After just a few minutes I got the sense that I was speaking with a Very Important Person, one who seemed to think his credentials (which were genuinely impressive) made him not just a credentialed person, but a credentialed kind of person. Though it never came explicitly, I was waiting for the indignation, “Do you know who I am?”
Ironically, that is a question whose actual answer usually undermines its implied answer. When applied to one’s self this is one of the most sobering and piercing questions anyone can ask. It is to the soul what the first ray of sunlight is to the contents of a cardboard box that’s been buried in your basement for a decade. Indeed, do any of us really know who we are? At the surface level the answer is usually no because we are usually like my cheerless-but-superior conversation partner. We think we are our credentials, or our possessions, or our status, as if we were spoken into existence by our own accomplishments.
But the idea that we’re defined by our talents is possibly the most basic, most dangerous, and most pervasive threat to the well being of any person. It is a particular temptation that faces almost everyone in one way or another, and it's much like a spiritual bacterial infection for which Christianity is penicillin.
The world “soul” simply means self, and one of the glaring themes in the teachings of Jesus is the importance of soul over and against title, or earnings, or social status, or circumstance. The whole point shines through in His question: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matt. 16)
Our circumstances or achievements (honest people are aware of the symbiosis between the two) might hold a different weight if we weren’t going to live forever. But we are. You will always exist; your credentials will not. Nothing is more important than your soul--that is your self. That’s why the concern that should always, always eclipse credentials is the effect credentials have on the self. Good employers know you don’t hire resumes; you hire people. The question that should be most important for all of us is not the content of our resumes but the ways our resumes shape our souls.