This is part of a series on the Lord’s prayer, culture and spiritual warfare in which we look at the subversive prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples and how that prayer engages in the war of ideas with the philosophies that pervade our age.
Part 2 – Narcissism and ‘Hallowed Be Your Name’
The Narcissus Story
Narcissus was a good looking guy. In fact – in the words of Zoolander – he was really, really ridiculously good looking, and pretty much everybody he met would fall in love with him, although he did not share those feelings and thought that none of them were worthy of him, preferring his own company. Eventually he was placed under a curse to endure all that he had caused others to endure; he would find somebody who he wanted but could not have.
One day, Narcissus was walking through a forest and he saw a lake – and in the water he saw the most beautiful person he had ever encountered. Stirred with desire he moved close, but as he approached to kiss the person in the water they disappeared. As he stands back from the water, there they are – but every time he approached they were gone. In the end, Narcissus goes after them, and dives into the depths of the lake to find his own reflection, and he ends up drowning.
Narcissus is the prototype of the person who likes themselves a bit too much, and when somebody is pre-occupied with themselves we refer to them as a ‘narcissist’.
(note – there are two ways this word can be used: for a small number of people narcissism refers to a diagnosable medical condition, and for a larger group where narcissism is a colloquial term for a spiritual condition of thinking too much of yourself. This blog post focusses on the latter of these meanings).
Andrew Fellowes describes narcissism as “pre-occupation with self, leading to losing touch with objective reality.” We live in a world that is all about you, where the individual is placed at the centre. This, in the words of Martin Luther, is “humanity turned in on itself”. Whose story is the one at the centre? Who matters more than anyone else? Whose concerns should be primary? The answers our culture will give are self, self, self.
Ben Affleck comments on how dangerous this can be. “The silent killer of all great men and women of achievement… I think it’s narcissism.” To illustrate how widespread it is we only need to think where our eyes first go when we see a group photo including ourselves. Our focus is immediately drawn to the self.
In the Beginning, Man?
At the point we have reached in human history, many of the foundations and stories on which we have traditionally based our life and thinking have been challenged. The exception is the centrality of self. Again, Andrew Fellowes expresses it well, “The worldview of self is the one meta-narrative that remains in the post-modern world.”
This plays out in the way we engage with life. When we wake up, when challenges come our way, when somebody shares new information with us, our first thought is for ourselves and how we will be affected. We live with a foundation of self.
And yet the Bible story doesn’t start with self as foundation, but with God. The very first few words show this different starting point. In the beginning, God. He is the starting point, not us. History is His story. My life is about His story. Your life is about His story.
This move from starting with God to starting with self came from Descartes. In trying to answer the question how he knew whether everything was real, he doubted everything in search of a starting point to build from – and the starting point he came to was self. Because he knew he was thinking and doubting he could be sure he existed. ‘I think therefore I am.’ From here he could reason to other things, including God, but his foundation was himself.
This thinking quickly became very popular, but it was critiqued by another philosopher of the time named Pascal, who could see the blindspot in Descartes’ thinking. He said:
“Descartes did everything except secure the position of God and thereby the meaning of man. Descartes didn’t even start with God. he came to God later. Our knowledge allows us to do so much and yet it exposes us as small, accidental and ignorant. Man alone is but a feeble foundation for the truth.”
If our starting point is ourselves, then what could we truly build on such a feeble foundation? A much better starting point is “In the beginning, God.’ It all starts with God and centres on him. When you get this piece right, everything else finds it’s place.
In the Hebrew language is the word ‘kabad’, which speaks of the glory of God. The word when translated conveys the idea of weightiness. God is weighty. He is substantial. CS Lewis spoke of the ‘Weight of Glory’. In fact our own substantialness in existence (‘isness’) is more or less hollow depending how close it is to God. Something in heaven has a much greater depth of reality than something in hell, because God is the ultimate reality and from him everything finds its definition. We can make ourselves way more central to the story than we are, and this is what the Bible calls pride. In the words of Rick Warren, ‘It’s Not About You’.
Hallowed Be Whose Name?
And so right at the start of this prayer, Jesus teaches us to say ‘Hallowed be YOUR name’. It begins with a focus on God. Later in the prayer we will be praying for things for ourselves, but we do not start there; we start with God. And so this prayer subverts the ‘me-first’ narcissism of our day.
In praying for God’s name to be Hallowed we are asking that it would be revered, that it would be taken seriously and that there would be a weightiness to the name of God. You may remember in the Lion King when the hyenas hear the name ‘Mufasa’ and it sends shivers down their spines. Something similar should happen with the name of God. In fact, ancient Hebrew scribes held the name of the Lord in such reverence that when they were writing it they would stand, prayer and use a separate pencil than they had been writing the rest of the text with.
And when we are referring to God’s name, it is alluding to his entire being. Just as an ambassador might say that they are coming ‘in the name’ of a king or government, or we talk about somebody’s ‘name being dragged through the mud’ if they are slandered, so we speak of the name of the Lord as representative of God himself.
In his great article, ‘Hallowed Be Your Name in All the Earth’, John Piper gives us seven glimpses into God’s name from Scripture that draw our hearts off of ourselves to worship and revere him.
- “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’.” (Exodus 3:14)
- “I will make all my goodness pass before you and I will proclaim before you my name ‘THE LORD’. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)
- “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” (Exodus 6:3)
- “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…’” (Exodus 34:6-7)
- “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” (Rev 21:6)
- “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy.” (Isaiah 57:15)
- “(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is jealous is a jealous God.”) (Exodus 34:14)
Hallowing God’s name means treating God as weighty and as significant as He is. It is about God-centricness and God-weightiness. It has been said that attention is the beginning of adoration, and this prayer starts by turning our attention away from ourselves and putting it right back to God and fuelling the fires of our adoration for him.
Jesus taught us a subversive prayer. We pray it in a world that idolises the self as a cornerstone. We pray it as a declaration that we have somewhere better to stand. And we pray it as a petition that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea, just as he promised us!
Our Father In Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.