Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Messiah Complex

“If you don't choose heroes, heroes will be chosen for you.  They will not represent values that empower you; they will represent powers that will enslave you”.  Russell Brand, “My Booky Wook”

Ok, so Russell Brand is not exactly a philosopher one would take seriously.  He is an entertainer.  Speaking to the dangers of what is often referred to as “messiah complex”, however, Brand’s observation goes to the heart of a big empty place in the collective heart of America.  It may also speak to the failure of the American Church (all denominations collectively) to make known the One – the only One - who is the eternally “anointed” of the Most High God (the Living Word become flesh), we of the individual churches being much more concerned with our own agendas in doing whatever it will take to get folks to come to our own church.

The “messiah complex” is understood as a psychological state of mind in which one believes oneself to be, or has a desire to be, the answer to everyone’s prayers (my own summary definition based on several, some professional, observations).  These persons are not necessarily psychologically unstable.  They just have egos that need to be tested and possibly checked.  Given that these individuals will not do so voluntarily (genuine humility does not seem to be among their strong suits), however, it is encumbent on us to vet these pretenders very carefully lest they be allowed to become the “power that will enslave you”.   

The Hebrew word “messiah” itself means “anointed” (“christ” in Greek) and should not be confused with “savior”, as the term itself is not unique to Jesus of Nazareth.  Moses was “anointed” to his special task.  King Saul was “anointed” as was King David, but none were designated a “savior”; only as leaders under The Lord’s sovereign authority.  These men were anointed to unite The Lord’s people and to serve as conduits to The Lord’s provision.  They were to lead The Lord’s people to face their enemies; but by their faith in The Lord’s providence and their willingness to obey The Lord, they would be “saved”. 

Consider also one who is “anointed” to preach.  This “anointing” does not render a preacher a “savior” – far from it!  Within the context of the Church, and according to certain spiritual gifts, it means an individual has been deemed adequately gifted to speak on behalf of the One True Savior – The Lord alone.  This “anointed” person then uses his or her unique gifts and talents to that singular end.  The task to which these are anointed is not about making a congregation feel good about themselves nor the preacher; it is entirely about helping a congregation to feel good enough about The Lord to fully trust in The Word.

The advent of the presidential election season is upon us; and listening to these aspiring candidates and the lofty promises they are already making, we must be especially careful not to jump too quickly on any particular band wagon.  These candidates are self-anointed, and each is speaking strictly in his or her own behalf.  Each one claims to be the answer to all our problems.  The problem with this, however, is that we do not have a multitude of problems even though we face many challenges. 

We as a nation have only a single problem: we are entirely too individually oriented toward self.  In such a state, then, we are likely to believe anyone who strikes a chord with us personally, and that allegiance will be based on little more than stated promises.  We will not demand that these candidates spell out for us exactly how they will attain a certain goal.  We do not care about the details; we only like the idea.  For instance, we may collectively agree Social Security must be reformed for the sake of the whole nation.  We will not agree, however, to take any less than what we believe we are entitled to.

Even beyond this, consider how much time and energy these candidates expend trying to convince us of who is to blame for any and all problems!  Rather than to demand these same candidates show (not tell) us exactly what they will do, we will allow these persons to demonize a political opponent.  We fail to see that such efforts seem more focused on that candidate’s lack of legitimate credentials even as they try to convince us the opponent is really the one who is lacking.  And we fall for it every time.  “Thus they will be known by their fruits.”

In the biblical anointing, each designated “messiah” had a common purpose rather than a unique task for a particular time.  Each was anointed to unite the people; the whole people, not segments of the people.  Moses worked to that end.  King David did, and so did Jesus.  It was never about the individual; it was always about the congregation of the people and building up their confidence in The Lord as a people.  When their faith wavered, the whole people suffered.  When a few rebelled against The Lord’s Law, the whole people suffered.

Yet we are constantly facing self-designated “messiahs” today who are not working to unite us as a nation.  They are much more diligent about not only trying to make us afraid of one another or a whole opposing party (Democrat vs. Republican); they are also trying to convince us that they alone have all the answers.  Too often we let them get away with it because we fall for their empty words, charisma, physical appearance, or family connections.  They are much more likely to tell us what they think we want to hear.  Few have the courage to tell us what we need to know.

Jesus did tell us what we need to know.  Trusting that alone will be our salvation in the end.  All other pretenders are merely seasons to come and go (Ecclesiastes 3).  We will do well to know the difference.

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