Charles Darwin gave us the evolutionary axiom — “survival of the fittest”, and ever since it has been the cornerstone motto of non-theism, contributing to their appraisal that survival pragmatism is indisputably the highest value that humanity can embrace. This is, no doubt, because to the rational mind, self-preservation is the most obvious universal instinct. Besides, what could be more practical than wanting to stay alive? Then again, the impulses of instinct can make for a tricky moral compass – ever convincing ourselves that being selfish . . . is just being a good survivor.
But here’s the thing about framing everything in terms of survival – it assumes that our natural state is to be at odds with our own existence, that the innate forces of the world around us are ever seeking to undo us at every turn. So if you don’t want to be exterminated – you must evolve . . . just to survive. This is because within the evolutionary paradigm you never really arrive — you will forever remain at odds with a hostile existence, no matter how evolved you become. And the reason this seems plausible to us, is because on a very primal level, we’re constantly experiencing some measure of alienation from our own existence.
But is this pervasive sense of alienation really how we exist, or is it just a distortion of our perception? What if survival pragmatism wasn’t our preeminent criterion – what would that look like? It is the confession of my Christian faith that we all exist in God, because there is no other existence. And because we were made in his image, by design our existence can only find its true orientation when we are in harmony with him . . . and apart from him, alienation. So for me reconciliation with God is the preeminent value . . . and survival isn’t even a close second.
To be set free from the pernicious delusion of self-existence that survival pragmatism so subtly insinuates, is to be unburdened of the fear and anxiety that always accompanies self-preservation. I no longer have to serve the self, allowing me to begin to see the true value of others as being the beloved of God – those for whom Christ gave himself as a willing sacrifice. So that I might find at the very center of all existence — a God who gives himself away as an infinite measure of his love. How can I not, but do as he does? To give myself away to others, so that they might know him all the more . . . and be set free from their alienation. Were we not made for this?
Is it not the very centerpiece of Advent, that we might find the babe in a manger as a gift – a gift of hope, forever declaring we can live our lives beyond the mere subsistence of survival? It is a declaration that peace on earth begins with each of us being at peace with our own existence. And you might do well to remember that this season of gift-giving was originally inaugurated by a God who gave of himself, without hesitation . . . and may we all choose to do likewise in the coming year.
I always thought this old Christmas Carol was haunted
with an intuitive sense of how costly was the gift of the babe in the manager