Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Whose is that face staring back at me?


“Anyone who needs 50,000 people a night to tell them they’re OK has to have a bit missing. And I do mean that in terms of your sense of self” – Bono

“Everybody’s famous here but nobody’s known.” – U2, Lucifer’s Hands

We live in a society where more and more people don’t know what it is to feel loved just for who they are. When people don’t feel loved unconditionally, they seek affirmation from external sources.

There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but when it becomes our primary way of feeling that we are ok, it becomes a serious problem and we become narcissistic.

Recently I visited my former workplace to see a few people and to do some writing. As I was sitting in the cafe typing away, a stream of people walked past over the next hour and stopped to chat and just ask how I’m going. I’ve never been so glad to be interrupted! It’s nice to feel that affirmation and warmth from old friends.

The problem is though when we rely on affirmation like that for our ultimate sense of wellbeing. A well-rounded sense of self allows you to inherently know that you are made in God’s image and that therefore you don’t need that external affirmation to convince you that you are ok.

Again though, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying affirmation of the type I received at my former workplace. It feels good and that is a good and godly thing. But if I relied on that for what I believed about myself as a person, I would constantly come up disappointed.

Trying to gain affirmation from outside to fill up what is lacking inside ourselves is a problem. Studies in recent years show that more and more children have a life goal of wanting to be famous when they grow up. As this article describes, “Apparently the days are over when children wanted to grow up to be astronauts or policemen or firemen. Now they want to be actors, singers or YouTube personalities.” The problem is when these children become adults who struggle with depression and anxiety because they can’t live out their goal and thus feel like failures.

It goes further. As another article states, Orville Gilbert Brim, author of Look at Me! The Fame Motive from Childhood to Death, says that today’s culture is full of people who don’t want to be famous for a particular talent, they just want to be famous so they can feel better accepted.

Brim points out that “what has happened is the fame motive has come out of the basic human need for acceptance and approval and when this need is not fulfilled because of rejection by parents, or adolescent peer groups, or others, a basic insecurity develops and emerges as the fame motive.”

I have quoted before the following saying from Richard Rohr, but it’s worth quoting again: “humanity can live without success but it cannot live without meaning.” The desire to grow up to be a policeman or fireman is a good goal because it is about doing something with your life that is meaningful. The desire to grow up to be famous for its own sake is not a good goal because you will ultimately feel disappointed with life.

Years ago, Sheila Walsh sang a song which said, “Love me love me is the human cry. Love me love me; never say goodbye.” It is built into us that we long to know that we’re ok, that we matter, that we are inherently significant. Feeling good about ourselves cannot ultimately come from external influences. It does fill a fundamental human need for significance; we do need affirmation from other people, but the human soul needs more. That’s the way we have been made.

When the external affirmation is no longer there and we are alone in our rooms at night, we need to know that we are still ok. We are wired for love, and it is when we know that we are loved by God unconditionally that we are able to love others with that same love. We love because he first loved us.

Loving others. The paradox of Christian faith is that we are filled by giving, by loving. And that power to give comes out a deep conviction that we are significant to God.

Our sense of ultimate wellbeing lies not in attachment to people or things, but in attachment to what 12-Steppers call a Power greater than ourselves. To ask ourselves “who am I?” is the wrong question. The ultimate question is “whose am I?” The answer lies in attachment to God, in the fact that “I’m with Him.” It is that which gives us the power to live a life of love for others, a life of purpose, a life which changes the world.

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  1. Barry Turner

    The song that U2 sing Yahweh is I AM. I remember Smitthy once saying that u don’t have to worry about who u are when u walkk in the shadow of who God is. This has stuck with me this very day particularly when I struggle with my own deficiencies

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