What makes—
–A soldier volunteer for a dangerous mission?
–A missionary forsake his country to live overseas?
–A cancer patient endure the pain of chemotherapy?
–A terrorist blow himself up for a cause?
–A fighter keep standing after being knocked down repeatedly?
–A father work two jobs to get his daughter through college?
–A European village to spend a hundred years building a town cathedral?
–St. Paul say, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”?

People sometimes choose to do things that cause them great personal loss or suffering for a purpose more important than themselves. We obey the law when no one is watching, give anonymously to charity, wait in line, and stop to help strangers. We continue to live with pain, even when it would be easier to end our pain with pills or a bullet. Whether or not we believe in God, we all have an inborn instinct to look beyond our immediate self-gratification and to serve someone or something greater than our immediate self-interest.

In his little tract The Four Spiritual Laws, Bill Bright represents the human life with a circle, full of a wide variety of interests. In the middle of the circle is a throne. The throne of our lives is our chief purpose. It is what we desire more than anything else and serve above all.

In Bright’s version, there are only two contenders for that central throne—self and God. It’s really more complicated than that. Family, community, or ideology can sit on that central throne, but the idea is very much the same. We all serve something. That central something is our true god, our actual religion, and our actual faith.

Paul Tillich called faith our “ultimate concern.” It doesn’t have to be religion. It can be our confidence in our own strength, some philosophical belief, or a passion for someone or something that becomes all important. John Calvin called the many contenders for the throne idols—false gods that take the place of the true God.

We all have faith, even when we think we have none. The strength of our faith can make the difference between success and failure, happiness and misery, meaning and chaos. Faith is not surface religion, empty tradition, or idle belief, but our real foundation. In the end, it is the one thing that matters.

In future postings we will be looking at the Christian faith, and how it relates to every aspect of our lives.

I’d like to hear from you about it.

What do you see as your “ultimate concern” in life? What would you be willing to die for? What would you be willing to devote your life, endure pain, or sacrifice everything for?

Do you agree with the idea that we can only have one ultimate concern in life? Can we have several objects of devotion and hold them equally? What do we do when they conflict with each other?