Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are we inherently selfish?

This is a question I have found myself searching for an answer to as of late. Selfishness really bothers me. While I know that at times (more often than I would like to admit) I am very selfish, I really do not aim to be selfish. I typically do think of others more than myself, sometimes to a fault. For example, I know that I have a tendency to be more upset about others' pain or trials than my own. It bothers me more to know that one of my friends or family members has been hurt than that some wrong was done to me. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. I recall a certain teacher I had in elementary school who was known to have obvious favorites whom she treated in a much different manner than the rest of the class by affording them unique privileges and constantly comparing other students to them. I was one of those favorites for that teacher, and though I received privileges and extra attention, I did not like this teacher because of the way I saw her treating other students. However, if I merely assessed her actions based on how she treated me, I would have characterized her as an excellent teacher. I had another teacher who chose students to be the butt of his continual jokes. While I was never the butt of any jokes, my observations of the reactions and feelings of those who were forced me to view this teacher in a more negative light. Now, I am not saying that I had miserable teachers as a I child because that is simply not the case nor am I saying that I have bitter feelings toward these teachers or anything. I was merely using these stories to illustrate my point that I have a tendency to think about the feelings of others. In fact, I remember as a junior high and high school student (and beyond) praying for God to heap pain on me if it meant that others would not have to go through trials. I realize that God does not work that way, and I see the value in facing trials. Romans 5:3-4 says, "And not only that, we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." Thus, I do believe that facing trials and tribulations and going through painful situations is what produces character and the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us. I am not saying that everything I have done or the way that I think is correct. It has just made me question why and how I am the way that I am. I find myself regularly asking God why I am the way that I am--not because I am angry or upset with the way He created me, but because I want to understand the greater purposes for which He created me.
Anyway, I digress from the topic at hand. Is selfishness inherent in humans? If we take a look at babies, we would probably have plenty of reason to say that selfishness is absolutely inherent. Infants know only that their basic needs must be met and have no regard for the situations of others. It is impossible to reason with a hungry infant because no reason or excuse that is supplied will fill his/her grumbling tummy. However, by the same token, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." Is this suggesting that while children may be inherently selfish, men and women should be past selfishness? This is where I am perplexed because it seems that selfishness has become somewhat of an epidemic among people, regardless of age. This causes me to wonder if we really understand what selfishness is and how it appears in our lives. I know that I have selfish thoughts that I fail to even recognize as selfish. I have been trying to be more conscious of my thoughts and checking myself. Ultimately, my desire is to have the mind of Christ, who was never selfish. Instead, He continually placed others before Himself and always sought the best interests of others.
So, maybe humans are inherently selfish, but when we accept Christ and we are no longer of this world, everything that is innately human gets tossed out the window. We have a new standard, a new inheritance. As Christians we are called to live to a higher standard, one worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ on our lives. When we accept Christ, we inherit His character, His unselfishness. This is great news for us because true joy is Jesus, Others, then You, but an inheritance requires us to claim that it is ours and to prove that we are who we say we are. Our lives have to serve as our identification as a child of God in order to claim the inheritance that has been set aside for us in our name, much the same way we would have to present identification to prove our identity in order to claim an monetary inheritance.
Regardless of what may be inherently in me as a human, "I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).

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