The Problem with Ambition

Bits of blue and white are popping up amid the sea of green and red as Hanukkah makes its entrance, and we are once again reminded of the tragedy and triumph of the Maccabean revolt.

The ominous, power-hungry nature of Antiochus IV (also called Epiphanes) strikes us as disconcertingly familiar when we hear of the horrors that occur around us almost daily. At every tragedy and mass destruction of human life, the question of “Why?” echoes throughout the world. Why would someone make the conscious choice to act this way? The answer is, in many cases, including the massacres ordered by Antiochus, that the enforcer followed no law above the law of their own self-interest.

The toxic combination of power, violent tendencies, and the desire to stabilize and subdue the Seleucid-Greek empire at all costs resulted in the murder and enslavement of thousands of Jewish people. The motives to Antiochus’ actions are easily understood. Considering how often this sort of behavior, and worse, occurs throughout history, it’s really no surprise at all, but it is still baffling that anyone could so easily discard human life. The second an individual or group abandons moral authority in favor of their own self-interest, all acts can be justified by their cause. Whatever horrible actions have been used to achieve their desires are of no consequence because they ascribe to no law higher than their own. The tendency to prioritize political achievement and the stability of one’s power over human life is seen again and again throughout history and, of course, continues to this today. Page through any history book for just a few seconds and John Dalberg-Acton’s quote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” quickly proves itself.

As humans, we rarely feel content with where we are and with what we have. More often than not we are striving to gain something better. Whether we are saving money for a better car, working for a promotion, running for a political office, or actually trying to bring nations under our control, we are always striving for something greater than what we have. Only a moral code that values human life as sacred, such as that which is presented in the biblical worldview, can check the human tendency to achieve goals by climbing a ladder of victims. Without moral absolutes about the sanctity of human life, the safety of any who hinder an ambitious woman or man’s path to success is in constant danger. Ambition always argues that the ends justifies the means.

The problem is not that we have a desire to better our lives, the problem arises when we prioritize our desires over the wellbeing of another. An entitlement attitude such as this stands in direct contradiction to the way we are called to live our lives. We are called to act in opposition to the desire-driven nature of humankind. It is our responsibility to love our neighbor as our self, and to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

We are meant to apply this principle in all situations. Whether it is through offering to let someone move ahead of you in line at the grocery store, or opening up your home to those in need, we must, in all areas, combat the self-serving nature and pursue the wellbeing of others before our own; and we must refuse to forget the sacred value of human life. By the application of this principle, we revolt against the tyrannical powers that would sooner end another’s life than let power fall out of their hands. For this Hanukkah season, remember the tyranny inspired by one man’s sense of entitlement and self-aggrandizement, and resolve to be the opposite of an Antiochus. Place the needs of another before your own.

Source: First Fruits of Zion