“Why should I care?”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
We all encounter questions whose answers we don’t know, and sometimes questions for which we can’t even imagine how to find a valid answer. Then, sometimes we face questions where the problem isn’t so much finding an answer, as answering in a way that will satisfy the person who asked.
I encountered a question like this recently, for which the answer was obvious, but it was immediately apparent that the asker would not be convinced by the obvious answer. It was clear that the question came from a bitter and hateful heart, and was not asked in a genuine quest for answers, but as a rhetorical device attempting to convince others of his hateful ideology. It pertained to a specific situation, but it boiled down to this: “why should I care about other people?”
Most of us instinctively respond to such a question with a facial expression of disgust, but if you can think past that gut reaction, the notion that I have no responsibility to look out for anyone but myself does make a kind of warped sense. Certainly, we are all responsible for our own behavior, and that means everyone else is responsible for their own behavior, and it’s not my problem. If we take that a step farther, I am the one who has to deal with whatever circumstances come my way, and I have no right to expect someone else to rescue me; therefore, perhaps I have no obligation to jump into the breach and make sacrifices to rescue others, who are just as much on the hook to deal with their circumstances.
Of course, there is a simple answer to this utterly self-centered view of morality: God demands otherwise. For example,
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2.3-4)
Well, that was pretty clear, wasn’t it? If we wanted to be more thorough, we could list a few others, such as “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1Co 10.24), or “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1Th 5.15), or “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone” (Ga 6.10). We could even follow Paul as he connects this standard to the Old Testament law:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13.8-10)
This one highlights that God hasn’t changed his mind about this—it was the same for the Jews under that first covenant, when God’s expectations of them were comparatively lower. In fact, you can see this standard made plain throughout the Law of Moses. For example, he commands his people to leave the edges of their fields unharvested and to leave what fell on the ground, for the poor, widow, fatherless, and sojourner (Le 19.9-10, Le 23.22, De 24.19). He commands his people to throw a giant party every third year for these same people, as well as for the Levites, to thank them for their work on behalf of the nation, sacrificing their own interests for the sake of the whole (De 14.22-29). He tells them explicitly that he himself “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (De 10.18), then in the next verse hammers home the application: “Love the sojourner, therefore.”
It’s easy to see from this that he wants his people to imitate him, and that he deliberately sets an example to them of how they ought to act—how we ought to care about others. But until now, we’ve only focused on the argument from authority. That’s fine—God has all authority, and we are obligated to obey his every instruction, whether we agree or not. But often, he does us the additional kindness of telling us why he has given a particular instruction. This is the case In Deuteronomy 10, where a moment ago we cut off verse 18 in the middle. He commands, “Love the sojourner,” and that should be good enough, but he goes on to say, “for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” He says this, and things like it, many more times in Deuteronomy (5.15, 15.15, 16.12, 23.7, 24.18, 24.22), as well as a couple times in Exodus (22.21, 23.9) and Leviticus (19.34). He’s trying to teach them the same thing that is expressed today in the old adage, “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”
This line of reasoning doesn’t change when the New Testament comes along. In another exhortation to care for others, Paul says, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Ro 15.2). This is the same instruction we’ve seen several times already, but this time, beyond “because I said so,” an additional reason is given: “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Ro 15.3). It’s not substantially different from God’s message in Deuteronomy. So, why should I care? First, because God told me care. Second, because I was in an awful state, with more on the line than just deprivation or starvation, and the only reason I’m not still there is that someone—God—stepped in to clean up my mess, and rescue me from the greatest danger imaginable.