This week I have found myself involved in three separate situations with one thread in common: people are pursuing a course of action that seems right for them individually, but which are, in fact, quite harmful to their group as a whole.
The welfare of the whole is unprotected and the unity of the whole is undermined.
In fact, there is such blind pursuit of naked self-interest among individuals that there is no whole left.
Narcissism has become the new normal.
And loyalty to self is paramount and trumps all other ties.
No longer do spouses put the welfare of their marriage ahead of their individual wants and demands.
No longer do parents put the welfare of their family ahead of their adult pleasures and pursuits.
No longer do politicians and political parties put the welfare of our nation ahead of their partisan advantages and agendas.
No longer do pastors and parishioners put the welfare of the church ahead of their personal preferences and whims.
It’s every man for himself.
Not that selfishness is new. Not that narcissists haven’t always been among us.
Not that selfishness isn’t found inside all of us. Not that selfishness hasn’t always been a problem.
It’s the degree to which it has taken hold, and the lack of a countervailing force pushing back against blind, naked self-interest.
It’s selfishness on steroids.
When people are loyal to nothing and nobody beyond their self, no bonds of relationship can long survive.
Spouses used to sacrifice their own immediate wants for the long-term welfare of their marriage. But most don’t do that anymore.
Parents used to sacrifice their own immediate wants for the long-term welfare of their family. But most don’t do that anymore.
Politicians and political parties used to regularly put the welfare of the country first, and their party’s advantage second. But most don’t do that anymore and we don’t elect them if they do.
Pastors and congregations used to regularly put the welfare of the church ahead of their own preferences or advantages. But that’s not true in most churches anymore.
We are at all times being urged to fight for my self, my pocketbook, my family, my party, my ideology, my will, and my way.
Me. Mine. My. Not we, ours, or us.
We have a gaping hole in our family and religious upbringing, and in the reigning philosophies of our time.
And that hole is a certain kind of love called by agape love.
This kind of love is a self-sacrificing love that voluntarily serves the welfare of others in a way that redeems them.
It looks to the welfare of the whole, and it certainly cares for individuals.
It looks to the long-term, and not just the short-term.
It recognizes that we are more than individuals, we are members of a group.
It understands that our group needs the protection, nurture, care, and costly sacrifices of every person in it to survive and thrive.
It is well aware that individuals may want things that would be destructive to the welfare of the whole, and says no to them.
Because all relationships, and all groups, depend to one degree or another on self-sacrifice.
For your sake, I say no to myself and keep saying no.
For the love of the whole, we put to death self-gratifying urges that hurt the unity and integrity of the group.
Even if that individual is me and especially if that individual is me.
And why would we do this? Why would we sacrifice our own advantages and interests for the sake of others and for the sake of the whole?
Because Someone has first loved us in that very same way.
He gave Himself for us on a cross and loved us to the uttermost in the way we needed most but least deserved.
So we owe a debt of love we can never repay, a “thank you” we can never say enough.
Our self is an endless vacuum that would consume the entire universe if it could, and remain dissatisfied and more empty than when it began.
Scrap away the surface, and one finds that the end result of all this self-absorption is misery, addiction, boredom, and death.
And the only thing that can satisfy us forever is greater than the universe and is Himself infinitely filling.
In other words, the cure for narcissism is to allow our vacuous, grasping, sinful selves to be loved by God.
Receiving His love and being filled with His love is the only answer.
Losing our selves in Him is finding our true selves.
Dying to our old self in Him is the gateway to being reborn a brand new person.
A new person who cares for others, and who puts the interests of the whole ahead of his or herself.
In secular philosophy, we have either individualism or collectivism.
The person at the expense of the group or the group at the expense of the person.
In Christ, we love both individuals and the whole group.
So we labor for the welfare of both with His boundless energy and overflowing love.
There is a solution!