Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Breakdown of Self Preservation

I am back in Africa, and back for my second year at the Amahoro Africa Gathering. This year, a conversation is taking place on Christ, Creation, and Community.

One of the things that struck me as Dennis Tongoi spoke this morning is a theme I had already been contemplating -- the idea that God so loves the world. It has dawned on me that this concept may be very difficult to fully grasp and comprehend in contrast to a general biblical perspective that the "world" is evil. The idea that the world is evil is perhaps at the foundation of why many Christians focus their eyes on death (bliss in heaven) instead of life (consumed by sin). But there it is, in the most famous of all scriptures, God loves the world we live in...in the present...today.

We are also made aware for God's love for all things, a phrase repeated countless times in the scriptures. Dennis suggested that we tend to live out our faith with the intention of personal gain. If I follow my faith, God will give me the desires of my heart. If I serve the poor, I will earn God's favor and blessing. If I save more souls, my rewards will be stored up for me in heaven. He called this "Photo Album Faith" - like having a group photo taken and immediately seeking yourself out in the image when you get the proofs. But, the photo was never about you, it was about the group and the circumstances that brought you together. God's love is carefully weaved among all things - every man, woman, child, tree, cloud, and all elements of creation in that photograph. Each individual, while loved intimately by God, also serves an ultimate purpose in his or her community and in the world.

I have had many conversations around the philosophy that all things humans do or say is always motivated by self-gain. Even as we serve the poor, contribute financially to various causes, or help a coworker thrive in their career, the end result is that we feel good about ourselves. For many Christians, saving souls or simply sharing the gospel is done on the premise of some pending reward in the afterlife. In my personal story, undertaking difficult and radical change was only made possible by the expectation that it will ultimately lead to a richer, more satisfying life.

I don't know of any way to deny this theory of self-motivation. What I do know, however, is that we should not use that theory as a way to rationalize actions that will hurt ourselves or others more than they will help. We cannot focus on or give into self-motivation as a means to justify actions we are called to take but don't really want to. Even if we are aware of our personal gain in any situation, we should never allow it to distract our true intention and desire to act out of selflessness and care for others.

We have a responsibility to our communities and all of creation...to make the right decisions at work, in our relationships, and in our family. Caring for one another is the ultimate measure of self-satisfaction. If joy is brought to me through witnessing the joy in others - especially if I helped them to seek and find that joy - then it is win-win.

My challenge in this is to step outside the preservation of self and make intentional choices that consider all things in my environment and community. Because the fruition of God's plan is dependent on community, I cannot succumb to isolation in search of healing. My present struggles are marked with a need for community -- not only to allow others to walk with me in my grief but to intentionally and proactively walk beside and encourage others despite my grief. I suspect the latter is of the utmost importance.


  1. Hi JJ,

    So glad you're posting again! Have a great time and I hope you do find some moments to let us know how your journey is unfolding. Love you!


  2. u are doing a great work at the conference
    i think i saw u this day, we will have a chat later, have a great day