“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” —Holden Caulfield (J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Ch. 22)
Two weeks ago, while hiking along the South Fork Creek, we came across a pack of coyotes on the hunt. Several coyotes fled upon our arrival, but one of them relentlessly held the head of his prey—a mule deer fawn—under the water attempting to snuff out its life. Our natural inclination was to move toward the coyote and save the deer…which we did. Upon taking a few steps closer, the coyote released the deer and rushed to the other side the creek and ran along the ridge until she was out of view. The fawn emerged from the water, gasped for a breath of life-giving oxygen, and dashed away. Regardless of the fact that I interrupted the “circle of life,” I was extremely pleased with myself, and so were my friends. We saved an innocent deer from destruction. We fulfilled our duty as the “protectors” and “redeemers” of the planet.
I used to believe that saving people was one of the primary commissions of those who follow Christ. Whether that be supporting someone who’s abusing drugs, guiding someone out of self-inflicted pain, or finding a solution to someone’s problems…even if that person isn’t asking for a solution. In Salinger’s The Cather in the Rye, Holden Caulfield was overwhelmingly concerned about the ducks in the pond and where they went in the winter…he wanted to rescue the ducks before the ice consumed the pond. Holden also wanted to keep innocent children innocent. He wanted to catch them while they played in the rye…before they fell off the cliff and into the abyss of adulthood. Like Holden Caulfield, I wanted to be the savior of the world. I wanted to rescue the innocent deer, the unsuspecting ducks, and the naïve children. My ambition was to save the lost…even if they didn’t want to be saved. I wanted to “cure” people even if they weren’t ready to be “cured.” I believed that “saving” was my calling as a Christian. My self-righteousness was wrapped up in my own “savior complex.” I was obsessed with solving others’ problems instead of focusing on solving my own. I wanted to be like Jesus—a savior.
The true Savior of the world didn’t have a savior complex. Jesus stated the facts, put all the cards on the table, and asked us to choose. If we chose to ignore Him, He lets us walk away. He doesn’t chase us down or catch us before we drop off the cliff. In fact, he stands by and watches us fall…if that’s what we choose to do. Jesus respects our decisions…even if those are the dumbest decisions on the planet.
If we chose salvation, the road ahead is a difficult one. Jesus is the personification of “tough love.” Jesus doesn’t promise an easy road to recovery and redemption. Jesus doesn’t promise an immediate solution to all our problems. He is our Savior, because his presence on this earth, his sacrifice on the cross, and his defeat over death all demonstrate the love of God and His passion to get his family back. Jesus represents the extent to which God goes to search for his family, the lengths to which God respects our freedom to choose—even at the expense of his only Son. “Love” is the essence of “Savior.” Salvation cannot occur without love.
A savior complex exists because we ourselves possess an unhealthy need to solve someone else’s problems primarily because we don’t want to face our own. True salvation flows out of love. It’s perfectly acceptable to desire another’s salvation. To wish that your brother or sister be free to breathe again…be free from the grasp of a hungry coyote. Problems arise when we conclude that we can save them on our own. We are commissioned as witnesses to love others and testify about God’s love evident in Christ’s power to save us. Witnesses share how Jesus has transformed their life and then allow the judge to decide for him or herself whether that testimony is valid. If the judge chooses otherwise, we have to step back and allow that judge to wander through the fields of rye and pray he or she doesn’t fall off the cliff.
As much as it pains me to watch the innocent wander aimlessly…as much as I desire—as Holden Caulfield does—to stand on the edge of the cliff waiting to catch my brothers and sisters, I have to accept the fact that I can’t save them…but Jesus can.
…and that’s good enough!