“Our worst sins arise out of the innate human fear that we are nobody” -Stanley Hauerwas
I read this quote a few weeks ago in a book by my friend, Stanley Hauerwas. This quote hit me like a ton of bricks when I really began to think about the truth imbedded in these simple words. Are we deathly afraid of being nobody? For me, the answer is an over-resounding yes. Maybe the more apt questions in regard to this inquiry begin with the words what and why.
What/Who the heck is a nobody? Perhaps this is what you are thinking right now. What comes to mind for you? Is it the person who has few friends, makes little money, and works at a job that is hardly desirable? What I mean by somebody is probably obvious to most, but if it is unclear let me begin by briefly explaining what I mean. This ever-elusive somebody is usually described in our culture as someone who is known by a wide array of people, but not just known, but also valued or esteemed in some way, shape, or form. Celebrities and politicians are a good but extreme example that give form to this abstraction. Not many of us will attain the “value” that celebrities and politicians evoke in our culture, but we will try to seek it out in smaller ways through self-promotion and by refining our image for the world to see.
The reason for this? One author writes that humans tend to operate out of scarcity. By saying this he means that our soul operates out of needs (be it for love, attention, care, value etc…) that are often left unsatisfied or only temporarily sustained. Thus, people increasingly invite their identity or sense of self to be determined by those around them. We are sick with this fear that everyday we have the potential to be a nobody and we desperately want to escape that by being deemed a somebody by our culture. The same writer who talks about scarcity also says that we are a culture of people with a case of hurry sickness. Ever heard of it? I have a case of it myself. It is this busyness that finds its roots in a lost sense of self. We have become professionals at conquering the fear of becoming a nobody by making sure that we are always doing something and never allowing for rest and recuperation because we are afraid what will find when we sit still. Perhaps we will find what we truly are in those silent moments, but who needs that…
We want someone or something to tell us that we are valued and we often will fixate on that goal until it comes to fruition or until we are left disastrously disappointed and lonely. We are confused about who we are and simultaneously afraid to wonder what we might find. We want to be a somebody and Hauerwas speaks to this by saying that our worst sins are actually attempts to be a somebody. We will lie, cheat, scheme, and lust in order to feel the fleeting warmth of someone who validates us and justifies us before all of creation. When stated in this way, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. One pastor says that “we want someone who we think the world of, to think the world of us!”. This could not be more true, but we are still left striving and in bondage to those who we think the world of and their opinion of us, which is often not what we hoped it would be.
I am not sure what you think of Jesus, but let us just assume that he was indeed who he said he was for one moment (that is, very God and very man). The apostle Paul wrote this about Jesus, “who, though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Paul goes on to write that this Jesus humbled himself and was obedient, even to the point of death on a cross. Jesus, who was very God and very man, made himself a nobody. He intentionally became a servant to humanity even while being the form of God. If there ever was a somebody, it was Jesus. Yet, in this text, we find that he made himself nothing and a nobody. Yes, it is indeed nonsensical.
Perhaps our attempts to be a somebody are not only arrogant, but also a result of a misplaced and misguided sense of who we are in an age that tries to define us through materials, accolades, and what numerical value others place on us. We need someone who we think the world of to also think the world of us and only then will our hurry sickness and our fear that we are a nobody slowly begin to heal.
Jesus became a nobody. What might that mean for us in our attempts to be “somebody” in this day and age?