Kehrberg: Just save yourself?
Selfish people always think their own discomfort of more importance than anything else in the world. — George Eliot, Middlemarch
I once read an article in which a woman, portrayed as a typical “soccer mom,” was asked why she drove a Hummer (which is basically a mini-tank). She said, “Safety. If I get in an accident, I win.”
On one hand I totally get it (motorcycles are banned in our family). Yet, there is something unsettling in her overall philosophy that has bothered me through the years.
More recently, my neighbor Bill said something rather similar.
Bill, a generous and interesting man, proudly owns guns and is not, according to him, afraid to use them in self-protection. In one conversation he put it quite simply, “Listen, Sarah, if only one of us is walking away, it’s going to be me.”
Both of these statements communicate a belief that we have the right and duty to self-protect. Self-preservation is an end that justifies any means.
Please don’t find me simplistically idealistic. If a man came into my house and was going to violate my daughters and Bill came and shot that man dead, I would write Bill a thank-you note and send him a plate of cookies.
(Then I’d ask the Holy Spirit to give me true remorse for the loss of that evil man’s life.)
Our impulse to preserve ourselves, our children, our communities and the earth is God-given, noble and true. But the great Deceiver twists that impulse and tempts us to do things we wouldn’t consider otherwise:
Do I find the truth by lying? Or protect my money by stealing yours? Do I protect my pride by tearing yours apart? Do I save my life by ending yours?
I believe our society would say “yes” to all these.
Is this a Kingdom attitude? Are there appropriate times and places in the Kingdom to say, if it comes down to it, I win?
To me, Jesus’ many teachings and admonitions not to self- protect far outweigh any arguments to the contrary: turn the other cheek, walk two miles, be the servant of all, lose your life to save it, love your enemies.
Perhaps the most convincing is Jesus’ own choice to not be the one to walk away when he himself was killed.
Life-and-death situations are the extreme end of self-preservation. Let’s take this out of the context of big cars and guns.
Sometimes I know my husband is under stress and, I’m embarrassed to admit this, my first reaction is to think, “He better not assume he can skip supper cleanup or think I’m putting the kids to bed by myself. I’m tired, too.”
Translation: “It’s going to be me.”
Think about our instinct to self-protect at church meetings or in work relationships. With extended family or in social media.
Imagine all the ways it is possible to say, “If only one of us is walking away, it’s going to be me.”
I know the Deceiver loves to see us treat each other badly, but his real goal here is separation from God.
If I believe it is just and good to tell my fellow man, “I win,” I find it quite possible that I’m telling God that as well.
Jesus gave us the first and greatest commandment: Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. For me, this is lived out by approaching God as the one who wins each and every time.
Only then can I fulfill the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.