Miller’s Personality Theory
In the last few years, Donald Miller has emerged as my favourite author regarding spiritual matters. If you’ve spent any amount of time with me or have heard me speak even once, this revelation comes as no surprise. Despite what you may think, I do read other authors but there is something about Miller that just consistently sits right with me. I like his writing style, his sense of humour, the vulnerability he brings to the text, and, particularly, the content he chooses to write about. I get that Miller doesn’t do it for everyone and that’s fine. I’ve resolved myself to stop taking it personally when people read a book of his after my recommendation only to walk away from it with a “Meh…” Through much prayer and fasting, I’ve come to no longer see these people as heathens who have abandoned Jesus.
I say all of this about Donald Miller only because I began reading “Searching for God Knows What” again and am reminded about what it is about him that is so appealing to me. He has this incredible gift not just in writing but in thinking through things that so many of us just gloss over. Or at least me, at any rate. One thing in particular has really stuck out this time and it’s starting to do a number on my whole perspective of reality . I’m not sure if it was in the original version of the book – I’m reading the 2011 updated version – but he provides this personality theory based on the Creation/Fall account in Genesis. I spoke about it last year at Grassroots Church but I’m not sure I fully understood its implications and I’m not sure I gave sufficient credit to Miller for coming up with such a simple yet brilliant theory. So this blog post is my attempt to remedy both of these.
In the Garden, Adam and Eve felt no shame and we know this because in the hundred or so words used to describe the Fall, the author states 5 times that Adam and Eve were naked and knew no shame. An unbiased reading of the text, it would seem, would suggest that the main point of this story is that these two were naked and knew no shame. But then they taste the forbidden fruit and then something weird happens: they hide and cover up their nakedness. The Bible says they did this because they were aware of their nakedness – they suddenly felt shame. Miller offers this explanation about what is going down here,
Man is wired so he gets his glory (his security, his understanding of value, his feeling of purpose, his feeling of rightness with his Maker, his security for eternity) from God, and this relationship is so strong, and God’s love is so pure, that Adam and Eve felt no insecurity at all, so much so that they walked around naked and didn’t even realize they were naked. But when that relationship was broken, they knew it instantly.
Miller compares it to a kid in a store who suddenly realizes he’s lost and his parents are nowhere to be seen. Prior to this realization, there is all the confidence in the world, but as soon as he realizes he is alone, he is full of insecurity and fear. Adam and Eve suddenly realize they are alone and they are filled with insecurities and a fear of not knowing where to turn. Another metaphor he uses is to compare our relationship to God with a flower’s relationship to the sun. “What happens when a flower doesn’t receive sunlight is the same thing that happens to us – we do not have the most basic requirements for emotional well-being and life.”
That makes sense doesn’t it? A perfect relationship with God in the Garden would imply complete confidence. There would be no self-doubt, there would be no insecurity, or pining for meaning. Relating to God perfectly would mean that all of these struggles that you and I have today would be completely foreign to Adam and Eve. God wired us to receive our worth and our value from him – completely. But when that relationship was severed, when that source of value suddenly stops flowing, what do we expect Adam and Eve to do next?
Look to others for their value.
And this is where everything begins to make sense with you and me. We’re wired to receive our worth from something outside of us – from God. So our default reaction is to look to others for this affirmation when God’s not attainable. How does that look in real life? Well, on a fundamental level, we wear clothes. This helps us get by each day because we don’t have to show the world our true selves. But everything else we do seems to support this theory as well. Why do we compete? Why do we try to keep up with the Jones’? Why are we comparing ourselves to others non-stop? Why do we associate with some people we might consider prestigious and then dissociate with less favourable others? Why do we strive for attention? Why do we strive for anything? And on a larger scale, why do we go to war? Why do we exert power over others in the name of… more power? Greed?
In the past, I would tackle these questions with “because of sin” and of course this is correct in a children’s Sunday School lesson sort of way; but understanding man’s inherent need for value outside of himself and his relentless quest for it outside of God; resulting in almost everything that is wrong with humanity today; seems to get at this why question much more compellingly and comprehensively.
A question arises in the midst of all of this, at least for me. I am a Christian – and I’ve been one for awhile. Part of this belief system is the fundamental conviction that the gospel of Jesus is the solution to this personality crisis. That the relationship in the Garden experienced by Adam and Eve has been healed because of Jesus. And yet, I still wear clothes. Worse, I still compare, and compete, and connive, and cheat and… okay that’s all the c words I could think of. The sad answer to this, I’m afraid, is that in spite of this life giving message of Jesus, our fallen nature persists (check your own recent track record, if you’ve any doubt). The truth is, though reconciliation is no doubt underway, our full reconciliation is still to happen – and we are stuck in the same boat, “looking for affirmation from the world to pacify the soul.”
The Christian is at an advantage, though, in that in light of these first few chapters of Genesis, we become aware of the futility of the world’s affirmation which ought to lead us to taking strides toward resisting this tendency in us. Additionally, it should give us perspective as we look at those around us who aren’t buying this whole separation from God narrative – or at least aren’t seeing the implications – and continue to go full tilt in their quest for affirmation – regardless of the destructive journey this quest might take them on.
This is the theory as Miller explains it. I know I have not done it justice in explaining it – because it is a powerful theory with massive implications that I have just scratched the surface at here. But if you are intrigued in any way, I encourage you to pick up “Searching for God Knows What.” And I promise I won’t discount your faith, if, upon finishing it, you walk away from it with a “Meh…”
Any thoughts on this? I’d be interested in hearing what you have to say about this personality theory. Does it resonate with your understanding of scripture and the world? Are there any holes in this theory that come to mind immediately?