The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Self Interest: Source of Evil & Salvation?

Hello all:
Been quiet for awhile (various reasons) but have been pondering this topic…
here goes…
and not quite sure this is the best location for this…

Self Interest: Source of Evil & Salvation??

There’s a bit of a contradiction, maybe a pardox, perhaps irony lurking in our consideration of the notion of “self interest”. It is that “thing”, that “force”, which causes us to go our own way; away from God. Self interest separates us from God we might say. However, at the same time, we also must somehow claim that our self interest – properly directed, properly informed, properly released – plays a vital role in responding to God’s Grace!

It seems to me an exploration of this topic could be worthwhile – especially as in it, I believe, yet another avenue to grasping God’s intentions for Universal Reconciliation.

I’d be very curious to know how you all might view all of this.

Anyway, I’ll try to expand…

Sin we say, at it’s core, is selfishness. All about “me”. Doesn’t see the need for God, maybe doesn’t even want God. And so we “go our own way”. Apart from, maybe even against, God. And the amazing thing is God, at least it sure seems so, “lets” us do this.

In the back of our minds however, there lurks this warning: sin, and you will die. (I think that was the meaning and intent of the words spoken by God in our story of the garden…)

Now for a moment we can step back and wonder about this. If life comes from God, and life is not possible apart from God, then the current and apparent fact that there remain many who literally do claim their disdain for God and their intentions to have nothing to do with Him, remain very alive and even well. That’s at least a potential problem as it might appear that
A) God was lying; and/or -
B) Life really is possible apart from God, and He has hidden this reality from us;

However, there is another possibility. Perhaps God has temporarily suspended the “rules” of this great cause-and-effect (ie connection with Him is the only possible way life exists) in order to effect His purposes…

Switching now to another view of the issue…

There are those who hold to the idea that God would truly like to save all (ie keep all alive to enjoy His companionship for all eternity) but cannot realize/accomplish this because He is thwarted by our human choice; our so called “free will”. So we have the idea (eg CS Lewis) that the “gates/doors of hell are locked from the inside” sort of thing. Add to this the silly notion (well I find it silly I guess) that God “gives us what we desire”.

Thus we face the really odd spectacle of a very large group of people who, because of their slavish pursuit of self interest, actually want (or so the telling goes) to be in ECT hell or be terminated (annihilation) and be “as if they never were”. More than odd though, the notion that someones “self interest” would desire such awful/unpleasant/painful/tragic outcomes for themselves is actually absurd. Clearly we would be dealing with monumental/colossal distortions of perception and reality where such results could be viewed as “in the best interest” of that person.

How then did we ever arrive at the place where we say that God lets us “chose” what is “best” for us when in reality that “best” is actually nothing of the sort?? It is, rather, what is WORST for us! Should we discover a person claiming (and acting as if) a thing is best for himself when in reality it is the worst, the LAST thing to enter our minds as diagnosis would be that freedom is here at work! To call the act – the “choice” – of self-destruction (for that’s what sin is) “self interest” is to strip language of all meaning.

In “Mere Christianity” CS Lewis (in a slightly different context; he’s talking of the Atonement and the importance of the Incarnation) says this on p 60:

He goes on to elaborate on how the only way this is conceivably possible is if God does this in us, and for us. The idea being that, because of sin, even the desire and the will for saving come from God – not from within us. (Do I recall correctly that Jason has speculated that, had CS Lewis lived just a bit longer, he likely would have come to accept UR???)

Which is to say, I’m suggesting, that we are able to respond to God’s grace ONLY when God gives us the ability to recognize and wish for and embrace what is, in effect our true self interest. This talk of sin as being all about our acting in “self interest” then is all wrong: for sin is anything BUT self interest; it is self destruction. God comes to us, through Christ, His life and death and resurrection, to restore our capacity FOR understanding, grasping, and acting in what is actually true self interest.

Which brings me to another odd assertion often made by the God’s-respect-for-our-free-will-means-He’s-bound-by-my-choices crowd. It is said, of love, that unless it is given freely, it is “the love of a robot”. And God will not accept the love of a robot since really, it can’t be said to be love at all. But if I’m right in what I’m asserting here (or trying to assert; I’m sure it can be said better…) this has things completely backwards. Robots are unable to think/act in terms of self interest – true “self” interest. Which is precisely the state we find ourselves in as sinners. Thus the condition of being a robot, or robot like, is the one we are in NOW – as sinners! And the bible’s picture of this condition is quite vivid and clear. It is called bondage; we are slaves – prisoners – to sin. Robots for sin maybe.

Program a robot to self destruct by marching itself off a cliff and it will do so. Not unlike robots, we shall do the same if unhindered by the saving interventions of God. For our marching off a cliff to our destruction (or, marching into ECT hell) is an utterly irrational thing to do; the very same lack of rationality on display with robots. And this irrationality is the opposite of freedom.

So yes; it’s true that God will not accept the “love” of a robot. Which is precisely why He unilaterally extracts us from our predicament – from our robot like state – so that our love can be “freely given”. His task is to free us so that our self interest can be properly identified, and properly acted upon. And wonder of wonders, when we come to discern what our true self interest is, we discover it is identical to what God desires for us all along!

And the fact of the matter is that when God does this on our behalf, He is not violating our freedom at all; rather, He is insisting on it! But if God insists on freedom for some, surely His insistence applies to everyone. The more one rejects (or attempts to reject) that freedom, the better the evidence that God’s diagnosis is correct and He is even more justified in going to the lengths He does to return us to our planned place in His creation. Fully knowing what our self interest is, and fully willing and able to pursue it. And all to His glory.
And when that happens, it looks just like …

… Universal Reconciliation!!!

How do you see this??

Great post, Bob – I think you’ve nailed it, and what a great tactic – turning the robot analogy right-side up. We’ve been viewing it the wrong way round all along!


It’s always a treat to have your thoughtful posts! Concepts like freedom and self-interest seem to get understood in various ways. But I resonate with your observations. Lewis seems correct that our fiasco is not valuing our self-interest enough (and thus pursuing our self-interest in wrong and self-sabotaging ways). For it is ultimately to be found in God (not sin). Our sense of tension here may be fostered by our calling to love in the sense of preferring others to our self which we are called to deny. But if our true interests are met by following this way of love, then we are in effect also pursuing our ‘self-interest.’

The paradox that we are called to give up self and love, and yet wired to pursue our own happiness, against the backdrop of a world where it appears that loving can cause one to unhappily lose out, becomes a center of Kant’s apologetic for the existence of the God that we need to reconcile the two together, and insure that love and self-surrender really ends in happiness and finding our self. Dallas Willard also develops this argument in "Knowing Christ Today, and I’ve included it in my apologetic here: … =58&t=2010.

I really like this, Bob! :smiley: The robot analogy is excellent and, really, the argument brings to mind some of Tom Talbott’s (And I, for one, think his are the most coherent and plausible regarding ‘free-will’, grace and universal reconciliation)

Compare this…

…with this from Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God when he questions how incoherent it would be to refuse to be reconciled to God if one were fully informed:


That is uncanny, my friend. I read that very same quote from Talbott last night, having read Bob’s original post earlier, and was going to post it - *only to find you’d already done it! * Cue theme from *The Twilight Zone *…

Yeah, great post BobBobBob, as always. One conclusion I draw from what you’ve said is that over the centuries the church has done an *appalling *job of representing God’s will for us to us. As you, complementing Talbott, point out, our true ‘self-interest’ must be congruent with God’s interest for us, because by definition as God he desires the very best that can possibly be for us - and what rational person does not desire the same?

Unfortunately, ‘religion’ paints a picture of a martinet of a God who lays down all sorts of restrictive and petty rules that curtail our ‘self-interest’. And what’s worse, if we don’t obey those rules he’ll damn us for all eternity. Madness!

The gospel is supposed to be good news for *all *people. So why does it seem like such bad news for *most *people? The Universalist gospel, of course, is unmitigated good news:

God loves you so much that he will do literally *anything *he has to to make you eternally happy. You can kick and scream and fight him all you want. You can reject belief in him on the basis that this world is a vale of tears. You can do literally *anything *you want to do with your life, and it won’t make one iota of difference to the fact of his everlasting and unconquerable love for you.

That’s the kind of message we ought to be shouting from our pulpits!

Thanks for sparking that train of thought, BobBobBob.

All the best


:laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

Yeah, I think that section of Tom’s book made more of an impression at the time I first read it than any other part. This argument (Bob/Tom’s) is, I think, absolutely devastating to Arminianism.

What is God’s self-interest?

If the schizm started in the Garden of Eden, it was because of our self-interest. The tree was appealing to the eye, good for taste, and promised to make one wise. But for all of that, that which stood in the way was God’s self-interest. He forbade man to partake of the tree, he forbade man of his own self-interest for sake of His self-interest.

One little commandment seems like a small price to pay for the penalty of death. Yet that one little commandment is what set off man’s self-interest. And once that happened, man’s self -interest was assured, to the detriment of God’s self-interest.

I can’t help thinking about Peter, after seeing Jesus walking on the water, wanting to come out to Jesus, and took the faith to step out into the water. It was Jesus’ self-interest for Peter to exercise his faith in emulating Him. But only as long as Peter’s self-interest aligned with Jesus’. As soon as he looked around, it became all about Peter (Look at me, I’m walking on water!). Of course he sunk. He took his eyes off the God’s self-interest. And it was only when Peter reached out for help from Jesus that the alignment was restored.

Once we find out what God’s self-interest is, then we can walk on water, too. For we shall be like Him.

Isn’t that what salvation is about?

Many people get “saved” out of self-interest. Either, the Jonathan-Edwards type scare the hell out of them, and so they get “saved” in order to avoid going there, or other preachers hold forth the carrot of living in a wonderful eternal mansion while walking the streets of gold.

When Jesus offered discipleship to the twelve, He did not make self-interest a factor. Indeed, He made such statements as these:

If anyone comes to me and does not disregard his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26,27,33)

It doesn’t seem that He left any room for self-interest at all. Indeed, when the young man wanted to know how to get “eternal life”, it seems he had some self-interest. Then Jesus said, “You know the commandments,” and named some. The young man said, “I have kept all these since my youth up. So what do I lack yet?” Then Jesus said, “Oh. Just one little thing. Go and sell all of your possessions, and give the proceeds to the poor, and come, follow me.” The young man had too much self-interest to let go of his possessions! He went away sorrowfully.

Funny you should mention the Luke passage, as I was thinking precisely the same passage last night as I was reflecting on the current OP. What crossed my mind from disregarding all these people, including oneself, is that to the degree that you lessen your self-interest in everything else, it is proportional to the degree that God’s self-interest takes over. “He must increase, but I must decrease” It is self-sacrifice at work here, and it is a hard thing to do. But that is what will draw us closer to Him. Mary kept that one needful thing.