Relative sadness: A lesson taught by a mug

I did something stupid today. I was throwing all of my things in my car to leave school and come to work and was thinking about a 3186sBtdOKL._SY300_conversation I had just had with one of my professors. I absent-mindedly got in my car, backed out of my parking spot and started driving to work. As soon I turned right out of the parking lot at school I heard a loud thunk and glanced in my rear view mirror to see my favorite travel mug (as seen right in all its insulated glory) rolling in the street. It was okay though, it had survived the fall. I looped back through the parking lot to grab it and arrived back where I started. As I opened my door a car turned onto the main thoroughfare through campus. I thought to myself, “They see it, surely they will swerve and miss it.” Instead, I watched in horror as the girl driving the SUV chatted on her cell phone and ran over my mug, completely destroying it. I’ve used this mug almost every day since I got married 4 years ago. I go through at least one cup of coffee a morning, sometimes two, so coffee mugs are essential in my house. But this one was special. Every other travel mug I’ve tried has not been able to live up to how great this one is. I was devastated — let’s be honest, I still am — that it was destroyed.

The sad thing is that my reaction to my coffee mug getting destroyed is stronger than my reaction was last night when I heard that a doctor in NYC had been diagnosed with Ebola, or when I heard that the Ebola outbreak in east Africa is reaching catastrophic levels. These things impact me, but not in any sort of visceral way. They seem distant, removed.

But how sad is it that my own coffee mug breaking elicits more sadness than the deaths of hundreds of Africans?

The fact is that, in reality, most of us would have this reaction. The great reformer Martin Luther referred to the sinful condition of humanity as the cor curvum in se, which is Latin for the heart turned in on itself. Because of our sinful nature we are only capable of focusing on ourselves, we are incapable of loving our neighbor or empathizing with others. However, the work of Christ — encompassing his life, death, resurrection and ascension — opens up the self to love and graciously accepts the other. This doesn’t mean that we will always lovingly think of others or immediately stop only focusing on ourselves. What it does mean is that as we become more and more like Christ we will also love others more than we love ourselves. This is the power of the gospel: a transforming of humanity from the tyrannical love of the self to a loving embrace of others. Thanks be to God that he provides us with such capabilities.

Timothy, Mugless Rope Contributor

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