How to Break the Power of Human Approval
Recently I came across a news article entitled, “Woman seeking YouTube fame fatally shoots boyfriend.”
I was stunned by the title, not only because of the tragic death, but because of the clarity with which it pinned down the motive. This couple’s stunt-gone-wrong was entirely driven by an insatiable thirst for fame — a thirst that resulted in the death of a man, the imprisonment of a woman, and a 3-year old asking for mommy and daddy.
Such a story forces us to come face-to-face with the growing problem of fame-seeking in our society. A recent study from UCLA adds to the concern, revealing that fame is the greatest value amongst 10–12 year olds — far surpassing benevolence, community, and achievement. Add to that the ever-increasing list of television shows in which everyday people achieve fame through singing, dancing, cooking, or decorating, and we have ample evidence of one simple fact: fame is a drug, and we are all susceptible to its power.
An Accessible Addiction
Our addiction to fame appears to be a modern problem because fame is more accessible than ever before. You no longer need to be the most talented, athletic, attractive, or royal to gain the attention of others. Instead, the world of fame can be breached by anyone, and is, therefore, a temptation for everyone. Its accessibility also means that one’s time in the limelight is cut shorter than ever due to the long line of fame-seekers behind us. As a result, more and more people are seeking shorter and shorter-lived fame.
Despite its modern appearance, our addiction to fame is nothing new. We see it in the authorities who refused to confess Christ, “for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43). We also see it in Saul, who knew without a doubt that David would take over his throne, yet was unwilling to give it up, for he was addicted to the praise of his name (1 Samuel 18:8). We see it long ago in the land of Shinar where a people motivated to make a name for themselves worked day and night to produce a structure that would tower above all others (Genesis 11:1–9). In fact, we can go all the way back the first lie ever told that “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5), which has tempted Adam’s children with ever since.
Ever since the fall, we have been bent on hiding the shame experienced from being sent East of Eden. We feel an incessant need to cover up our sin-shadow, and in doing so, find salvation in others’s approval of us. This is where fame comes in; it hovers like a golden cloud at a distance, just out of our reach, crying out, “take hold of me and I will satisfy your longings and remove your shame.” The devil laughs as he watches person after person attempt to grab the cloud.
Many who realize fame is out of their reach attempt to step and climb over others in order to elevate their reach and get closer to their goal; they become a Babel tower of people, stretching up for a wisp of golden air. Many of them never make it to the top, and those who do come face-to-face with the crushing reality that the cloud is nothing more than a vapor, a promise made of smoke.
Take Madonna, for example. After selling one hundred million albums worldwide, she says, “Even though I’ve become somebody. I still have to prove that somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” In other words, she has climbed to the top of the tower and all it has given her in return is a temporary satisfaction followed by a greater sense of emptiness and burden than ever before. Fame, no matter the quantity, fails to satisfy the soul.
A Needed Intervention
The first step in breaking our fame addiction requires that we realize that fame cannot take away our shame. The height of our sin casts such a shadow that no amount of fame and human praise could ever hope to cover it, because our sin is not ultimately against mankind — it is against God alone (Psalm 51:4). We could have every person in the world praising and admiring our very existence, it would not matter — our soul is designed to seek God’s approval, and no amount of human praise can substitute.
For this reason, we must seek after Jesus, the only cure for our fame addiction. It is through Jesus that we become a new creation and are thereby reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:17–18). Though we have suffered the shame of being sent East of Eden, it is through Christ that we who were far off have been brought near (Ephesians 2:13). Jesus covers our shame, satisfies our souls, and exposes the emptiness of the world’s praise. We do not need the applause of man if we already have the approval of God.
Your plan for fame-addiction sobriety will depend on the level of your addiction. Fasting from social media, getting accountability, or changing career paths might be helpful. While these practical steps are good, we must recognize at the same time that they do not get to the heart of the issue. To quote Joe Rigney, “they do not put out the fire, but they do prevent you from pouring gasoline on its flames.”
Therefore, fame-addicts, myself included, need to get to the heart of the issue by seriously spending time repenting for taking a life meant for God’s glory and perverting it for our own praise. Additionally, we need to be in constant prayer, asking God to give us a heart that counts all worldly gain as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:8). Finally, we need to have God’s word penetrating our mind and drowning out our fame cravings.
I have found three verses especially helpful. I encourage you to memorize them, chew on them, and allow them to sober you to the truth.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:3–4).
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:3–5).
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
If you wrestle with the fear of man, or notice yourself catering to the praise of others, soak your heart in what God says — find a specific verse or two — and find your hope and joy in living for his glory.