By David Hegg
Since 1994 I have traveled to Israel eight times. On each occasion, I took the opportunity to float in the Dead Sea. No one swims in it because the water is so salty that ingesting a cupful can be deadly. So, you just wade in, lean back and float. It is relaxing and special, if only because it is one of the world’s most unique places.
If you don’t know, the Dead Sea is dead simply because nothing except a recently discovered microorganism can live in it. The sea lies at the bottom of the Jordan river valley, and is the final resting place for all the minerals the waters of the Jordan drag along with them as they journey down from Mt. Hermon, through the freshwater Sea of Galilee, and then south to the Dead Sea. And there they stay. With no outlet, the Dead Sea waters and the minerals they carry have no place to go. And as the water evaporates, the minerals and salts are left behind, year after year, century after century. With a salt level almost 10 times that of the ocean, the Dead Sea is unable to support life. Water flows in, but nothing flows out.
Floating in the sea always reminds me that the lack of an outlet has turned this great body of water into a somber vacuum where nothing can live. It is a dead space, a watery expanse so toxic that life there is impossible. The Dead Sea is an example of what can happen to us as a people when selfishness rules our hearts.
We all realize it. There is a natural, growing tendency to be all about ourselves, dedicated to taking as much as we can get and using it for ourselves. We too often have become the object of our desire, and end up measuring life by how good we feel and how much we have. We grow voracious appetites to get, have and consume, staying vigilant to make sure no one grabs what we think should be our share. As Francis Schaeffer characterized our society a few years ago, “We get all we can; can all we get; and then sit on top of the can scared to death someone will try to take it away from us.” More and more we are becoming a society of souls with an inflow, but no outlet.
But there is hope! From where I sit, it appears that many in the emerging generation are much more concerned about justice and equity among their neighbors than about stuff. They are interested more in overflow than accumulation. Just this morning I sat with a young college graduate with a good job and a sound career plan who told me he’s going to step away from that plan for a few months to serve a humanitarian mission in Africa. He is a good example of a generation that believes their lives were meant to be agents of change and improvement rather than collection sites for the latest and greatest products. And I applaud them.
In our church we often talk about not being the “end users” of the blessings God grants us. It is the height of selfishness to believe that all we’ve been given is for our benefit alone. Where selfishness reigns you’ll find lives that, like the Dead Sea, are fast becoming dead spaces, where only bitterness can thrive.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Many of us have found we gain more by giving than by hoarding. To have a loose grip on the things of this life so others might be helped through generosity and compassion isn’t really a new concept. It has been the basis of real joy and societal strength since the beginning of time.
I believe every obstacle presents an opportunity. This pandemic is making life complex and confusing. We’re all feeling disjointed and distanced from the normalcy that has characterized our lives. But our response cannot be to dive deeper into our own selfishness.
During this crazy COVID-19 season, it is hard not to become even more self-centered than usual. But we can fight it, and we must! Can I challenge you to lift your eyes away from your own concerns, fears and desires to focus on the needs of those around you? What do you see? How can you help? And how does it feel to know you’re sharing life with fellow travelers on the human pathway rather than focusing only on your own desires?
Give it a try. Find an outlet, and be generous. I’m betting you’ll find that helping others infuses some of the joy of life into your soul, and right now we all need more joy.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.