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The Selfie You Wish You Never Took: Pictures from Marlowe, Mephistophilis, and Me

I stumbled across a selfie of myself the other day. (No, not the picture above). I was not expecting it nor looking for it, but there it was. I wish I could say it showed me vacationing in an exotic location or doing something heroic. No software was used to improve the lighting or hide the blemishes – it was a candid shot and I looked dreadful. You see, I found this picture in the most unlikely of places, specifically I saw myself in the writing of Christopher Marlowe.

Christopher Marlowe was a writer and contemporary of William Shakespeare. Even if you have not heard of him or his works, you have been influenced by him. The specific work to which I refer is Marlowe’s play The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus. If you have ever read or watched anything where a good angel sits on someone’s shoulder, conveying good and true information, while at the same time a bad angel sits on the person’s other shoulder, conveying opposing and wicked information, it became popular through Faustus. It is a tragedy in style and even reading it in the daylight is a bit disconcerting.

In the play, Dr. Faustus is a German scholar in the 1500’s who desires power above all, and tiring of wisdom and knowledge turns towards darker studies. Thinking that theology is wrong, and science unfulfilling, he turns to the study of the magicians, and that in doing so he could control everything and be like God himself.

In his corrupted pursuits, he manages to summon Mephistophilis and demands that he do Faustus’ bidding. When Mephistophilis replies that he is simply a servant of Lucifer and cannot do anything without his approval, Faustus praises Belzebub in order to gain the favor and help of Mephistophilis.

He then manages to make a deal with Lucifer, or rather with Mephistophilis, who acts as the devil’s representative and who negotiates the contractual agreement between Faustus and the devil. Mephistophilis agrees that he will wait upon Faustus and do whatever Faustus commands for twenty-four years in exchange for Faustus’ soul at the end of that duration. Faustus thinks he is playing Lucifer and Mephistophilis for fools and that he (Faustus) is above reproof.

What follows is a litany of vain pleasures, one the more foolish than the next, for the next twenty-four years. Faustus’ arrogance is quite extraordinary as he rejects God and yet thinks he can negotiate with the devil. Through the vanity of impressing nobles and conniving common people, he lulls himself into thinking he is having fun. Pleasure and knowledge seem to be his goal, but fail to quench his thirst or satisfy him completely. He wants the world to work his way without any consequence, with himself as king.

It is at this point I found my picture, actually, more than one picture. In one picture, I want money and status to make me feel good about myself, ignoring the fact that they cannot meet this expectation. In another, I am angry with God for my situation and circumstance, ignoring His grace because I think things should be different. In a third, I am acting defiantly when things did not go my way, as if I were a petulant toddler in the body of an adult. I think that my own knowledge and abilities are so great that I alone know what is best and I am setting the course for my life and I can do it on my own.

I wish I could say that the selfies I mentioned were not real, that such feelings and thoughts had never occurred in my life, but that would a lie. I also wish that some of these things did not occur after I started following Christ, that somehow they were the “before” pictures, like on those HGTV remodeling shows, but that would be a lie too.

Faustus also found some of his selfies. Near the end, an Old Man comes to Faustus and begs him to turn from his devilry and seek God instead. While he is pondering the conversation, Mephistophilis comes again and points out Faustus’ commitment to the devil and threatens harm to him unless he recommits himself to the devil. The irony of this is that Faustus repenting to the devil to keep from physical pain on earth only gets him physical and eternal pain later. At the end, he receives such a result when Mephistophilis and his cohorts come for him.

As a follower of Christ, I know that my salvation is secure, but sin and disobedience can still have consequences. It is at these moments, when I come face-to-face with my own sin and God’s holiness, that I humble myself and repent to the Lord. Sometimes that happens multiple times a day as the Lord makes me aware of the sin in my life. God’s grace is truly amazing, especially considering my own sinful heart, and I have to be humble and remember that His grace is bigger than my sin. It is His grace that allows me to go forward, trusting in His goodness. It is His grace that reminds me that I am not God, but that He is. It is His grace that saves me.

Selfies like this are never enjoyable to find, but they can help us see our need for Christ.

Have you ever come face to face with the worst parts of yourself? When it happens, do you deny it? Do you minimize it by saying it is not so bad or other people are worse? Do you try to escape from it and forget about it? Or do you humble yourself and turn to Christ?

Friend, my prayer is that you choose humility.

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