While walking to a class earlier today, an odd question popped into my mind:
Would you rather live forever in obscurity or die and be remembered by posterity?
I thought for some time about this question. I value existing. Who doesn’t? Its really quite fantastic stuff, but an unmarked existence seems rather hallow when compared to one that is remembered. Actually, I suppose this value judgment actually depends on what I would be remembered for. Let’s just assume that I would be remembered for precisely the things that I would like to be remembered for: insight, the ability to convey that insight in a way that engages and inspires others, and a devotion to God that directs that insight towards things Divine.
Assuming that this is what I’d be remembered for, the choice is surprisingly easy. I would choose death and remembrance over life and obscurity. Why? For me, obscurity is synonymous with ineffective kingdom building and remembrance with making an impact for the kingdom. These, however, are not the only reasons for my choice. The fact of the matter is that I desire remembrance and recognition for their own sake.
There’s something deep inside of me that longs to be one of the next greats. I want to be the next Martin Luther or David Hume or Soren Kierkegaard or C.S. Lewis or Rob Bell or whoever! This something has existed inside of me for quite long enough. It is time for that part of me to die, but how can such a thing happen?
The dictates of the Divine lead me precisely onto the path on which I will be faced with this temptation, i.e., I feel called to professional philosophy. How, then, can I be rid of this idolatrous part of myself? How can I genuinely say to myself “It does not matter if I live in obscurity or fame. It matters if God receives glory?” How can I learn to make this truth my own?
This problem, it turns out, is not actually an isolated incident. There are many other spheres in my life that, to a lesser degree, are lived for their own sake and not for God’s glory. Maybe this is somehow related to Jesus’ warning.
John’s Jesus says this warning in a way that is slightly different from the other synoptics, a way that stands out to me in these musings. This slightly different language (“hate his life” as opposed to “loose his life” in the synoptics) makes more explicit what we are doing when we decide to follow Jesus. In deciding to loose our old lives we are making a decision that that life is less valuable than the new life. This should have been obvious to me when I read the first account of Jesus’ sayings in the synoptics, but for some reason it took John’s wording for me to catch it.
Lately, it seems that many great truths are truths that are seen clearly for what they are when they are finally seen. In other words, there is little controversy over great truths, but there are also few who have the acumen to see those great truths. I clearly do not have that acumen, but I thankful that John did. I am glad that he spelled it out for me here.
I can conclude with confidence knowing that I have, at least, reached a promising question: How can I go about valuing my old life less?