My sister Sarah went to a small college where real professors taught the classes. Her history advisor was Professor Petrovich. He was born in Yugoslavia and taught Eastern European History.
Petrovich was also always late. One day he was really late, late for a plane flight. He raced down the freeway at ninety-three miles an hour. A police car began to chase him with sirens wailing, but he kept going. Soon half a dozen police cars joined the pursuit, and they forced him off the road.
He leapt out of the car and he bellowed at the surrounding officers:
I am the official interpreter for the President of the United States. I’ve got to catch a plane. If I miss that plane, President Carter will be humiliated, and President Tito dishonored. I’ve got to get to the airport now!
The officers stared at each other, dashed back to their cars, and chaperoned the professor to the airport in a motorcade of flashing lights and wailing sirens, as though they were escorting the president himself. It was the ride of the professor’s life.
Professor Petrovich told the story to my sister one day after class. He concluded in his thick accent: “Sawah, the moral of the story is, ‘When you lie, lie B-E-E-E-G!’”
The World Lies B-E-E-E-G
Several years ago, New York Times writer David Brooks heard an old radio broadcast that had aired the day World War II ended. He wrote, “The allies had, on that very day, completed one of the noblest military victories in the history of humanity. And yet there was no chest-beating. Nobody was erecting triumphal arches.” He concluded,
It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.
When we look at that past culture, we see a silent earthquake—unnoticed and unquestioned—has shaken and twisted the hearts of our present culture. It’s a tectonic shift that secretly disfigures us to this day: we’ve grabbed hold of a counterfeit savior.
Brooks says that humility once was valued as the highest virtue, but now,
Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation [can] be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.
C. S. Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking of ourselves less.” But the propaganda of the world—that b-e-e-e-g lie— deceptively asserts that our emotional salvation can only be found in self-esteem and self-love.
The world says our greatest need is to love and respect ourselves; the Bible says that the only thing that can kill us (emotionally, relationally, and spiritually) is a lack of humility. The exact opposite of what we hear every day.
The Seeming Upside Down Truth
Why do we claw for self-esteem and self-love? Some abyss inside feels empty, unloved, or insignificant. The world’s solution is to fill that void with ourselves. And something about that solution makes sense to our tremor-shaken hearts.
The gospel, on the other hand, teaches us to quit worshipping ourselves; to die to ourselves rather than live to ourselves; and that only in losing our lives will we find the life we were designed for, a life of hope, joy (and other-centeredness).
Nobody ever doubted the gospel because it promises too little. We all doubt the gospel because its promises are bold but counter-intuitive.
Professor Petrovich really was the official interpreter for President Jimmy Carter whenever Yugoslavian President Tito visited. He really was going to meet the two presidents. His bold claim was daring, urgent, and absolutely true.
Christ didn’t come merely to give us a plane ticket to heaven. He came to give us a wild, audacious, urgent ride to the airport; sirens are wailing, lights are flashing, and we’re speeding through the adventure of our lives. Once we let go of ourselves.
Frankly, it’s gonna be one heck of a ride.