Selfishness…some thoughts and questions

So, Saturday night my husband and I had an interesting conversation about selfishness… It was sort of a random conversation. It started out being a conversation about politics (my husband is a libertarian and very animate about wanting freedom and not wanting to be told what to do), then the conversation morphed into talking about freedom (freedom is one of my husband’s highest values and I’m not really sure that it is really all it’s cracked up to be – he calls me a communist, I tell him he’s selfish) and the conversation morphed again to talking about selfishness.

Basically the long and short of it was that my husband was saying how no one really does anything from purely selfless motives – we do things because of how they benefit us – he even pointed out that God seems to know this and plays to it by setting up a system in which the good are rewarded (thus giving a selfish incentive to do good) and the evil are punished (thus giving a selfish incentive not to do evil). He even went so far as to say that my choosing to love and follow God is selfish because “we love God, because He first loved us” – we love him selfishly for what he has done for us – Loved us. My husband has made this argument before and every time I try to come up with an example of a purely selfless act he ends up showing me how really it is selfish. It’s a strange argument we have every now and then. This time I got him to admit that there are some (though they may be rare) acts that are really selfless. But, this time though Bryan went a step farther after that — basically saying that selfishness isn’t bad – or at least that maybe some forms of selfishness aren’t bad. He asked why God created us and when I responded with “to bring himself glory” Bryan responded with “well, isn’t that a selfish reason”. I was stumped a bit. He went on to say that maybe there are different forms of selfishness – some being alright or even good – like when God who deserves glory desires glory for himself. Maybe we only have one word for selfishness but there should be multiple words for the idea. I was starting to think that maybe he was right that maybe selfishness when it leads to the pure, the true, the good isn’t a bad thing. But, I just couldn’t really accept it – I mean there is so much in the scriptures about dying to self and being self sacrificing and being a slave to God instead of a slave to self that I just couldn’t believe that self and selfishness isn’t as bad as I’ve always made it out to be.

It was about this point in the conversation that we both were too tired to finish and changed the subject – I sort of wish we had stuck with it a bit longer and hashed it out more, oh well.

Then at church yesterday I was really noticing how self-centered all the songs were – it was all about what God can, has, does do for ME. And it got me thinking about the conversation from the night before. Have we as Americans who value our freedom and independence and self above all else lost something about what it means to selflessly follow God? Or is Bryan right is there a place for selfishness even in our religion – can it sometimes be a helpful motivator to drive people towards God and towards the good? I tend to agree more with the first statement but it’s got me thinking, none the less, so I thought I’d share J

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

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