Skip to main content

Losing Life to Find It

Self-denial is a counter-cultural idea. It is very hard for Christians to espouse it when all around us we hear siren voices promising us happiness and fulfilment through various forms of self-gratification. If we live a life of self-denial, which Jesus acknowledged would be very hard to do, it can be difficult to escape the sensation that life is slipping away from us and we are missing the best that it has to offer. [1] Far from saving our lives, we can all too easily appear to be losing out.
Yet, at the same time, modern communications make us uncomfortably aware that, for the majority of people in the world today, self-denial is not a life-style choice, it is simply inevitable – part of their fate. If Western Christians moan about the hardships of self-denial we make ourselves look self-absorbed, shallow and self-pitying in comparison with the vast majority of our fellow Christians, and fellow human beings, who must cheerfully embrace a far harsher existence than we do.
Of course, we also know deep down that money does not really buy happiness – or, at least, it buys a very precarious and fragile kind of satisfaction. But if we dare to romanticise the sufferings and hardships of the world's poor and disadvantaged majority, by insisting that they are in many ways more likely to be content with their lot and more alive to what really matters than wealthier people are, we risk looking complacent and unconcerned about the tremendous, and tremendously unjust, disparities in life chances between the different people living on our planet today.
So, despite the protests of various revisionists, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that denying ourselves is a more authentic way of being a Christian than pleasing ourselves. But self-denial is only authentically Christian if we deny ourselves by living for others. This is what Jesus means by taking up our cross and following him. He does not mean that we need, literally, to seek out martyrdom and intense suffering because these things are intrinsically good. He means that we must adopt his priorities and goals if we want to find the fulfilment, peace and self-understanding which he knew and which are the birthright of every human being.
His priority was the well-being, what he called 'the salvation', of other people. By helping others we can truly follow Jesus' example and more surely help ourselves than by a narrow focus on self. The search for self-discovery will always prove elusive until we forget self and focus on our neighbours and on God.
[1] Mark 8.27-38


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Giotto’s Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds

John 1.10-18
In the week before Christmas the BBC broadcast a modern version of The Nativity which attempted to retell the story with as much psychological realism as possible. So, for instance, viewers saw how Mary, and Joseph especially, struggled with their feelings.

But telling the story of Jesus with psychological realism is not a new idea. It has a long tradition going back seven hundred years to the time of the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone. This nativity scene was painted in a church in Padua in about 1305. Much imitated it is one of the first attempts at psychological realism in Christian art. And what a wonderful first attempt it is - a work of genius, in fact!

Whereas previously Mary and the Baby Jesus had been depicted facing outwards, or looking at their visitors, with beatific expressions fixed on their faces, Giotto dares to show them staring intently into one another’s eyes, bonding like any mother and newborn baby. Joseph, in contrast, is not looking on with quiet app…

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…