On Friday, we played with the theological notion that perhaps God created us more self-interested than we want to believe. For a people who spend their entire Christian lives condemning their flesh, this is a hard possibility to consider. We have been taught to believe that everything bad about us is "human after the fall" and that when we are redeemed, we won't have to deal with any of this junk.
But I also said that it's potentially not as disturbing as our first gut reaction. And I want to expand on that a little more.
As we saw, God wants us to choose Him freely. That's the very nature of love. And in order to choose Him freely, there has to be a legitimate choice. That is, there has to be something that has as much of a draw on us as all of the goodness of God. It's not a stretch for most of us to say that this something is often ourselves.
Now, then, think about how you make decisions about what is good or bad, right or wrong. You make these decisions based on some understanding of a standard. We develop our standards, generally, by observing the outcome of our choices. If it benefits us, it is good; if it does not benefit us, it is bad.
We are not, of course, always that self-centered, but it's still the standard, whether we think it is or not. Because even when we think that we're thinking about other persons, about what might be good for them or bad for them or what they might need in a certain situation, we are basing our interpretation on what we believe would be good for us. Well, if I were homeless, I would want a shelter to stay in. If I were sick, I would love for someone to bring me food.
In other words, if it would make our lives better to have whatever action done for us if we were in their situation, then we determine that it is good and therefore, we should do it for them. To take this further, we only understand what someone else means when they say "That would be good" or "I would like that" because we know what those phrases mean when we use them - this person has an intrinsic value set that would benefit from whatever we're talking about. The truth is, the only real reference we have for this world is our experience of it, and we draw on that more than we think we do.
If we are driven by our own reflection of our lives and our experiences in the world and if we are looking in the world for things that are good because they are good "for us," that sounds selfish. It does. But it is also quite likely the very thing that leads us to God.
Because if you're looking all over this world for things that are good for you, eventually, you're going to find God. You're going to meet Him. You're going to get to know Him. You're going to hear His story, and you're going to hear things like love and grace and hope. And these things...are good for us! And, well, if we're only choosing things in the world that are good for us, then naturally, our self-interest leads us to God-interest.
And if we go off searching for better things, we find Him again, too.
On the surface, we already know this. Overwhelmingly, we come to Christianity not because we love God, but because He's done something good for us or He promises something good that we want. We see it reflected in the lives of His people or we read it in His story or whatever, and we determine that it is good and that we want that. We only learn to love Him as we get to know Him. That, too, is the way that love works.
So that means that there has to be something that draws us to God if we're ever going to love Him. We like to say that it's His nature, that it's His grace, that it's His love - that it is something about God that draws us to Him. And in one sense, it is. But the deeper truth is that we are drawn to the good things about God because they are good for us.
That's why it doesn't bother me, theologically, to say that maybe God made us self-interested. After all, if God Himself is the very best thing in all the world but He wants a love that is freely chosen, then He has to create us as a people who want the very best thing in all the world for ourselves.