I happen to be searching for jobs at the moment and spending a lot of time hanging out with my CV and a couple of application forms. Needless to say, they’re not great company. Like a bunch of superficial acquaintances, they politely nod along to my stories and assure me that my head doesn’t look big in this. I know they would never say a bad word about me, but in the grand scheme, they don’t really know me. Because I am more than my achievements.
Are you more concerned with building up virtues for your CV or for your eulogy? I listened to an interesting philosopher this week who discussed this question, describing how, although most people would say they are more concerned with building up good character and deep virtues (i.e. things which are said about you when you die), in reality they are occupied with building up external success. The reason for this is that we have a double nature. Our Adam I nature is worldly ambitious and innovative. It seeks immediate and tangible success. Our Adam II nature is concerned about building deeper virtues, leading to inner consistency and strength. The problem we find ourselves in is that these two natures are at odds because Adam I involves striving to secure rewards, while Adam II involves forgetting yourself to find yourself.
Unfortunately we live in a society which favours Adam I. This means that there is a difference between your desired self and your actual self. I certainly feel this. I would like to be patient, kind and compassionate. I would like to be known for being a genuinely good person rather than for having achieved lots of things. But actually, I spend my time looking for the next skill to conquer.
The philosopher argued that Adam I is developed by building on your strengths. I am good at languages. I will therefore try to learn more languages (this year I’m thinking Arabic!) in order to build on this strength. Adam II on the other hand, is concerned with depth of character and is therefore developed by building on your weaknesses. It is unpopular in our society to recognize weakness and sin, let along wrestle with it, so we are not particularly good at developing Adam II. When we can identify and confront our “signature sin”, the thorn in our side, this builds deeper, longer-lasting character.
The philosopher did not talk about God. But in moments like this I feel that what Jesus taught is as relevant today as it has ever been. Jesus understands and explains our deepest desires to understand our own worth or purpose. He knows our impulse to make the world a better place. The more we wrestle with our inconsistencies and short-comings, the more we realize our deep need for healing. Exactly what Jesus came to do.