Narcissistic Prophets and a Humble Savior: Jesus' Grandiose Humility

humility jesus joseph smith muhammad

Our world hates a narcissist.

For good reason, too. The horrific scandals we witness, bringing about the downfall of once successful organizations? They are often brought on by the narcissism of the once proud leader who had forgotten that pride comes before the fall. The constant placing of oneself at the center of all good things is a trait that will find a human ostracized from most sane communities. The uncommon humility we all strive to see in each other is a common trait found in the world's religious prophets and revelators. Many of the most successful prophets and founders of the world’s religions made their way into the world by proclaiming in some way, “It is not about me!” This is why humans love them.

It is, in fact, a prerequisite for many people to follow a leader— a humility that is best identified by their not holding themselves up as the example of goodness and instead pointing to something else, often God. Even Muhammad claimed, “I know not what shall be done with me or with you. I only follow what is revealed to me; I am only a clear warner.” Joseph Smith’s supposed revelations that shaped the LDS church never came close to placing him in any role akin to a god. Both of these men would show many of the hallmarks of narcissistic leadership later in life, but their roles in the religions they founded established them as humble signposts pointing to something greater than themselves.

Then we meet Jesus.

In the 21st century, we have an image of Jesus as the highest example of humility— and this is appropriate. It was Jesus who did not consider equality with God something to be lorded over humanity, instead taking on the form of a servant and slave and dying the awful death of a criminal. Yet Jesus often made statements that if repeated by anyone else would hardly be considered humble.

John’s emphasis on Jesus’ repeated “I am” statements shows that Jesus placed himself at the center of the truth he was preaching. He is the “bread of life”, he is the “light of the world”, he is “the resurrection and the life”, he is “the way, the truth, the life”. He claimed to the Pharisees that before their father Abraham ever was, “I am”. In Luke, he not only claims the Jewish title of “son of man” (a title reserved for the Messiah), but also that he was the “son of God”. These are hardly the claims of a mere prophet and revelator. These are the claims of someone who is placing himself at the center of the story. Jesus made it clear that he was the hinge upon which all truth opened. He was the fulcrum on which all the cosmos found its bearings.

Facing off with the Pharisees in Luke 5, Jesus struck a nerve when he dared to forgive the sins of the paralyzed man on the mat lowered through the roof by his friends. In a scene resembling Elijah on Mt. Carmel, Jesus even goes so far as to boast that healing the man physically shows far less of who he is than forgiving sins. But so that the Pharisees knew who they were dealing with, Jesus told the man to get up and walk. His point was not that he could do miracles, but that he was unlike anyone else who had ever done miracles. He was the author of life and the ultimate judge of good and evil— the only one who had the authority to forgive sins. He was the central figure of humanity. He was, and is, all the things that narcissists wish they were— but are not.

C.S. Lewis introduced to the world his “trilemma” stating that Jesus could only be one of three things— a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. There is room for a fourth. For if Jesus said all those things about himself, yet they were not true, is it mandatory that he be insane? Is everyone in our world today who speaks of themselves in grandiose ways insane? No, sometimes they are out of touch with who they actually are. These are those who lack the self-awareness that Jesus had. In fact, Jesus’ grandiose statements about himself were actually veiled in nature. He could have said much more lofty things about exactly who he was and is, yet he did not.

So in a world of religions and philosophies where prophets and gurus insist that they are not the focal point of the new ideas they are suggesting— Jesus did the opposite. He insisted that to know Him was to know God. He held himself as the example for truth, goodness, and beauty. He did all this while remaining uniquely humble in spirit, and perpetually gentle. This is because he was not lying. He is the example, the way, the bread, the light, the resurrection… and so much more. He was neither a liar, a lunatic, nor a narcissist— he was and is Lord. He is the only one who can place himself at the center of all stories and never be out of place.

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