Acts of self-sacrifice deeply touch the human heart in a way nothing else does.
The movie Act of Valor gave us a vivid representation of the ultimate sacrifice. As three soldiers enter a building near the Mexican border, a grenade is thrown into a room among them. Seeing no time to get out of the building before detonation, Lieutenant Rorke, throws himself on the grenade absorbing the full blast of the explosion. As he lies dead and in a pool of his own blood, his fellow soldier and friend runs to him fully realizing the deadly cost of Rorke’s sacrifice.
Captain America: The First Avenger also gave us a poignant scene of self sacrifice when Steve Rogers threw his body over a grenade that was thrown into the middle of his platoon during a training exercise. The grenade wasn’t actually going to explode, but Rogers didn’t know that. It was a test. His immediate instinct to sacrifice himself to save his fellow soldiers revealed a man willing to give everything to save the lives of others.
The magnitude of service and self sacrifice exhibited when one of us literally lays down our life for another is evident. Being willing to die for another person so they can live is the greatest expression of love. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
The deliberate act of killing someone to save yourself would be the opposite of this kind of self sacrifice. Imagine if Lieutenant Rorke or Steve Rogers, instead of throwing their own bodies down, threw a fellow soldier’s body over the grenade to save themselves. Would we praise them for protecting their bodies? Would we validate their actions as rightly protecting their interests and bodily rights? I don’t believe we would.
As difficult as the situation was, we know that if Rorke or Steve Rogers intentionally killed a fellow soldier to save themselves, their actions would be condemned. When we watch these scenes in the movies, heroes do not hesitate to make the ultimate sacrifice to save others rather than themselves. We witness in these moments actions that all of us were made to emulate in our own lives in some form. Human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, who sent His only Son Jesus, to die for our sins. Because of that, humans naturally understand the great love a person shows in sacrificing on behalf of others in whatever form that takes.
Such a dramatic and costly act of self-sacrifice, of placing our body over a grenade, will likely never be required of most of us. Nonetheless, the choice of acting sacrificially for the good of others will be presented to us throughout our lives in different scenarios. We have the choice, responding in sacrifice or responding in serving ourselves.
There are extraordinary acts of sacrifice, and then there are ordinary acts of sacrifice. Ordinary acts of sacrifice could be understood as common actions that many people are required to do to help others. Extraordinary acts of sacrifice, like throwing your body over a grenade to save people, is not a regular occurrence. It is not required by law that if we were in a room with a grenade, we would have to jump on it. On the other hand, ordinary acts of sacrifice take place every day and oftentimes are required by law. The most obvious example is parenthood. Parents are required to care for their children. They are required to provide food, education, housing, and care because younger humans need those things to live and can’t provide them for themselves. When this type of care is withheld from children, we consider this abuse and establish laws protecting children from such neglect.
It is becoming increasingly unpopular to understand our lives as they were meant to be understood. We were created with a purpose by a relational and sacrificial God. He didn’t give us our lives merely to be used for our own selfish benefit. Our lives are gifts intended to be stewarded in a manner that serves our Creator and, as a result, serves our fellow human beings.
Acts of self sacrifice are often rightly praised in our culture. Our intuition of that intrinsic good shows humans cannot completely suppress the image of God present in every person. However, many actions and lifestyles that are praised and protected in this culture reveal we also highly value ourselves above others. Life in America and across the world is about me. It’s about my desires and my life, my fulfillment and my success. And if someone else gets in my way, I have a right to do what’s necessary to preserve my liberty and my rights at all costs.
This twisted view of humanity can be seen in how lucrative pornography and sex trafficking are in America and across the world. Human dignity, value, and purity are thrown away for temporary sexual gratification and financial profit at the expense of someone else. These industries communicate the idea that people’s bodies are expendable. That someone else is supposed to be used for my benefit. They are to be sacrificed for another’s will.
Similarly, abortion also perpetuates this view of self-service and extends it further to directly killing another person. The responsibility for the child’s vulnerable state lies not with the child but with the man and woman who voluntarily engaged in an act known for producing another defenseless human being. When our actions create another human being in need of assistance and our only options become either to temporarily help or intentionally kill, our moral obligation lies with preserving and protecting life; not destroying it to benefit ourselves.
Pregnancy involves sacrifice. It means in some sense giving our body to someone. It means being willing to experience pain and discomfort so someone else can live. Pro-life apologist Stephanie Grey of Love Unleashes Life put her finger on the pulse of abortion when she stated the following:
“When it comes to abortion it is about choice—a choice between two worlds. A choice between a world where
1) People use and abuse each other by selfishly demanding, “This is your body given for me” or where
2) People reverence and honor each other by selflessly offering, “This is my body given for you.’”
How will we use our bodies? Will it be to serve and honor our fellow human beings? Or will it be to harm and abuse them by demanding they give up themselves so we can experience temporary satisfaction? What kind of world do we want to live in? The path we take from here will either foster a safe society for us all or it will continue to foster a ruthless and brutal place where we are far too willing to hurt others to help ourselves.
The life we live is on loan from God, and with that knowledge, our limited time here is not meant to be lived selfishly, always looking to further our good at the expense of others.
We were made for another way. Humans were made to care about each other. Sacrifice is costly. It often hurts us, and means giving up something we desire so someone else can benefit instead. As painful and difficult as moments of sacrifice are, our human intuition recognizes the beauty and goodness in costly sacrifice for another person. Being willing to do such a thing points to the reality of us being made in the image of a God who laid down His life for His friends so we could live and be set free.