The story of Narcissus comes from Greco-Roman mythology. The most popular version is from the Roman poet, Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Legend has it that Narcissus was the unusually beautiful son of the nymph, Leiriope, and the river god, Cephissus.
When Narcissus was still a young boy, his mother took him to the blind prophet, Tiresias, to have his fortune told. The blind prophet predicted that “If he but fails to recognize himself, a long life he may have, beneath the sun.”
Unfortunately for Narcissus, he was to recognize himself all too soon. A vain and arrogant youth, he refused the fervent amorous advances of a multitude of young ladies, but was to finally meet a worthy object of affection when he came across his own reflection in a pool. The boy fell madly and irrevocably in love with himself;
“And how he kisses the deceitful fount;
and how he thrusts his arms to catch the neck
that’s pictured in the middle of the stream!”
Narcissus stayed beside the stream gazing at his reflected paramour in vain, neglecting even to eat or drink. Upon his death, his body was transformed into a beautiful yellow flower, which still carries his name today.
What is only a legend is unfortunately far too true too often in life. There are individuals who are in love with themselves and who will not hesitate to tell you, “I am the best.” Usually, they mean they are the best in their chosen field of endeavor. They are the best at what they do in life.
Jesus knew of such individuals in His day. The Lord told a parable about such a man who considered himself to be the best in religion and was audacious enough to let God know. One day this man went into the temple to pray. He stood and lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:11-12). He was the best.
In contrast, Jesus said that the other man present, and referenced was a humble man, a man who was realistic about his own heart, abilities, and shortcomings. This other man who also went to the temple to pray would not even lift his eyes to heaven. Rather, he bowed his head and prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
When they left the temple that day, the Pharisee went home with his head still held high believing he was still “the best.” He went home dignified. But the publican, the humble man, went home justified in the sight of God, for He knew he needed the alien righteousness of another, even Jesus Christ the Lord, to be accepted in God’s sight.
Now why is it that individuals become a narcissus? Why is it that individuals do not hesitate to boast and to say of themselves, “I am the best”? There are several reasons.
First, there is a natural self-love that is rooted in the Fall. When Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they engaged in an act of self-love. They placed their own ideas and desires above the known will of God and His word. The natural born descendants of Adam bear his fallen, self-centered nature, which is why the Bible says individuals need to be “born again,” or born from above.
Second, there is a cultural influence upon the soul. Countless individuals, especially in western societies, are taught from the day of their birth they are special and unique. Narcissism is encouraged in slogans that say, “You deserve it,” or “Look out for number one.” It is natural to be influenced by culture.
Third, sometimes parents fail to be responsible in the way they rear their child, and over emphasize all childish accomplishments while dismissing any faults and failures. Who has not received the annual Christmas Letter from family or friend detailing all the accomplishments of the little darlings, the “perfect” children?
Fourth, some individuals who come to physical maturity accept a worldly philosophy of life that says an individual must believe in himself or he will not be successful. This self-belief is to be held at the expense of all others, and so a person builds their inner happiness on the unhappiness of others.
Of course, in reality, such worldly wisdom leads to self-delusion. Consider, for instance, the case of thirty-two NFL quarterbacks, on any given Sunday, trotting out on the field, each one of them filled with confidence they are “the best.” What is the reality, though? The reality is that at least thirty-one of them are (somewhat) delusional, and if pressed, they all would be delusional for any record held is bound to be broken.
The divine solution for narcissism is found in the Bible. A person is not to think more highly of himself than he ought. A person is to think and soberly which means in a mature manner. Maturity will tell a person that he may consider himself competent and capable at what he does, but he must not judge himself to be The Best, for therein is pride, and pride goes before a fall.
Romans 12:3, For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
There is virtue in modesty and honest humility. Therefore, let every person humble himself.
1 Peter 5:6, Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
James 4:10, Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
It has been noted that a person is closest to being like Lucifer when he is filled with self-pride, for pride is the sin that caused the archangel to be cast out of heaven.
Isaiah 14:12, How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell.
While it is wrong to think of self as being “the best” per se, this sin is as old as humanity and is as foolish as the fable of Narcissus.