to lift over 300lbs—and it is unto this analogy that our discussion about pride begins.

The glamour of weightlifting is in the building of strength, and the glamour of pride is in the building of egoism. Both are centered on building the self, but it is only pride that tries to build self-sufficiency. The weightlifter does not try to be independent from his energy source; he knows he will always need nourishment and sleep to stay strong. However, the proud person thinks he does not need God; he is like the weightlifter exerting all effort to keep his walls erect. If the walls are pride and gravity is the Holy Spirit, this is how a proud person experiences the strain of resisting God.

The taller the walls, the more room one has to hang pictures of oneself. Some people spend their entire lives hanging pictures, awards, and signs of self-notoriety in front of their faces, but how difficult it is to be concerned with the ugliness and failures of others when beautiful self-portraits, perfect accomplishments and bronzed compliments are staring back. These things by themselves are not wrong, but in the words of C.S. Lewis: “We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking than others there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 110).
Not that we venture to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Cor 10:12).
Obviously if a man spends his entire time comparing himself to others, he does not have much time to know God. Jesus prophesied that He would say to some, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23), and I suspect that is because He was never invited by those to know the “inner man” (Eph 3:16) living behind the walls. If a man persists in living behind walls, even until death, he surely intends to forever keep the barrier between himself and God. God will respect that eternal separation -- God does not violate free will -- and will solemnly allow the obstinate man to be forever strained under the interior pressure of his ego.