on "unselfishness"

Posted: January 29, 2009

i'm trying to post more frequently and shorter (i'll try). the idea for this post came up in a conversation i had today w/ a friend.

often when i chat with people, i listen "in between the lines" of what they say and i hear, though rarely explicitly said, this weird notion that having pain and suffering makes you good or makes you a better person or something like that. some of you might be like "what?! who would think something so stupid?" it's there. i've heard it. ive heard it mainly in church settings though. maybe it's only in some christian circles... christians are sometimes crazy and have things backwards. in christian-land i've heard things like "you should do A instead of B because you'll have a harder time doing A" or something like, "if you're doing something and you're not suffering, you're doing something wrong." i say NONSENSE. there's this weird "pursuit of pain" that seems so obviously stupid but is very real. maybe i'm a bit harsh here, suffering teaches us a lot. but who in their right mind goes after it? the first thing i thought of was this quote (which i had a hard time trying to remember exactly where it came from)...

from Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (emphasis mine):

If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ.

i'll try to use a non-c.s. lewis quote in my next post but i think he puts it very well.


right as i published this, simon sent me this post about mr. rogers. its related... somewhat. if not related just read it anyway. mr. rogers was a good man.

3 comments on “on "unselfishness"”

  1. i didn't find that mr rogers article related to this, but i enjoyed it anyway 🙂 i kind of wish i watched more of his program growing up.

    as for your post, i hear ya. sometimes i feel the same way, and other times i think i AM one of those people :T but i just think of the verse, "to obey is better than sacrifice" (1 sam 15:22) and then what are the 2 greatest commandments in the NT? love your god and love your neighbor. sometimes love means sacrifice, but most of the time it really means *loving*, caring, sharing, feeding, etc.

    anyway good thoughts. i like the cs lewis quotes personally. i haven't read enough of him.

  2. I think if we idolize suffering, this is just once again idolizing the means, not the end.

    Suffering is a powerful tool for sanctification, for the end of becoming more like Christ.

    Also, suffering for the sake of revealing more of the Gospel is repeatedly seen as a high calling in the NT, something to rejoice over (for being counted as worthy).

    But, suffering is always seen, I think, as one of the greatest means to being pulled closer to Christ. But, again, I think we Christians have a nasty habit of always idolizing means rather than glorifying ends.