As a student in the secular academy — wait. No. If Plato was right (and I think he was spot on here), then whether a student of the secular academy or a fireman or a pastor, I am lured by ever-glistening immortal fame.
Every one of us, no matter what he does, is longing for the endless fame, the incomparable glory that is theirs, and the nobler he is, the greater his ambition, because he is in love with the eternal.
And did you know, the sweet singing of Homer’s sirens was not dangerous for its beautiful melodic quality. Rather, the song of the sirens was tempting because they sang of Odysseus’ glory and promised wisdom and knowledge (which, for the Homeric Greek, meant glory).
‘Come here,’ they sang, ‘renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song — and he who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the whole world.
This is the way of the world. From Homer to Plato to Paul. To me. If left unchecked, I crave glory for my wisdom and my knowledge. But, problematically, this flies in the face of the real, eternal glory of the living God. And I know this. For indeed, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Last summer I spent a couple of months in Kenya, staffing the InterVarsity Global Project. One particular morning, while bumping along in a rickety matatu (Kenya’s crazy public transit vehicle) headed into Nairobi for a day’s work, I had decided to read through 2 Timothy. As I entered the second chapter I read these words:
You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
Without missing a beat I thought to myself, “If I don’t get entangled in the affairs of this life, like the academic life, how will I get famous?” Yeah. I’m being brutally honest here. But that thought was immediately followed by, “What is that! God help me with this lust for glory!” I closed my Bible, looked up, and my gaze fell, directly and securely, on a handful of huge red block letters scrawled upon a large cream colored concrete building.
MY FATHER WILL HONOR THE ONE WHO SERVES ME. JOHN 12.26
It stops my heart even now as I write this. When I first saw that red paint on that building along the outskirts of Nairobi, it felt as if God had dropped that concrete building, letters and all, onto my chest. “I will honor you.”
I am constantly tempted by the desire for worldly fame and affirmation. If I’m honest, that is one of the underlying reasons I began writing publicly. Sure, I wanted to give my thoughts room to explore via public domain, but the desire to be noticed was — and is — certainly difficult to tear away. However, when I come to a quiet place and I’m left with my awareness and the reality of God, I am reminded of the beautiful, pure and ultimate honor given by the Artist of Life himself. There’s tremendous freedom in that knowledge. I eagerly await the day when — trusting that I endure to the end with his help — he takes my head in his hands and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You served my Son, and I honor you eternally.” The fame and affirmation of men and women will surely die with death, but the honor of God goes on without end. It’s a tough world out there, not least for the meek and humble.