What if the entire premise of the gospel rests on the belief that you are selfish – that you care very much about your own happiness and freedom from suffering – perhaps more than anything else? What is the gospel, very simply?
“Believe, and you will be saved.”
It doesn’t say believe, and your family will be saved. Or your friends. Or your neighbor, or the homeless stranger.
The gospel rests heavily on the idea that you want you to be saved – that you want this so deeply that you’re willing to lose your family and your friends and your career and your reputation and your money and everything you have. So much that you’re willing to risk your life in order to claim that promise.
And it’s right. People do give up all those things. People even die – for the promise that they, and they alone, will be saved.
Because we are deeply selfish. And once we get past the infantile stage of only caring about how we feel right now, we’re willing to sacrifice everything for the belief of a better future for ourselves.
This concept is woven throughout the entirety of the scriptures, but even though I was theoretically taught the Bible since I was born, no one ever mentioned this.
I learned that to be a Christ-follower means to be in a constant state of self-sacrifice, that to desire any kind of power or wealth or beauty or really anything that feels good to me is inherently wrong, that to be righteous basically meant you had to be content to be at the bottom of every hierarchy in this world.
But then after what I had believed to be truth turned to ashes and dust in my mouth, I started reading the Bible as if it was actually a good book. As if it actually contained wisdom. As if it actually survived for so long for a reason.
And it was wild, man.
Because they read the Bible to me, so a lot of the words were super familiar. But there were things that just kind of got overlooked, somehow?
Like there’s this bit in 1 Peter 5 where he’s like “Humble yourselves, then, under the mighty hand of Elohim-” -and believe me, I’ve heard that. What they didn’t point out was why we should do this. Even if it’s right there, coming in hot- “-so that He exalts you in due time.“
You can argue that this is referring to the afterlife and only to the afterlife, if you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that Peter is cheerfully assuming that the thing that will motivate us to humble ourselves is our desire to be exalted.
He’s not the only one.
The Bible-writers do talk a lot about about sacrifice and struggle. And there’s a good reason for that. But I’m still looking for the part where our motivation for sacrificing and struggling isn’t our own future good – sometimes collectively but more often individually.
Also, it bears mentioning: no, we’re not doing those things for God. Unless you think God is some kind of monster, I don’t see how you can imagine that He enjoys watching us suffer for Him. That is not for His benefit – it’s only for ours.
And this makes the concept of the cross far more powerful – because unlike a human martyr, He isn’t doing it for a promise of His own benefit.
I don’t believe that God needs us. It might have been a violation of His nature to turn His back on humanity, but I don’t believe that for His own sake He would have suffered if He chose to just wipe us out and make another world.
Yet He chooses us. And He chooses the cross.
Because that is what love does. Love takes someone else’s struggle and suffering and makes it my own struggle and suffering so that I can’t forget it until I find a way to heal it.
But guess what: even God doesn’t act like our motivation for choosing Him is ever going to be anything other than the benefit it brings us. He doesn’t seem to condemn us for that particular bit of selfishness, either.