The stereotype of the schizophrenic is a poor soul beleaguered by a cacophony of voices telling him what to do. But we all now are subject to imperative messages from sources that do not have our best interests at heart.
Some of these are commercial, which foster the spiritual pathology of consumerism. “I alone matter, and I alone shall decide what is best for Me, Me, Me! So, ah, what shall I select? Oh, right. What you told me to buy….”
Some of these are social, whether this or that parent, this or that coach or teacher or director or other authority figure, this or that corporate culture or team attitude or church culture or other groupthink. Voices, voices, voices in our heads—and silent, but powerful, forces in our hearts.
Many of these commands, alas, are not merely manipulative, advancing their own interests at our expense. Some are truly cruel: dangling ideals before us that are impossible to actualize, demanding standards that no real person can achieve, and denouncing us for our inevitable failures to perform so as to earn the esteem of these malignant judges.
Prof. John Barclay of the University of Durham in the UK has recently gifted us with a popular-level précis of his splendid work on the theme of grace in the writings of the Apostle Paul, Paul and the Power of Grace (Eerdmans, 2020). Most of the book is what it ought to be: straightforward exposition of this theological theme: God’s unconditioned gift to us of salvation in its many splendours. At the end of this book, however, Professor Barclay looks up from his notes to survey our world, and what he sees compels him to urge us again to receive the good news he has seen in Paul.
We live in an age when self-esteem, or self-worth, is under intense pressure, especially among young people. Indeed, research in Western societies shows that crises of self-worth have reached epidemic proportions. Schools, colleges, counselors, churches, and health workers report a sharp and shocking rise in the number of people suffering anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and loss of self-esteem. These elements manifest in numerous ways: self-harm, panic attacks, eating disorders, sleep disorders, obsessive behavior, suicidal thoughts, and, tragically, suicide. The problem has multiple roots, but it seems to be exacerbated by social media, with its requirement to project an attractive self-image in popularity, appearance, body-shape, and success. The combination of impossibly high expectations and fragile egos is a recipe for distress. In an age when people fear the judgement of their peers more than the judgement of God, we have become increasingly petulant, critical, even cruel, and it is proving hard to take. [Emphasis added]
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