Monday, August 11, 2008

Is All Selfishness Bad?

I have a very simple definition of sin. Sin is selfishness, but does this mean all selfishness is bad? I am writing this in response to some questions about my July 28 SOAP study. In pondering why people grieve over the loss of a loved one I made the statement "...why would people in the world grieve the loss of a loved one?...I think the reason is a selfish reason. We just don't want to see people go because we want them in our lives." I feel I need to clarify what I am trying to say here.

Let me start by introducing a Jewish concept of yetzer tov and yetzer ra. The word yetzer can be translated as impulse. All humans have impulses. Yetzer tov, simplified, is the good impulse in humans and yetzer ra is the evil impulse in humans, but this may be an oversimplification. Yetzer tov is the moral conscience in the a person. The Jews believed this to be the inner voice that reminds them of God's law, but for the Christian we could say that yetzer tov is the Holy Spirit who speaks to us. Yetzer ra on the other hand isn't simply an impulse, or desire to do evil, it is the desire to satisfy basic human needs such as shelter, food, clothing, etc...

I find this concept helpful in understanding human nature. Most humans can only live by their selfish desires, their yetzer ra. When selfish desires are unchecked, ie., ruled by the Holy Spirit, then they lead to sin (only thinking about oneself to the point of not caring what happens to others). For example, all of us need shelter. There are a few ways we can go about obtaining shelter, but for the sake of this argument let's say there are two choices. We can go out and find a job so that we can make money in order to acquire shelter, or we could go and steal another person's shelter. There is nothing wrong with the desire to have shelter, but we can act wrongfully on that desire.

Reminds me of what Paul says in Romans about how we as Christians were once slaves to sin. We were slaves to our yetzer ra. We not only had desires of a natural kind, but we usually followed those desires to a the point of sin. As Christians we are no longer bound to these desires because we listen to and obey our yetzer tov, the Holy Spirit, who enables us to keep our desires in check.

So is all selfishness bad? I would have to say no. The desire to have shelter and food for one's self and family is not a bad desire. It is not a sinful desire, but if that desire is not ruled by the Holy Spirit it can turn into temptation to do something sinful and eventually sin itself.

I look at grief the same way. Grief in itself is not bad. In fact, grief is a natural human response to death. It is not wrong to desire to have companionship and relationship with someone who is gone, but if we are not checked by the Holy Spirit our grief can become an obsession. Pastor Louie wrote about how people can come to idolize the dead, and this is exactly what can happen if we do not allow grief to be ruled by the Holy Spirit.

God created us to fellowship just as He himself is in constant fellowship. So wanting to be in a relationship with someone is not a bad thing, but if we don't allow the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts the desire can go south. Why do people cheat on their spouses? Because they have allowed the natural impulse to be in a healthy relationship with someone turn into the desire to be in an unhealthy relationship.

Yes, all sin is selfishness, but not all selfishness is bad. The selfishness that is not bad is the concern or desire for those things in our lives that we need. If this desire wasn't in us we wouldn't be able to survive. It is so important that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide these desires in us. They need to be there, but they need to be kept in check. So I encourage you. Let your Yetzer Tov rule over your yetzer ra. Allow the Holy Spirit to keep your natural desires where they ought to be.

No comments: