Service to Humanityby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Albert Schweitzer has been called ".one the greatest Christians of his time" (qtd. World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia 1998 ed.). Although he dedicated his life in service of humanity, his reverence and love for living things caused him to stray from the truth. In Romans 1:25 it says, "Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator," (Kind James Version, Rom. 1.25)
Born January 14, 1875, Albert was the son of a Lutheran pastor and grew up in the quiet Vosges Mountains villages of Alsace, a region between Germany and France. Schweitzer learned three languages as a boy: German, French, and an Alsactian dialect (a mix between German and French). As a child, Albert disliked school, seeing no reason to read dull, old books. Rather he enjoyed nature and showed great love and care for all living things. He followed the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20.13) and applied it to any living, breathing thing.
However, there was thing at school in which Albert took immense pleasure-his ability to improvise harmonies on the piano, something his schoolteacher could not do. At the young age of five, Albert began piano lessons and composed harmonies for hymns at age seven. When his legs were long enough to reach the organ pedals, age eight, Albert started to play and on occasion accompanied the services in church. Under the teachings of Eugene Münch, Schweitzer found a passion for Bach and at twenty-three Albert wrote his first published work, a twenty-eight-page memorial booklet in tribute to Münch at his death.
Because of a dedicated teacher, Albert began to excel in school, going from the bottom of the class to near the top in just one term. Soon, he wanted to know everything, asking questions of everyone, arguing passionately, and striving to learn the truth.
Albert Schweitzer began to understand that he had had a very easy childhood and did not think it fair when the world was so full of suffering. He felt convicted to repay something back for his good fortune. At the age of twenty-one, Albert made a life changing decision, saying, "I decided that I would consider myself justified in living till I was thirty for science and art, and from that time on would devote myself to the direct service of humanity. I had often tried to settle what meaning lay hidden for me in the saying of Jesus 'Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's shall save it!' (Schweitzer and www.albertschweitzer.org.uk/big_decision.html, paragraph 3)
"Now the answer was found. In addition to the outward, I now had inward happiness." After deciding this, Schweitzer set out to accomplish this life long task. In his twenties alone, this man achieved what might take some people an entire lifetime to complete. He attained a degree in philosophy and a degree in theology. He also preached, played the organ, wrote a seminal book on Bach, revolutionized techniques of organ building and labored on his massive and remarkable work, The Quest of the Historical Jesus. In this book, "he sought to understand Jesus as a man and a Jew, not simply a mystical figure outside history and humanity" (www.albertschweitzer.org.uk/scholar.html, paragraph 1).
In spite of all his academic pursuits, he still made time to socialize. He met special woman by the name of Héléne Bresslau, a beautiful woman who was an idealist like Schweitzer. Albert and Héléne loved each other and for ten years they slowly began to discover their future together- to give up the comforts of life in Europe and travel to Africa to heal the sick. On June 18, 1912, Albert Schweizter and Héléne Bresslau were married.
After meticulous planning, Albert and his wife realized they could not fund this great escapade. Albert had to raise money by begging and by playing the organ throughout Europe. Finally, with the help of many friends, they set off on their remarkable adventure towards Lambarene, Africa.
Greeted by hundreds of patients, Albert and his medical team began treating them. Schweitzer managed to gather a few workers to build small huts for his patients. Slowly, the hospital grew. Albert treated mostly tropical diseases, but the occasional European disease was seen as well. Schweitzer had great success. After eight months, his hospital had a success rate of 100%.
It was during this time of service to humanity, in the heart of the African jungle, that Dr. Albert Schweitzer discovered the phrase that summed up the philosophy of his life- "Reverence for Life". To Schweitzer all life was one in that every creature depended on others and all are entitled to respect and care. "Thou shalt not kill is the commandment to men, bidding them sacrifice no living plant or animal needlessly, and even under compulsion of absolute necessity, when duty compels such sacrifice, to respond with sorrow." Jesus said, "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me." (Anderson, 37)
Albert Schweitzer once said, "Like all human beings, I am a person who is full of contradictions." (Anderson, 173) Indeed, he was a great servant with a warm and gentle spirit. However, nowhere does one hear of him serving humanity to glorify God. Neither does he speak of man belonging to God, but quite the opposite. In his book, Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, Schweitzer wrote, "No man is ever completely and permanently a stranger to his fellow man. Man belongs to man. Man has claims on man." (qtd. Simon, 84) Schweitzer's philosophy, words, and work show that, toward the end, he put the highest priority on life and not on the Creator of life.