Yesterday I reviewed J. P. Moreland's book, The Kingdom Triangle. I wanted to share one of my favorite sections from the book - this is from his discussion of the "empty self" on page 147. Aside from a bit of therapeutic language, I think t's one of the best broad statements on the psychology of sin that I have seen.
Pursuit of the demands of the empty self and the cultivation of a life of self-denial under Jesus' lordship constitute two very different approaches to life that produce radically different sorts of people. It is here that the two different understandings grab us by the throat, shake us to the core, and demand we make a choice of lifestyle strategies. This choice is as important as any one you will ever make, and that is not religious hype; it is the sober truth.
If pleasurable satisfaction is your goal, then from morning to night your habituated focus will be on three things - "me, myself, and I." You will constantly be monitoring your own happiness temperature, and your activities (job, recreation, church involvement) and other people (friends, spouse, children, and even God himself) will be mere things, objects that simply exist as a means to your own happiness.
You will have great difficulty forming meaningful attachments to other people. If you are shy, you will withdraw from people - not to find solitude to reenter relationships with solid boundaries and emotional/spiritual refreshment, but to attack them and find safety that keeps you from having to change. You will hide from others and fail to give them what they need from you to grow in spiritual formation and friendship. If you are outgoing, you will repress your fears and shame by becoming socially aggressive. You will talk all the time in social situations and not develop skills as a good listener, or if you don't know how to listen to others, it will be a front to earn the right to turn the conversation back to you at the earliest opportunity.
After several years of this sort of life, you will become a self-absorbed, empty narcissist. A culture of people w who live this way will be a culture that elevates celebrities. A celebrity is someone given attention because of his or her image or ability to get others to live their lives vicariously through the celebrity's life, such as it is. This is an ugly form of codependency between trapped empty celebrities and passive empty fans! Empty selves exchange a life of drama for Turkish Delight.
I would also add that there is a spiritual version of this and that is the one who is primarily concerned with their own spiritual growth. Obviously, spiritual growth is the goal of the Christian life, but I think there is a slight change in semantics that can change us from spriitual narcissists to full bodied Christianity. Rather than being primarily concerned about my own spiritual growth I need to be primarily concerned with knowing Jesus and loving others. The one produces the other, but it is a slight change of direction that I think makes all the difference in the world. Just as I am no longer always taking my happiness temperature I am no longer always taking my spiritual temperature and getting all worked up at the many ways I fail. I just get out of myself to love Jesus and love others.