The human condition

Published 4:20 pm Monday, December 7, 2020

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By Scott Baker

Recently, my best friend and I were talking and in the course of the conversation he quipped, “I’m convinced all evil is a result of human selfishness.” His comment brought me up short. Being a student of theology, I was aware of St. Augustine’s thought that all sin is rooted in human pride: pride being defined by Augustine as self-centeredness. Augustine was drawing on the description of the first sin recorded in the Bible and resulted in The Fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. As Adam and Eve gathered around the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the temptation to satisfy their own desires over the instructions and commands of God became too much. They had been given one rule and one rule only: don’t eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The discussion with my friend lingered a while as we shared our musings on the ills of the world and how they are related to poor choices made by our fellow human beings. In the end, with a few exceptions cited, we both agreed that much of the evil in the world has been as a result of the selfish and self-centered choices made by flawed and broken human beings. In other words, people just like me and my friend.

Here we are in the second week of Advent, and while gathered for worship, we’ve recently heard the voice of John the Baptist calling all those who were drawn to him to “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This is the time of year we are called to make preparations, not only for the Christmas holiday, but also especially for God’s revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. John the Baptizer spoke a timeless message. Part of what it means to be human is the daily struggle to live more and more into a selfless existence. Indeed, it is the human condition that all of humanity has struggled with and against for time immemorial.

Perhaps the gift giving and generosity that marks this time of year are signs and symbols of our inner struggle to live more selflessly. Perhaps by focusing on friends and loved ones, or those in our community who struggle with poverty or hunger, is an attempt to get out of ourselves, out of our own skins so to speak, and live a little less selfishly. It is during this season that we remember perhaps the best known of all Bible verses: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten so, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

God’s activity of giving, especially the savior of the world as Christian believe, calls us to give generously as well. The act of giving, by its very nature, calls us to focus on others. It calls us to turn our attention from inside our own selves to those around us. If we keep working on turning our focus more and more to others and the world around us, we might just find who we truly are in the end. Or as the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart supposedly said, “The less there is of self, the more there is of Self.”

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the pastor of Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Contact him at 757-562-4542.