The question came up […] about being self-centered and selfish. How can we not be self-centered was implied in the question. Is not altruism the ideal state of being for the Christian?
JAC said: “We can’t but be self centered. If I’m not the center of my universe, who is?” But he qualified this statement by making a distinction between selfishness that is part of my God designed humanness and selfishness that is evil – or what we typically think of when we consider selfishness. To seek the glory that comes from God is both “selfish” and good. The is what Jesus did. He went to the cross willingly, not only because he loved us, but also because he was doing what needed to happen if he was to enter into the glory God had for him, namely to inherit a kingdom. Therefore, Jesus was not altruistic in the way we tend to think of that concept, that is, to completely deny one’s own needs, desires, or wants for the sake of the other. This may not jive with what we are accustomed to hearing.
JAC went on to say: “What makes selfishness evil is not a matter of seeking what is best for myself.” To seek the pearl of great price, as told in the parable, is a good thing. But we know that selfishness can also be, and usually is, evil. He then went on to define three characteristics of what makes selfishness evil:
- Seeking shallow desires at the expense of other human beings.
- Acting on the self deluded idea that I’m the most important being in the cosmos.
- Rejecting the idea that what is best for me is to be like God in my character and then being committed to the well being of others.
To love others is not to ultimately deny oneself, or to only care about the other and care nothing for oneself. To be committed to goodness for its own sake produces love for others as well as an appropriate relationship to all of creation including oneself. It is giving out of love (and consequently out of strength) that does not take away from oneself, but in fact, benefits oneself.
Finally, is selfishness or self-centeredness the root or cause of all that is evil in the world? Some would say one’s sin has everything to do with one’s relationship to oneself, thus implying that self-centeredness is our biggest problem. JAC disagrees. He said: “It’s not my inappropriate attachment to me that makes sin sin. It’s my inappropriate rejection of God that makes sin sin.” In other words, being inappropriately attached to myself is part of rejecting God, but it is the rejection of God that is the foundation of sin. Self-centeredness flows out of our rejection of God.