You’re probably wondering what a 20th century Princeton-trained abstract mathematician has in common with a Babylonian ruler who reigned around 600 B.C.
Not much, really.
Except they both went mad.
And that’s the connection I want to explore.
Losing a Beautiful Mind
Here’s how Daniel describes Nebuchadnezzar’s descent into madness:
All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”
While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”
Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
It’s evident that Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind. And while John Nash didn’t crawl on all fours and eat grass, he, too, lost his mind.
I tell you all this because I recently finished reading Sylvia Nasser’s biography of John Nash–A Beautiful Mind.
It was a gritty, 400-page narrative of schizophrenia–with Nash as the protagonist–that traveled from the nastiness of his narcissism to the brutality of his mental illness to the humility of his remission.
And throughout this very readable book I could not shake the comparison between Nash’s descent into madness with Nebuchadnezzar’s.
What We Can Learn from Descents into Madness
This is not what I’m saying: God used schizophrenia as an act of judgment against John Nash. I cannot demonstrate that at all.
All I’m saying is that it could be–as it was so obviously for Nebuchadnezzar. But this much is true: the depth of megalomania and hubris in each man was vast and ultimately led to their insanity.
Nebuchadnezzar reveling in his majestic glory and dictatorial demands for idol worship and John Nash exalting his mathematical genius and rubbing his status as a scientific giant into the noses of his subordinates [whom he thought was just about everyone].
The warning we need to walk away from both of these men’s stories [and Nebuchadnezzar’s in particular] is that we are all prone to self-sufficiency, self-supremacy and self-exaltation…
And when we push the limits of these areas we are in great and grave danger of judgment–possibly in this life, definitely in the next.
But more importantly we must remember this: Christ alone is supreme. Christ alone is to be exalted and worshiped. And in Christ alone do we find our ultimate sufficiency.
Who Do You Praise in Your Times of Restoration?
In the end, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by his madness. As was Nash. But Nebuchadnezzar praised God for his restoration…
He said, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”
As far as I know, John Nash did not praise God. In fact, he talked about willing his way into rationality.
Whatever the case might be, I hope that Nash did in fact give God glory for his recovery–but that piece of news has simply been left unreported.
Until then I pray for Nash’s soul.
And yours, that you would resist pride with a ferocious and fantastic tenacity and instead adore the only being in this universe who deserves our praise–Jesus Christ.