Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Ivory Cubicle | The Other-Centered Life

It is a truth universally acknowledged that man is a political animal. Or at least, Aristotle thinks so, and most of western philosophy has followed suit. And though most of us are not as close to the perfect form of the political animal as, say, Glenn Bertsch, we do realize the underlying principle that Aristotle is trying to bring out: we are social creatures, created to desire interaction with other people, and we gain fulfillment by dwelling in community with others.

At this point, it’s easy for us to say, “well, duh!” and not push the question any further. But it seems that our very familiarity with this concept causes us to miss the truth contained within it.

Do we realize that we, as humans, were created for someone else? Of course, we all realize that we were created for God and that we derive our utmost fulfillment in him. But we also find in Scripture that “it is not good for man to be alone” and that we are created to enjoy the company of each other. We desire that which is outside of ourselves- both in God and man. We are designed to live an other-centered life.

That’s not really what you hear in culture today. There’s a lot of rhetoric about “my rights,” a desire to do whatever I want as long as I don’t hurt anyone, and a culture generally motivated by self-interest. But the mere fact that we desire to be served implies that there is someone who is supposed to serve. And since you can’t be served unless there is another person who is serving, it follows that it is a more fundamental part of human nature to serve than to be served.

So from a Christian perspective, doesn’t it make sense that if we were created by a loving God, the very thing that we were created to do will bring us the most enjoyment? And doesn’t it follow that if we all serve each other, we will also be served?

“But wait!” says the skeptic. “That’s all idealistic and such. But in reality, nobody’s going to do anything for you, so you’ve got to stick up for yourself.” There is some merit to this, but only because of the Fall. In an Edenic state, the way we were created to live, it is easy to conceive of everyone serving and being served by each other. Instead of sticking up for ourselves and defending “our rights,” we cheerfully execute our duties to one another and derive fulfillment from doing so. And when we are served by others, we are blessed.

Now in the post-fall world, there’s a bit of prudence to be applied. The hard truth is that service isn’t reciprocated, and duties to yourself now require greater emphasis. We do have to look out for ourselves if we want to be able to look out for others. But the principle is this. If it is a fundamental part of our nature to serve God and others, maybe the fulfillment derived from doing so is worth the initial self-denial.

Posted by Nick Barden

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