Only God can create a real person–a complete person, body, soul, and spirit–but God has given each of us the ability to create personalities. Sometimes a child who has been subjected to severe emotional or sexual abuse will use this God-given ability to create multiple personalities, independent personas that hide from each other. Most of us merely use this power to develop a sort of interior theatrical troupe, whose members take turns at center stage.
One day during my mid-twenties, I was fiddling with the radio in my car when I bumped into a motivational speaker addressing a large crowd. He was telling his audience how to get a better job. “You need to go into that interview with confidence,” he declared with great confidence. His voice dropped to a whisper, “Are you afraid to go in there and compete for the job? Well, I have a solution for you.” He paused for a moment and then shouted, “Don’t go! Send somebody else! Figure out what kind of person they want to hire, then create that person and send him to the interview!” The room erupted with applause.
I followed his advice and found that it works. I am capable of creating a convincing alter ego, a persona, and that false self can get a job quite easily. It’s just hard for a persona to keep a job. Sooner or later, people catch on.
I’ve actually gone to church on mornings when the sanctuary was full and none of the members were there. Everyone had sent somebody else. Heck, I’ve usually sent somebody else to do the preaching.
I was an adolescent when I first realized I am not always the same person, that there are several versions of me who appear and disappear in response to my surroundings. In those early days, the cast included Church Nate and School Nate, Home Nate and All Alone Nate, and they were definitely different people.
The first time I laid eyes on Allie, we were in church. I was home from college. She was a brand-new believer, radiant with the beauty of newfound faith. I promptly introduced her to Church Nate, and she fell in love with the guy. Church Nate can be quite charming and he showed a chaste concern for this new sister in Christ. Before long she found herself imagining a lifetime with him, serving the Lord together and talking everyday about God.
A year later I introduced her to Date Nate. That encounter did not go nearly as well. Allie thought Date Nate was a jerk. Personally, I liked the guy, but I reluctantly sent him into exile and brought in Mate Nate instead.
After we were married, and School Nate and Church Nate went off to seminary, Mate Nate more or less disappeared. Allie couldn’t figure out what had happened to him. She still misses him sometimes.
Later when I left the pastoral ministry and went into business, I developed a new persona: Mag Nate. His job was to develop business for the engineering company, and he sold himself beautifully. It was exhausting work, though, and despite his success, Mag Nate was burnt out in just a few years.
That’s the biggest problem with personas. A false self can never rest. It looks like a real person, but a persona is actually just a hologram, a projected image, and it requires constant energy to keep that image up. A persona is afraid to go to sleep, because to sleep is to die.
Also, because it has no inner reality, a persona must always be focused outward. It must always be scanning the audience, responding to the whims of the watchers, adapting to their shifting moods.
A person is hollow, and is therefore plagued by a constant empty feeling. It may try to fill that inner void with any number of things–applause, excitement, food, sex, romance, knowledge, money, just to name a few–but the emptiness never goes away.
The religious persona is probably the most tragic figure of all, because it recognizes spiritual realities that it can only pretend to experience. A persona can perform, but it cannot love. It can know excitement, but can never experience joy. It can feel numbness, but it can never know peace. A persona can be persistent but not patient, subtle but not gentle, sweet but not good. It can feel fervor, but it can never know faith. It can be modest but not humble. It may starve itself by sheer force of will, but a persona can never achieve self-control because it has no continuing self. The biblical word for persona is flesh. And the Bible makes it plain that no matter how spiritual or religious it appears, flesh is always hostile to God. It may mimic righteousness. It may feign repentance. But flesh cannot see God, cannot know God, and cannot love God. And it cannot worship God, because God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Nate Larkin, Samson and the Pirate Monks: Calling Men to Authentic Brotherhood, 89-91.