In EMS, we had a shorthand communication term called auto-ped which simply meant “pedestrian hit by a car.” In four years on the ambulance, every auto-ped I saw was a hit-and-run. In other words, every time I showed up after someone ran over another person with their car, the perpetrators all fled the scene without helping the victim. 100% of them. Now, granted, if you talked to paramedics who were in the field for 20 years, they would probably say 95% of their auto-peds were hit-and-runs. (Their numbers would be different because medics in the field for more than just four years would have seen a few people stop for their victims, I suspect.) But in my four years of pre-hospital medicine, I never saw any driver stop for their victims. The reason for this is clearly self-preservation.
Recently, I went hiking through the desert. As I looked around, I noticed how everything in the desert sends a warning signal as if to say: Stay away. The law of the desert is apparently one of competition. There is little food and little water. So, if you contain water, you are an easy prey. This means most things that live in the desert need thorns, claws, horns, bills or spikes to preserve its own life. There’s only so many pieces of the pie in the desert, so if you aren’t going to have your own share taken away, you need to look like the plant above. Hiking, I wondered if such violent self-preservation was an effect of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Perhaps nothing in the original Garden of Eden had any spikes or thorns.
But even if I’m wrong about the postlapsarian plant world, we know that all of human history since the Fall of Adam and Eve has been summarized in the bleak words of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “They strike; they kill; they go down to hell.” That was the saint’s meditation on the Trinity looking down on every continent of pagans in deciding upon the Incarnation. Human history (before Christ) turned out to be mostly fighting to the death for another piece of the pie, another land-mass to obtain. But then, by turning everything upside down, eternal life would be given to the world through the Son of God not choosing selfish self-preservation, but in God-the-Son taking all the thorns of competitive-life-forms into His own Sacred head to the point of death.
It would seem that on this violent planet yoked to the competition of spiky cacti and selfish auto-ped drivers, biological life would not permit a self-sacrificing organism to thrive. But that is the great twist of the God-man dying as man: The New Life of the Resurrection now buds from the One who said: For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (Jn 10:17-18.) It is now our crucified and Risen Savior, Jesus Christ, who promises this supernatural life to His friends who would spurn the selfish competitions of self-preservation found in plants and animals.
While we Christians are called to preserve our lives and stay relatively healthy to the best of our ability as long as Divine Providence permits, we are never called to live selfish lives of self-preservation. Each Christian now has the choice: self-preservation or the cross. Those choosing the latter are Christ’s disciples who, by God’s grace and their free-will, give their lives for others knowing that whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it (Lk 9:24) and Greater love than this no man hath: that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13.)