Authenticity and being universally liked

Shane Warne died this past Friday. One of the all time great cricketers. One of the best bowlers ever to play. I saw this little video of him being interviewed yesterday:

The thing that struck me was his final comment: ‘I’ve never pretended to be something that I’m not and I think that’s why people still like me.’

Certainly, in an era desperate for authenticity, pretending to be what you’re not won’t get you very far. One of my elders is clear that people in our community can smell BS from a hundred yards. He could adopt a different way of speaking and wear other clothes, but in the end, everyone would know he was pretending to be what he isn’t. Far better to just be what you are and have done with it.

The flipside of that, however, is that authenticity is all very well until it becomes apparent that our authentic selves aren’t great shakes. It’s fine telling the world you are a WYSIWYG character, but if what everybody sees and gets is pretty unpleasant, most of us wish that you would rein that stuff in. Whilst those who believe they are universally liked live in Cloud Cuckoo Land, those who think everybody else should deal with the way they are because they’re being “authentic” are also living in a parallel universe.

The big problem we all face is that none of us are built in such a way that we can be totally authentic and universally loved or loathed. We are all a bundle of mixed personalities, traits, behaviours and inclinations that will endear us to some and repel others. What one person loves about us another will despise, what one can’t stand another finds refreshing. It is simply the reality of the world in which we live.

The issue for our culture with this is that it craves authenticity but then often doesn’t like it when it appears in all its multifaceted, semi-pleasant yet often ugly, glory. If someone is authentically angry all the time, nobody is going to get on with that. If someone is authentically a closed book, that is just who they are, it isn’t going to play well with all sorts of people. If somebody authentically behaves in ways that grate on others, we inevitably get strained relationships as one person’s authentic feelings rub up against somebody else’s authentic feelings to the contrary. Not to burst Shane Warne’s bubble, but much as I am sure lots of people did really like him – in fact, I know they did – there were many who didn’t love his authentic self as much as he seemed to think they did. What some loved about him, other really didn’t. And the truth is, that is the case for all of us.

As far as I can see, there is no solution to this within ourselves. We either hide those less glorious bits of ourselves and, in the process, are reckoned to be horribly inauthentic. Otherwise, we live our lives knowing that we will grate on as many people as we endear through our complete and utter authenticity.

Naturally – as you’d expect from a Christian pastor – I think the answer to the quandary lies in the person of Jesus. Let’s not pretend as he lived a fully authentic, sinless life that he was universally loved either. Even Jesus managed to wind people up; not through any fault of his own, simply by living and speaking in line with his godly sinless character. So, if the solution you are hoping for is universal acceptance, even Jesus did not attain during his ministry and the existence of a place called Hell tells us that nothing changed after his ascension. Even Jesus’ authenticity was not universally admired and loved.

The answer lies in the fact that our authentic selves can be loved by Jesus. He knows everything about us. He knows what we’re like. And there are traits and behaviours about us that he loves and things that, because of our sin, he doesn’t much care for. But he still – knowing all about us totally and completely – sets his full and undivided love upon those who trust in him. Universal acceptance for living authentically was not even given to the eternal Son of God. But we can be authentically accepted by him and by our Heavenly Father who simply says, ‘I know what you’re like even better than you do, and I still love you.’

Shane Warne was right, there is no value in trying to pretend you’re something that you’re not. Jesus doesn’t ask us to do that. But we don’t have to worry that God will only like us if we pretend we’re something that we’re not. He will love us and adopt us as his children when we trust in Christ. We don’t have to hide who we are from him. We may not be universally liked – even Jesus wasn’t – but we can know we are totally loved by him when we give our authentic selves to him.