Sunday, August 25, 2013

A Life without Any Sacrifice

There is no such thing.

We’d like to think there is. Many live their lives simply trying to please themselves, and think they are thus avoiding sacrifice. Many avoid God, religion, or following all the dictates of their professed religion, because they don’t like the idea of sacrifice. In their minds, either God is mean and wrong to ask for sacrifice, or He is too nice to do so.
      But there’s no escaping it, even if we are blind to its presence, or even if we reject God. Some may think they serve no one and certainly no god, but that’s impossible. Whether we admit it or not, the temple in our heart can’t be empty. If we refuse to allow God in there, some other idol(s) will slip in, in His place. And that idol will always demand sacrifice.
     This sounds crazy, I know, but think about it. Let’s say I decide I will be happiest if I have a lot of money. I’m so dedicated to riches that I decide to let nothing stop me. So I put making money above following the law (provided I won't get caught). I put making money above exercise and rest, since I’ve got to put in a lot of hours to advance at work. I put it above being fair to my co-workers, because getting that promotion is integral to achieving my goal. So I’ll backstab or even lie about my co-workers. I may not admit it, but money is my idol, and the sacrifices I make to it are my conscience, my health, and good relationships with my colleagues.
Or let’s say what I care most about is pleasure. I don’t want to slave away at my job; I only work so I can pay for my pleasures. So I do just enough to keep my job; I don’t care about the company I work for, its well-being, or about pleasing my boss. I like people who are fun and with whom I have a good time. If they stop being fun or have problems, I avoid them if possible. I engage in activities that are pleasurable, even if they’re bad for me or risky. I may not admit that I’m worshipping pleasure or sacrificing my integrity, my long-term welfare, real friendship, my health, and possibly my life to it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am.
Of course in both those cases, all I’ve listed are the temporal sacrifices, which any open-minded person can perceive. But believers also notice the spiritual price to be paid: worshipping money, pleasure, or anything instead of God ultimately means the sacrifice of my character, of my virtues, of my eternal soul.

Most people aren’t as extreme as these examples though. They want money and pleasure and friends, so they give something to each. But they still fudge giving much of anything to God. 
But many do allow God in the temple of their hearts. Nevertheless, all of us—being sinners—have at least at times let down our guard and also allowed some minor gods to creep in there too. We don’t admit that they’re idols, so we think God won’t mind sharing some space with them. We think we can please Him and them too, and get the benefits of pouring a few surreptitious libations in their direction.

      Much as we would like to, we can’t keep our pretty cake intact and eat it too. Everything comes with a price. Often the price is worth it. Working hard at one’s job is worth the cost involved to provide for one’s family. But not if means having only the crumbs of time left for one’s family.
Growing in virtue and going to heaven have a price too—I have to follow God’s commands, even though it means denying myself or doing something difficult—but that price is well worth it. Any sacrifice I need to make—my pride, my grudges, indulging in excessive pleasure, my pet sins, getting my way—any and every one of these sacrifices is well worth heaven and union with God, who alone can satisfy my soul.