Personality as Salvation Project
Richard Rohr describes the false self as our very own “personal salvation project” Our compulsion to be gods capable of saving ourselves is an old story. It is as old as the temptation in Genesis 3 to eat the fruit and to be “like God.” It’s as old and as arrogant as the tower reaching the sky in Genesis 11. And our resistance to live into the true self, hidden in Christ is old as well. This refusal is always in the background of the scriptural story. Israel refuses to enter a promised land and once they do, according Judges, “each one did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25) according to their own “knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 3).
The Prophet Jeremiah writes: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make their own flesh their strength. They will be like a shrub in the desert…blessed are those who trust in the Lord… They will be like a tree planted by water” (17:5-8). The prophet wants us to stop placing our hope in our flesh. In contemporary sociological language we might say that the scriptures are calling us stop relying on our “social capital”to help us make our way through life. In other words, you have assets and safety nets in life and it’s easy to fall into thinking that they will save you in the most practical sense. Maybe your uncle owns a business and you know if things go south you could always turn to him for a career. Or maybe you are young, good looking, funny, and a good conversationalist? Perhaps you are an Enneagram 7 or an INFJ? All of these things are what we might call “fleshly” resources. They are a combination of personality and social capital and there is an ever-present temptation to bow down and worship them in the knowledge that they are (seemingly) saving you. It’s easy to place your faith in your skill set, or personality because our causal understanding of our day-in-day-out experience seems to indicate that its our resume, or our work ethic, or our connections that will save us in any given moment should life put us in a pinch.
Generally speaking, the church doesn’t speak of social capital or personality as an idol or as a plan for salvation because Christians have given salvation a strictly “other-worldly” connotation. Salvation, according to the sermons I have heard, is concerned with our union with God in the next life, rather than life here and now. Such logic seems to deny the tenor of Christ’s declaration that he has come to not only bring life, but life to the fullest (John 10:10). Therefore, Salvation is about questions that matter NOW and forever! Salvation is concerned with questions like: What will happen to me tomorrow? Will I be safe? Will I be cared for or wanted? Will I have a reasonable level of control in my life? These are the questions that matter now! These are the questions that your enneagram number is trying to satisfy. These are questions that roll around inside us as we wait for Netflix to queue up the next episode. Our hopes, dreams and fears hang on these questions and we are throwing everything we have at these concerns, trying to settle the thirst within these questions. Meanwhile, Christ is looking at us, saying:“whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst” John 4:14.
Check back next week for scriptural examples from the New Testament and for further discussion on a Christian understanding of personality.