Messiah Complexes

In college, I once attended a fairly interesting lecture by a notable Christian author.  The topic was something pertaining to the creation vs. evolution debate as viewed in fundamentalist branches of Christianity.  That topic aside, the most eye opening part of the presentation came during Q&A, when a student in the crowd stood up to question the existence of God.  This particular student was not in favor of any kind of belief about intelligent design, and after some back and forth between him and the presenter, the student concluded by saying “I know there’s not a God, because if I were designing a human being, I would have done a much better job.”

I don’t know what kind of background this kid was coming from, or what made him say something like this in a lecture hall packed full of people, many of whom no doubt would have disagreed with this statement.  The absurdity of the comment gave me pause a bit, as it was the first time I had ever heard someone say they were better at something than God.

When considering the human body, the miracles of which often liken it to an incredible feat of design, how could one possibly even consider such a thing, I thought?  My 22 year old self probably shouldn’t have been too surprised, quite honestly, as it seems human beings have been trying to climb the ladder to “outdo” God for much of our history.  In some form or fashion, we have always made attempts to bridge the gap between the created and the uncreated, the earthly and the divine.

In the Book of Genesis we read about the story of the Tower of Babel, how God struck it down by bestowing upon those building it different languages so they could not communicate with one another.  The key point about that story, however, is what this punishment was for.  In their arrogance, the people of that time were creating a tower to climb higher than God, so as to achieve godhood themselves. Others in Scripture: Ramasses II, Saul, and even the Pharisees, exhibited similar behavior, thinking themselves to be semi-divine. In each case, the individual’s story may have started out with the best of intentions, but over time, recognizing no other authority but their own, they began to forget who their Master truly was.

Even the ancient Greeks had myths about this lesson. Among others, Icarus, who learned how to fly but ultimately went too close to the sun, springs to mind. In his zeal to go higher and higher, little did he know that his wax wings would melt the nearer he was to the sun. He plummeted into the water and drowned, his mission to go as high as the gods a failure. His was a sad story indeed, but one which even the ancient Greeks knew would impart a lesson on humanity: man was man, the gods were the gods.

What’s that joke about the priest who stood up to make a speech at his retirement dinner? The only thing he offered was “In all my years of ministry I have learned only two truths: there is a God, and I am not He.”

In the movie Venom, the antagonist is someone who is obsessed with creating a scientific breakthrough of some kind. Carlton Drake, played by Riz Ahmed, is a Bay Area biotech giant, who throws his money at his obsession, with morality taking a back seat. Acknowledging the Icaric nature of his work, he proudly proclaims that “giant leaps will always come at a cost,” and “God has abandoned us… I won’t.” His villainy is grounded in the precedent of human arrogance, when man’s spirit of ingenuity is taken to the extreme.

I found Drake as a villain to be enormously effective in this movie because, like others mentioned above, he exhibits an extreme Messiah Complex. In an era where far too many antagonists in film are depicted as religious, this character follows suit but in a more believable way, in that he worships himself! There is a Lex Luthor-esque quality to the character that I enjoyed tremendously, and gives some food for thought on how some human beings can think this way. Many things in life if taken to their extreme can become some kind of a Tower of Babel for us, something which makes us think of ourselves as greater than God. It begs the question, how can one’s arrogance become so great as to supplant any belief in a higher power, or think of oneself as a higher power?

The truth is, my brothers and sisters, that human kind indeed is destined to transcend and to reach another level.  However, we cannot do it on our own. Jesus Christ came not to right every wrong in the world, but to somehow raise us all up. We often hear in our faith about how Christ’s ministry sanctified all of creation, and raised humankind higher than before. Not with wax wings, but with the Lord’s hands were Adam and Eve raised up from the netherworld in the icon of the Resurrection. Anything of human creation cannot raise humanity higher, regardless of how intelligent, ambitious, or wealthy we are, all power by human standards.

To be sure, human ingenuity and curiosity are gifts from God, and science as well, something which has never been controversial in the history of the Orthodox faith. But not without Him can we transcend to anything higher than humankind. We “can do all things through Him who strengthens…” (Phil 4:13) and even become god-like ourselves. (John 10:34)

May we too, avoid this arrogance and include Him in all we do in life, and in so doing reach heights we never dreamed of. Amen!

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your steps.” – Proverbs 3:6

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