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Thirty-One and Still Not-So-Great

May 10, 2012

“And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD.

 Jeremiah 45:5 ESV

Somewhere in the last six weeks I eclipsed my thirty-first year. Despair washed over me. Sickness-unto-death despair. Pre-conscious awareness erupted into painful self-awareness.  Mystery revealed: Alexander the Great, my pre-conscious hero, taunted me with his victory marches across the fertile crescent. A span of thirty years afforded him the modest conquest of the known world, unmatched even in modern history. My tragically mild life so small in comparison. Where was the greatness? Where the conquest? Where the fame? Where the influence? Where the legacy? I secretly drank deep at the well of Alexander’s ego. “If not Alexander, than nothing!” Silly it may seem to you, this hero of mine, silly it seems to me. But dead-serious says my heart. I had failed to measure his greatness, so failed myself. Unable to be rid of my mild successes and modest failures, unable to be rid of myself I despaired.

It’s hard as a Christian to imitate Alexander, no?

Kierkegaard on my malady:

“Thus when the ambitious man whose watchword was ‘Either Caesar or nothing’ does not become Caesar, he is in despair thereat. But this signifies something else, namely, that precisely because he did not become Caesar he now cannot endure to be himself. So properly he is not in despair over the fact that he did not become Caesar, but he is in despair over himself for the fact that he did not become Caesar. This self which, had he become Caesar, would have been to him sheer delight (though in another sense equally in despair), this self is now absolutely intolerable to him. In a profounder sense it is not the fact that he did not become Caesar which is intolerable to him, but the self which did not become Caesar is the thing that is intolerable; or more correctly, what is intolerable to him is that he cannot get rid of himself… By becoming Caesar he would not after all have become himself but have got rid of himself, and by not become Caesar he falls into despair over the fact that he cannot get rid of himself. Hence it is a superficial view (which presumably has never seen a person in despair, not even one’s own self) when it is said of a man in despair, ‘He is consuming himself.’ For precisely this it is he despairs of, and to his torment it is precisely this he cannot do, since by  despair fire has entered into something that cannot burn, or cannot burn up, that is into the self… That self which he despairingly wills to be is a self which he is not (for to will to be that self which one truly is is indeed the opposite of despair); what he really wills is to tear his self away from the Power which constituted it.”

This sickness, despair, is the symptom of envy. The sage says “envy rots the bones.” The Lord says “thou shalt not covet.” Foolish as it may be to envy Alexander, such is the folly of ego. Slow and painful then is the death which the ego must die. A daily death of the self and cross-bearing.

It is ironic that Alexander was finished with is conquests at thirty and at thirty-one Christ was just beginning His. At thirty-three both would be dead. You know the rest of the story. Perhaps then, in me, Alexander will die a thousand more deaths and Christ will rise victorious with each.

“I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ living in me. And the life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Nicholas Perkins permalink
    May 10, 2012 2:25 pm

    Even Caesar wept that he could not be Alexander. Alexander may have wept himself had he known that his campaign into India, which ended in mutiny, would be his last.

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