Thursday, February 26, 2009

What does God want?

In Moral Theology classes (and in college bs sessions) we often asked ourselves what God was more interested in. Was God more interested in what we do or in why we do it? In other words, is it better to do the wrong thing for the right reason or the right thing for the wrong reason? Let's take these one at a time and see if we can some how solve this dilema.

It is it better to behave righteously because of selfish motives.
This thought says that God is more interested in what we do than why we do it. It acknowledges that our motives are almost never pure.

Let's take a specific case that is rather easy to resolved - one with both pure and selfish motives. When I go to prison, I often get my own needs met in addition to meeting the needs of others. I feel good about myself and the work I do. I feel pride in it and I get a boost of "self-esteem" when others say what a great or good man I am because of my prison work. I confess that part of the reason I am involved in prison ministry is because of the feelings and accolades I receive. I also am involved because I believe that God wants me there and because I see a great need to help the lost find what they are looking for in Jesus Christ. But my motives are not pure. Would God rather me wait until my motives are pure? I doubt it. I believe that God wants me to do the work and to offer my selfish motives to Him so that He can make them pure.

Now, let's take a slightly different case. I am a glutton. I love food and use food as a drug far too often. Now, I often will say "no" to dessert or seconds when I am with others - not because I believe that the excess food is bad for me but because I want the others to think I am trying to work on my weight. Is God pleased with my "no" when I say it only to look better to others? I do not believe so. I believe that God is not please with my relationship with food - even when I refuse.

I don't think we can always say that God is please when we do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

It is better to do the wrong thing for the right reasons.
This statement says that God is more concerned with motives than with actions. It states that God would rather we sin if that sin is what we were convinced was the right thing to do. The problem is that we never know the right thing to do. Our consciences are twisted by sin so that what seems right at the time can be very sinful. This leads to "he made me do it" actions. People have killed others or physically and emotionally abused other in the name of helping them. It leads to the idea "we had to destroy the village to save it."

Between these two ideas, I (if you hadn't guessed) come down to doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. But. I don't think that God is as interested in what we do or in why we do it so much as in who we are.

God did not become incarnate, live, die on the cross, and rise to new life in order to change either our motives or our behaviors. God lived and died as one of use to change our nature. God came, not to make us nice, but to make us new.

Sinful behavior and sinful motives both flow from sinful being. God does not want to change our behavior so much as to change our being so that we are no longer sinful creatures. So to the original question - what does God want? God wants us to be new men and women. He wants us to have new life and to live from that live. The old life is one that is filled with sin and darkness. The new one is filled with God and animated by the Holy Spirit.

The sins we commit and the reasons we commit them are signs of how strong the old life is with us. So, next we will discuss the famous "7 Deadly Sins"

Phil Snyder

Update - The Seven Deadly Sins


robroy said...

"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

I have been on many medical missions, both Christian and secular. On the secular trips, the people are there, in the end, for a self affirmation: "I am a good person. See, I help these poor people." In contrast, on Christian trips, the emphasis is not on us but Him. "He has done so much for me. How can I not help my fellow man?"



plsdeacon said...

Yes, Robroy, the focus is different between secular and Christian mission teams.

However, I find that even in the Christian teams, there is self-focus. The primary motive may be to reach out to others in God's name or to serve God by serving others. But there is also the selfish or self focused motives that come from being sinful people. Thus, even as great an action as medical missions is tainted with sin.

Phil Snyder

robroy said...

I definitely agree. People always give me high praise for doing what I do (make me totally insufferable according to my wife!), but I tell them that I get much more of it than I put into it.

It is a crazy notion that washing stinky feet gives great joy. (I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.)