Monday, November 24, 2008

End vs. means

I got to thinking about something after reading something about the Religious right in the US. (Also quoted in Peter J. Walker's blog emergingchristian.)
Here's the setup: Everything we do has some kind of reason for doing it. It can be an end it itself, or a means to a different end. I can read a book because I enjoy reading, or as part of my research for a specific project. I can eat an orange because I like oranges, or because I need the vitamin C. I can have a conversation with you because I like people, or because I want to turn the conversation into an opportunity to persuade you about something.
It is this third example that segues into my conundrum. As a Christian, why do I do good things for other people?
Do I have ulterior motives?
Assuming I do (we all do, more often than not, I think), are these motives legitimate?
Do I carry on a conversation with someone for the sheer pleasure of the interaction, or am I only looking for a way to turn that conversation into a chance to preach at them?
Do I give someone a cup of cold water because they are thirsty, or so they will have to listen to my sermon?
Do I toss a loonie at a panhandler because I care, or because it gives me an 'in' to find out if I should lecture them on the evils of whatever terrible habit I discover they are guilty of?

Is grace an end in itself, or just a means to ultimately be ungracious?

I think Cal Thomas raises a very important point, but I don't think his conclusion is necessarily Christ-like. Here is what he says on the subject:

"If results are what conservative Evangelicals want, they already have a model. It is contained in the life and commands of Jesus of Nazareth. Suppose millions of conservative Evangelicals engaged in an old and proven type of radical behavior. Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans," not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God's love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?"

If I understand him correctly, he is saying:
1. Conservative Evangelicals don't follow Christ's admonition to love your enemies, etc. (I'm afraid that is way too true, but this isn't the time to discuss it!)
2. 'Liberals' do often follow that admonition, but only as an end in itself. In other words, doing kind, loving, forgiving things because it is the right thing to do. (I assume that he thinks that is just not a good enough reason.)
3. Because it could be good for the bottom line (number of people in church, people added to the kingdom) CE's should start following Jesus' example. As a means to an end, it would be a good time to start being nice to your enemies.

As I type those words, I feel a real inner pain. Mostly because I see that it is true. I come from a CE history. Feeding the hungry, loving ones enemies and all of the rest of that statement was considered the (gasp!) 'social gospel', usually spoken with an underlying kind of disdain--at least that's how I perceived it.
And now, as I talk with people terribly wounded by Christians at some point in their past (either in a specific encounter, or the general CE response to some aspect of their lifestyle), I see that the stereotypical CE isn't living up to the example and admonition of Christ. Either as an end, or a means to an end. I suppose that is why Thomas is encouraging at least some movement forward in this regard.

But is that the point?
And I see that that question is a big one. For me, let alone anyone else.
Is my sole purpose as a Christian to bring others into relationship with God? Of course that is good and worthwhile. Of course it is a goal.
But is just being loving for the sake of being loving not appropriate? If I don't see any hope of 'results', does that allow me to revert to being a jerk?
If my only purpose is to 'convert', my attitude will be different, my style will be different, and I will end up with my own trail of people totally turned off of God because of me.
I don't think that is what God has in mind.
I think being loving and compassionate may well draw someone closer to the One who really loves them
But it may not. They may never respond.
But I still can and should and must have compassion.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Al, this is sooo good. I'm so glad you took this idea and ran with it - needs to be worked out!

Thomas Merton, in "No Man is an Island," talks about all of the subtle, underhanded, sometimes even unknown ways in which our love is selfish and self-serving. Really reminds me of what you're pointing to here: that love (and it follows, goodness) should not be tactics to accomplish an end... they should be ends in and of themselves.

Jim Henderson, in "Evangelism Without the Additives" writes about how little things like being kind and listening "count." Evangelism doesn't have to be ABOUT God because being kind POINTS to God, without our having to say anything. He's not trying to construct a non-Jesusy evangelism. In a way, he's trying to quietly shift Christians' attention AWAY from Evangelism and TOWARD kindness.

It's a long process.

I have invested time in friendships because I thought I could "win them" for Christ. I have neglected other relationships because I didn't see potential for conversion.

I have a lot to repent of.

Thanks Al.


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