History ‘from above’ is apparently appealing to those who want to be better than others. It is a pity it is based upon a lie.
History of the ‘Great Ones’ is written for all kinds of reasons. The historians might be paid by the ‘Great Ones’ themselves to ensure that their achievements are splashed with the appropriate degree of glory. Or the historian might be paid by their successors, eager to bask in the reflected glory of the one in whose shadow they now fall.
These dirty dollar motivations aside, often such histories ‘from above’ are written with a moral motive. The logic is simple: greatness comes to those who deserve it. If we examine the life of those deemed great, we might find the secret to their success; if this is then imitated, even the most plebian amongst us might be able to achieve the greatness that (at least, we think) we deserve.
The Lie has been in circulation from the very beginning. “Step out of your ordinary life”, the devil told Eve, “and seize the wisdom that will make you just like God” (Gen 3:1-7). And despite the life, the beauty, the bounteous provision, the meaningful work, the rich and joyful and unashamed relations between the man and the woman, the fellowship with God, and the harmony with his creation that they already enjoyed in their Edenic splendour, the first two human beings felt that a simple bite of an ‘apple’ was a small price to pay for such greatness. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
The serpent of old reappeared to offer the same temptation to the Son of God on a very high mountain (Luke 4:1-13). In a blink of the eye, he showed all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory—just quickly enough to taste their greatness, just rapidly enough to spark the lust for what they offered, just speedily enough to make the dream elusive and so, so tantalizing.
But Jesus apparently had no portion of the entrepreneurial spirit that strives for personal excellence and fame. He passed the devil up on his offer. With a strange, upside-down-kind of attitude, he seemed to say that human life was not about who was the greatest. Rather ridiculously, he suggested that true greatness was found in being ‘least’—by serving (even to death) others (Mark 9:33-35). Apparently life is not about establishing human beings in their own petty kingdoms, but about bringing them into God’s kingdom.
Hah. No wonder he never became a pastor of a megachurch or anything.