It may not be quite true, but I think half the good things in my life come to me graciously and unexpectedly. Of course, that does not take me off the hook for planning and having some discipline in the way I go about life. I am sure that is true for you, too. I am willing to conclude life is lived with an interesting mixture of human effort and grace (whether that is divinely bestowed is a theological question). In sum, life comes though effort and serendipitous gift. We can upset the balance and probably mess things up pretty easily.
Workaholics err on the side of effort. Workaholics think they only get wherever they want to get by sheer effort. Granted there is much to laud in human effort. If I think about myself, I never could have been offered a college teaching post without having my Ph.D. That is fact; it is neither good nor bad. And I can tell you, a Ph.D. does not come without human effort. I learned those foreign languages. I wrote those papers and, ultimately, that dissertation. I mustered the discipline.
But it also would be crazy for me to think the Ph.D. was solely the result of my human effort. I had a number of faculty who were gracious to me with their time, patience, and encouragement. There were family and friends who assisted with money, succor and support. All this help was significant. However, their support alone would not have convinced the University to grant me the Ph.D. There is a balance, as there usually is.
Typically, we need a strong sense of self to aspire to goals and persevere in the process to meet those goals. If we are too wimpy, either we never will even try to reach lofty goals or we will have no staying power to achieve them. It is not unusual to hear people blame bad luck, their misfortune, society, or anything else for their own personal failure or shortcomings. The problem with the blame-game is that it never solves the problem or changes the situation.
On the other hand, we have to be careful and not have such a strong sense of self that we cross the line into egocentrism. Nobody really likes egocentric people. Egocentric people typically are too arrogant to be around. They have an incapacity to share or give credit to others. They have no sense of humility. They do not know the difference between request and demand! They have lost a sense of balance.
Oddly enough, it is this idea of egocentrism that brings me back to the beginning and how graciously I have been treated. I have a friend who gave me a book out of the blue. The book, A Sacred Voice is Calling, is by John Neafsey. I have never heard of him or the book. There was no reason for the book to be given to me. I put it on the stack with the rest of my unread books. But for whatever reason, last night I picked it up and started thumbing through the pages. My eyes stopped on a page and a couple sentences jumped out at me.
Neafsey writes, “The psychological parallel to the spiritual concept of sin is egocentrism. ‘Psychologically’, says John Sanford, ‘the egocentric state corresponds to the religious notion of original sin, for it is a state of affairs from which we must be saved if we are to live creatively and know God.’” There is some great stuff here which I would like to unpack and offer some commentary.
I find it fascinating to think that original sin is the theological equivalent of egocentrism. I will admit that I find the idea of original sin not quite to my liking, but I think it works just as well even if I simply think of sin. I am convinced egocentrism is equivalent to sin. Both egocentrism and sin fracture relationships; they tear things down instead of build up. They contradict whatever image of salvation we might want to put forth. I like the quotation from John Sanford that Neafsey cites. I have heard of Sanford and I like his material.
Put simply, sin and egocentrism are the problems; salvation is the solution. You cannot be egocentric and saved at the same time. You cannot sin and claim to be saved; they are contradictory. I know the biblical take on sin. The apostle Paul tells us the wages of sin are death. Maybe the fruit of egocentrism also is a form of death: death of healthy relationships and respect.
But there is an alternative and that alternative is salvation. Salvation normally is seen as a grace. It is a gift to you and to me. But it is a gift with a mission. The mission is for us to begin to live creatively and to know God. We can do neither as egocentrics or sinners. Lord, heal me, says the sinner. Lord, humble me, says the egocentric. And when that happens, we are saved and are ready to begin to live creatively. And to do so leads to the knowledge of God.