Among animals, the alpha male is the lone male within the pack who possesses the physical and mental prowess to dominate and control the weaker males and females around him. He’s the top dog or the silverback. Although I can see the merit of using the term to describe gorillas and hyenas, I get irritated when I see it used as a descriptive for humans. In some cases, this phrase, when applied to people, is synonymous with the word “jerk.” The alpha male is the bully at your office who insists on controlling everything and seems to have mild, sociopathic tendencies.
Sometimes, however, being the alpha male is actually spoken of as a desirable thing. We do, after all, live in one of the most individualistic and competitive cultures the world has ever produced. The ideal person of our society is the rugged individual- the ambitious man who has a clear vision of what he wants (usually money, power or fame) and is willing to do whatever needs to be done to achieve that vision. In short, the ideal person is the alpha male. Or alpha female. It seems like these qualities of competitiveness and dominance are increasingly esteemed among both genders.
Should we all aspire to be top dog? Is the alpha male or alpha female a figure that we all ought to strive to be? Not according to the New Testament. Here the ideal person- the one who perfectly exemplifies what it means to be truly human- is Christ. He is not the Alpha-Male. He is not the one who rules, dominates and controls. Rather, he is the Alpha-Omega Human. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” Christ says, “the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 21:6). Jesus takes our culture’s understanding of what it means to be great- of what it means to be powerful and strong- and subverts it. “the last will be first,” he says, “and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
On one occasion, the brothers James and John came to Jesus and asked if they could be his right and left hand men. In short, they wanted to be top dogs with their master when he tossed the Romans out of Israel and set himself up as king in Jerusalem. Naturally, when the other disciples got wind of the request of the brothers Zebedee, they were infuriated. Left unchecked, the behaviour of the twelve might have begun to resemble that of lower primates- biting and striking and butting heads in a struggle for dominance. Thankfully, Jesus intervenes: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).
This is what it means to be an alpha-omega male or female. It means to emulate Jesus in his loving, self-sacrificial service of others. It means to labour at bringing goodness and blessing into the lives of others, even if no one but the all-seeing God knows of our deeds.
In our ministry, Jasmine and I are striving imperfectly to be alpha-omega people here in inner-city Saint John. We’re trying to walk with those people who have been barred from living the North American economic dream. We are striving to serve them. We are striving to allow them to serve us. But, like the disciples, we sometimes get caught up in a desire for recognition or influence. Thankfully, the Lord continues to call us back to a higher vision of what it means to be human. In spite of all my temptations, I still want to be an alpha-omega human.
By Terence Chandra