For the last installment of this blog series I want to touch on why it is we do good, or why we try to be good, but I’ve got a lot of reflections on this and how the show touches on it as well so it’s going to be a two-parter.
Every religion I can think of is predicated on being a good person and doing good things (it’s partly what the show picks up on). Christianity is no exception, however we also live in the understanding that we’re ultimately covered by grace, through which forgiveness (when we acknowledge, confess, and seek it) rectifies all wrong doings and mistakes.
So why do we do good?
Point A.) don’t let Hell be the determining factor of why you do good things and try to live a righteous life.
For all of my childhood in super-conservative Georgia (southern USA) I was taught, along with everyone else, that if we’re bad we’re going to hell. And generally speaking this was the dominant theology taught in the Southern Baptist tradition, which I wasn’t a part of but it does dominate the region so it was inescapable.
So I was taught the “rules” of Christian living and being bad meant going to hell, while doing good things and being good would ensure your safe entry to heaven. When you look at this and break it down, hopefully you see the same fundamental flaws as I do, but still it’s not an uncommon link in Christian though, especially in Church teachings. Even here in NZ the pairing goes together.
Avoid being bad. Be good. Avoid going to Hell. Go to Heaven.
So much emphasis rests on what we do, and with this framework in mind our motivations are completely misplaced – they are selfish! Outwardly we’re doing good and helping others but not really for their sake but for our own; to ensure that we will go to Heaven. This is not what Kingdom love is like!
But it is the same theme that The Good Place picks up. For most of the show, the initial intent for Eleanor, and for the others too when we realise, is that if they’re good enough they might not have to go to The Bad Place. But their motivating driver is The Bad Place, or more specifically the fear of being tortured there.
Sadly it’s the same for a lot of Christians. Whole lives are spent doing things for fear of the Hell instead of out of the love of and for God. Is Hell real? Yes (though what Hell looks like is another topic of exploration and reflection altogether). But we shouldn’t be driven by Hell. We shouldn’t even really be driven by Heaven. We should be driven by God! The love God shows us and the love we reciprocate should be our only motivation for living a life that is (as close to) worthy of that love!
Check out 1 John 4:19; also ties to Luke 7:36-50
So, A.) don’t let Hell be the determining factor of why you do good things and try to live a righteous life.
Point B.) don’t let Heaven be the determining factor of why you do good things either.
I just said that “we shouldn’t be driven by Hell. We shouldn’t even really be driven by Heaven.” What do I mean by that? I mean that in the same way it’s easy to want to be good to avoid going to Hell, it’s just as easy to replace that motivation with dreams and visions of Heaven; living forever in a place where you’ll never have to worry about anything, everything you’d ever want is there for you, and all the bad people you hate will not be there so it’s perfect.
If that’s the reason you are a Christian – to get to Heaven – then, again, your motivations are misplaced! Heaven is a goal, but it shouldn’t be THE goal. Living with God and for God is THE goal, and – newsflash – that’s what you’re meant to be doing RIGHT NOW!
Eternal life begins the moment you accept Christ. God living in you begins the moment you let the Holy Spirit in. The Kingdom of Heaven is within you and you take it with you where ever you go!
– Jesus often spoke of the Kingdom being near and that the Kingdom has come; it is now but also not yet fully realised. What this means is that Christ bears the Kingdom in himself. Therefore, when we are joined with Christ we become heirs and citizens of the Kingdom (Eph 2:19). Furthermore, all the parables Jesus tells what the Kingdom is like are metaphors for how we can be in the now! And finally, when Jesus sends out the 72 in Luke 10 to go to towns to proclaim the Gospel and share the peace of Christ, he tells them each to proclaim (especially to those towns who reject them), “Be sure of this: The Kingdom of God is near.” That’s an example of us taking the Gospel and along with it the Kingdom with us to others. The Kingdom of God/Heaven is near because we are there and it is within us!
All of this is to say the promise of Heaven exists in the now and if we should live our lives for God for the sake of living our lives for God, not to guarantee a safe place of happiness, beds of roses, streets paved with gold, ice cream for days, no stress, hassle free eternity.
Sure, we all look forward to being face to face with Jesus and the Trinity, enveloped in God’s unsurpassable love, but if all we’re looking forward to is a future then we blatantly ignore what is present right in front of us now! We ignore what God calls us to do now, and we get wrong the reason for doing it. The main reason to do good and live righteous lives should come from our passion to serve God, not ourselves! The main reason is because we are loved eternally by the creator of the universe and because we’re loved, we love! It’s God and the call to love others and be decent, to forgive others, to care for creation – BEING THE IMAGE BEARER OF GOD THAT WE WERE MADE TO BE – these are the first and foremost reasons we should strive to be good and do good.
So, B.) don’t let Heaven be the determining factor of why you do good things either.
I’m going to conclude my thoughts in Blog 5 pt. 2, but I’ll close this one with a video that I recently came across that sort of ties into all of this. It speaks to “transaction theology:” a theology that says God will bless us if we just do enough of the right things, and pray hard enough, and love strong enough – essentially if we “pay” the right amount then God will look after us. I think it’s very similar to the ideas attached to being a Christian solely for the benefits of going to Heaven and avoiding Hell. What you do think?