Is this true about why Christians want to be good?(4 Posts)
I can't stop thinking about something a relative of mine said to me recently. He is a Christian and he said that Christians act in a good way because they don't want to upset God. Is that really the main reason? I was really shocked and, for some reason, rather bothered by it. I understand that Christians don't want to anger/displease God but surely the main reason you want to be good is that you don't want to hurt or upset other people?!
That sounds like a very simplistic view, Twiglets (I am sure I can remember being told things as a child like "If you say a bad word Jesus will hear you and be cross with you") and a slightly 'hell-fire and damnation' one (as in "be good or you'll be damned to hell for all eternity... so nerrrr").
I believe that the desire to be good (that is, to behave in a way that does not harm others, that helps them where possible, that doesn't further one's own interests at the expense of those of others) is a fundamental human impulse (though one on which at times we all fall down, of course); and it's clear that Christians don't have a monopoly on being this (think of Aristotle's Ethics for instance). For me, however, being a Christian adds an additional level to this which feeds into my understanding of how I relate to the world and to people in it. I understand divine creation to mean that God is here in the world and in the people that He made, and this means that my relationship with the world and with other people is all an extension of my relationship with God. Jesus said that the way in which we treat other people is also the way in which we treat Him ("whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me"). He also told us that the greatest commandments, to which all the others can be reduced, are (a) to love God, and (b) to love our neighbours as ourselves, and importantly He explained that our neighbours are not just our friends and families and those people we like and who are like us, but also those people whom society excludes, people who are not like us, people we find 'difficult', even people who harm us.
Believing this, doesn't make me a better person necessarily (I wish!), but it does give me a model for goodness and an impetus to do good which help me in my attempt to be a decent person. And when I am tempted to be selfish or greedy or whatever, it reminds me that there is another (better) way. I am reminded of the old hymn, "My God, I love thee not because...", which ends: "not with the hope of gaining aught, / not seeking a reward; / but as thyself hast loved me, / O ever loving Lord! / So would I love thee, dearest Lord, / and in thy praise will sing, / solely because thou art my God / and my most loving King". As this hymn says, I don't try to behave well because I want to get something in return for my good behaviour, and nor do I try to behave well because I am afraid of what will happen to me if I don't (which seems to be your relative's position), but because my model and my inspiration for doing good is so inspiring, so worthy of love, so... I can't think of the right word, I want to say "noble", which is an old-fashioned word, but kind of sums up the sort of goodness that I am thinking of, that to try to emulate Him is a pleasure and a joy rather than a duty or something done out of fear.
I fear I'm not explaining myself very well, but that would be my take on this, anyway...
Great post TUO, I can't really add anything to that, completely agree.
Being a Christian does not make us better people, but gives a different perspective on things. There is an eternal significance to how we treat people, but that shouldn't be our motivation. Our motivation comes from being in relationship with a God who loves, and therefore our interactions with others should necessarily reflect this. They don't always, unfortunately.
And yes, many,mnay people do good who are not Christians. I believe there is good in everyone because we are made in God's image, therefore whether Christian or not, we have this implicit sense of good and bad. More marred in some than others, but you see people do amazing acts of kindness and goodness, and this should be celebrated and not denigrated if they are 'not Christians'. I think the whole thing is a lot less simplistic than your relative is making out.
There is an element of pleasing God - but only in the sense that I want to please my dh because I love him so much - so don't want to upset him. It's a two way relationship, rather than not wanting to upset God in case he is angry with me. Not how it works.
Thanks both for your posts and great explanations. This is how I'd previously assumed it was for Christians and I'm pleased to hear that it is probably that my relative phrased it badly! It's far better to be good because you know it's the right thing to do, than to be good in case you get told off, so to speak!
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