Asking Uncomfortable Questions: Sacrificing Oneself for Others?

Sacrificing ourselves for others, or indeed the greater good, doesn’t seem to have much currency in our modern society where individualism holds sway.  Or is this really the case?  Are there still people around who live out Jesus’ famous injunction written in John 15: 13 that ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends’?

We are all familiar with stories of people who selflessly give of themselves to make life better for others, both known and unknown to them personally.  Most of us who have families can envisage situations where we would give our all for the lives of our sons and daughters.

But what about literally giving our lives for the greater good? Surely this is far more problematic from an ethical perspective?  Maybe so, but consider the case of a group of men who are largely forgotten, despite their actions saving countless lives, and in doing so, sacrificing their own.  And here I’m talking about the 700,000 or so ‘liquidators’ that worked at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the immediate aftermath of the 1986 accident.

Those who worked at the plant among unparalleled levels of radiation did so knowing that their work was essential to prevent further widespread radiation release and a possible nuclear reaction that would precipitate an enormous explosion.  These men also knew that their very lives were at risk; despite this, they did what they believed was their duty.

Today, many of the liquidators are living with a plethora of chronic health conditions and disabling post-traumatic health disorder.  And they’re just the ‘lucky’ ones who have survived.  And then there’s the fact that their children frequently struggle with serious ill-health too.

It seems to me that the liquidators embody exactly what Jesus was talking about when he uttered those wonderful words: ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends’? Their selflessness is inspirational, but their suffering is severe.  You can watch a moving short documentary on their plight, which emphasises the scale of that sacrifice, but also their suffering, below.  As you do so, ask yourself the sobering question: ‘could I have done what these men have done?‘……………….I’m still struggling to reach an answer……………..

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