In 2008 The Oak Ridge Boys asked the question “Did I make a difference in somebody’s life?” through a pretty thoughtful melody.
They inspired people though song to consider whether or not they were making a difference in the world in which we all live. The song is asking us whether or not we are making a positive difference. And it embodies the idea of sacrifice in making that difference. When the songwriter states “When my race is run, when my song is sung” it captures the idea of when at the end of my life, how will I be judged?
In reality, we all make a difference. The very fact that you are alive and here on Earth means you have already made a difference. Your presence has impacted the world. All of our presence has impacted the world. Some for good, and some for evil. And using any reasonable world standard, we could all be judged to have impacted those around us with a little of both.
But what is the real difference we make? Maybe I should ask what difference do you want to make? Most of us want to make a difference, I might say that most of us try to make a difference. After all, is that not how we are judged? Isn’t that how we judge one another? By the impact, or difference, someone makes in our lives?
When we are at our jobs we strive to make a difference. That is the way we get noticed and are singled out for advancement. When we court a sweetheart we want to make a difference. That is how we gain their attention and eventually their love and affections. When we interact with friends, relatives, and even strangers, we make a difference. That is why we tell young people that first impressions are the most important. Some of us make a difference by volunteering, helping the homeless, feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, or working in public service. Some of us become Fire Fighters, Police Officers, Doctors, Nurses, or join the Military. Because we want to make a difference. Most of us want to make a difference, but few realize that we always do. That we are constantly making a difference in someone else’s life with either positive or negative impressions whether we want to or not.
But to what end or gain? What does it avail us to make a difference in the world? What is the motivation? What should be the motivation? What do we hope to accomplish and how do we hope to be judged? I’d like to consider this thought from our three primary base views.
If you are agnostic in your world view, I might ask (as I always do) why do you even care? The agnostic is completely indifferent to making a difference or to those making a difference on them by sheer definition. If the agnostic is working to make a difference, it is for their own gain or self-gratification. Even if the agnostic is working “just in case there is a god”, they are hedging their bets and trying to garner good deed points in their own stead. Just in case they actually are judged. Since the agnostic is “rolling the dice”, as it were, they cannot possibly be working towards any other means other than their own good.
If you are atheistic in your world view, I have news for you. It doesn’t matter whether you make a difference or not. Void of a god, there is no moral relevance in your life. I’ve had atheists argue that our moral values are a result of a common societal conscious agreement. But that doesn’t hold water. Consider the fact that the ancient Roman Empire considered it perfectly acceptable to put essentially defenseless civilians into an arena with lions, tigers, bears, and great Roman gladiators, in order to watch them meet their deaths for sport. Today we would consider that barbaric. The atheist would argue that our morals have evolved. But that is exactly my point. There is no relevance. No base. And they cannot predict where evolutionary morals will take us next. And whose to say what is right or what is wrong? Perhaps the Romans were right in their time and we are wrong today. Without a moral relevance it simply does not matter what difference you make other than for your own self gain. And even then it is pointless given that all of the universe is just one great big chemical and physical reaction. The true atheist, the one that has thought their world view through to its logical conclusion, realizes that it is all just natural processes following set laws and is completely without meaning. And if there is no meaning, what does it matter whether or not you make a difference?
If your world view is theistic however, making a difference gains a whole new importance. For the theist, making a difference is not about meeting man’s law, but rather meeting the law as prescribed by their god. There are consequences to ones actions and making a difference determines how one will be judged by their creator.
There is one group of theists that have a quandary though. For the Christian we are taught there is no one good, not even one (Romans 3:10). Christianity is the only world religion that teaches there is nothing an individual can do to obtain favor with their God save he intervene in their lives. Given that there is no one righteous in the Christian world view, even to the extent we cannot obtain our own salvation apart from our Creator himself, it is an amazement to me that so many Christians run around the world trying to “make a difference”. How can you make a difference apart from The Great I Am, the Creator, the one true God? You see, for the Christian it should be a different paradigm. Not one of making a difference, but rather one of being made a difference in.
I wonder every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day of every single year if I ever do, or ever have, made a difference.
Which is why I have to constantly remind myself that it is not about me making a difference in the world, it is about Him, the Great I AM, making a difference in me.