Monday, September 21, 2009


I want to do the right things for the right reasons. It's not enough for me to just do the right thing, it's gotta have the right reasons. I want to give the homeless man money because I love him, not because I feel guilty or ashamed of having wealth when he does not. Does feeling bad about my money and his lack and the disparity between the two count as love?

It gets worse. I don't want to not do wrong things for the wrong reasons. I don't want to not have sex because I am afraid of getting the girl pregnant, but I want to not have sex because I love God, want to obey his commands, and love this hypothetical woman enough to wait 'til we're married. Does being afraid of the consequences count as love?

The Bible says we're supposed to fear God, most famously when the Psalms tell us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Everyone today is hasty to point out that it does not mean the sort of cowering fear that we think of, but instead a healthy awe and respect. On the other hand, I would be afraid to meet a tiger in the wild, because that thing can tear your face off, and God can do much the same.

Jesus says that all the Law can be summed up in "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." I've often been taught and taken this to mean, probably after a lot of theological inferences, that we should obey God because we love him. If you love him as your God, you will do what he says. He knows best, and you love him and his ways and his attributes, so you want to do what is best according to his instruction. Okay, so far, so good, I think. But what if I am obeying him because I am afraid he will bite my face off? Is that love?

Jesus tells us that being angry at someone is the same as murder, and lusting after someone is the same as adultery. So not having angry thoughts is a good thing. But he doesn't say we have to not have angry thoughts because we love God; he does make sure we're aware that insulting people could land us in hell. Does it matter why you do something?


Samantha Manchester said...

I like this post.

I think there is a parallel that can be drawn from what you are saying, Tim, about God, to how the dynamic between parents and children works.

For instance, when I am three years old and my father taps my wrist and says, "NO!" when I touch the electric outlet, I do not undersand beyond, "I shouldn't touch the outlet because my father yells at me" but then with time, I grow to understand that the real reason I am not touching the outlet is because I could become hurt, and how nice of my father to protect me from such injury... and through this protection, this care, and this love on his part, I reciprocate my love for him.

With God, of course, it is much more difficult because the love is not always readily tangible for everyone. It is a process of realization, learning, and reflection. And it's an ongoing process. Can anyone really say that he/she is perfect in his/her love for anyone, nonetheless God? I think there is always room for further enlightenment and improvement.

Anyway, you bring up some interesting points.

Stef said...

TIIIM! i have a blog too. so i'm following yours. Cheers!

Mark Pallone said...

Awesome post. Now, what can we proactively do to have this love generated?

Sunday School would say, "Read your bible and pray."

Richard Foster would say, "Exercise the classical Christian disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, (I'm totally reading this off the back of a book) study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration."

What do you think Tim? What have others said?

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ryan said...

[my original comment had too many typos]

i don't have a full answer to your question on reason, or motivation (as i think of it). but i do have a thought on your approach to understanding wisdom and maturity (ie ur theology).

in the bible's psalms and proverbs, we are taught how the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. i struggled awhile with this myself, until i realized that fear doesn’t have to guide all levels of maturity, it is merely a spark or perhaps a foundation.

when i was younger i used to fear hard social situations. that fear made me observant and cautious. now, years later, i have better social skills thanks to my observant-ness, and i also love being social.

i hope that helps in some small way.

Julian said...

I haven't actually read your post, but I just thought that you should have another section of your blog entitled, "Persons I do not know whose works do not interest me"

Timothy S. Milligan said...

Julian, that would be far too small a section, unfortunately.

Matthew said...

I think that consequences and motivations other than the purest ones are there to help us make good decisions, and I think it all adds up.

When a homeless man asks you for some change or a girl attempts to seduce you, you can't change your motivations right then and there. But you can practice the right thing and think about the reasons you ought to have for doing the right thing, which I think helps us to have good motives inhabit us. I think that over time, the right motivation will take us over as we practice doing the right thing, even with a less-than-perfect motivation.

I like to think of the example of a man giving his wife flowers-- he does it because he loves her, but he also enjoys her reaction to his gift. But that is slightly different than what you were talking about.

Joe Chiappetta said...

Your reasons are right-on. Intentions do matter. The Lord looks at the heart, not the outward appearance (Matthew 23, 1 Samuel 16).