Sorry, ahead of time, to my compatriots & readers who feel uncomfortable calling out fellow believers for wrong-headed theology. Yes, I know everyone means well. But “means well” without “and goes about it rightly” leads to a lot of danger, hurt, death, and pain, though, so…I’m going to do it. I don’t mind if you to it to me, either, just so you know. Especially if I ever become a mega-pastor-prolific-author with a ginormous worldwide platform. Please, for the love of God, if that ever becomes me, call me out on my crap, pronto.
I just read some well-meaning, but somewhat confusing words from John Piper about how “Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward” is wrong, godless, and to be avoided (you can read more here). His main point, I believe, is well-meaning. Even appropriate in ways. As believers, we should do things primarily for the glory of God – not for ourselves or others or some nebulous standard of right and wrong.
But if it is directed toward Christians, does that even need to be stated? Christians, by DEFINITION, don’t believe in nebulous standards. They believe in Yahweh and Jesus Christ and that good flows out of him, and bad flows out of opposition to or distance from him. So most of the article seems fairly pointless to me.
Then he speaks of reward. It’s ungrateful, he claims, to speak of “doing good with no hope of reward” – because we do in fact have a reward in Heaven. That’s great and all, but that misses the point of a really really large percentage of the Bible, and what Christianity is all about. “Eternal reward” is not the point of Christianity. God wants us to know him – that’s the point of Christianity. Christlike-ness, communion with our Creator, living in the rightness of his plan, building God’s Kingdom here on earth while we can…that’s Christianity. If the saga of Wisdom books found in the Bible teach us nothing else, it’s that -here on earth- doing good for the sake of holiness and God’s approval is a worthy, worthy cause. I suppose we can drag Heaven into it. Heaven is cool. But it’s really beside the point here, isn’t it?
However, Piper is not only talking about Christians, it seems. Later in the article he mentions the oft-repeated idea that actual love and actual goodness are impossible without knowledge of and relationship with Jesus Christ. To a point, I understand and agree – there is no love without God. But where I differ with John Piper and Mark Driscoll, and apparently a fair amount of Christians, is that I don’t think you can remove God from a given situation. You cannot remove God from love.
It doesn’t have to be that atheistic love is Not Really Love. Maybe that atheist is just participating in God, whether he knows it or not. We alienate and exclude nonbelievers every time we pontificate on such things. Many people who don’t acknowledge Jesus as Saviour (for whatever reason) believe in a a higher power, or believe in universal right and wrong. That instinct in them, from my own Christian perspective, is evidence that God has indeed written his law on the hearts of men. Our sense of justice and mercy, our selfless deeds, stem from souls that were created in God’s image. Even if someone doesn’t believe that, I believe it – and it strengthens my belief in God as a majestic, invasive God.
When I say invasive, I mean that you can’t escape the God I worship. He is everywhere. He’s in the altrustic, atheistic help that a young man offers to an elderly woman who’s dropped something valuable out of her purse. He’s in the yoga studio (sorry, MD). He’s in the sea in the belly of a fish. And as the Christian literary giant C.S. Lewis proudly affirms in his Narnia series, he is in the heart of the pure, sincere worshiper and servant – even if they’ve nominally been worshiping Tash and not Aslan.
(I think God can tell who is really following him, and who is not…even if we’re confused about it ourselves)
God is in every good and true thing. How could he not be?
Jesus said whoever is not against us is for us. Why do we make enemies where God invites friends?
God blessed Rahab because she wanted to do right. Rahab, the pagan prostitute who knew nothing of Yahweh except his brute force. God was in Rahab’s right-for-the-sake-of-right. Rahab was blessed, rescued, and grafted into the biological lineage of Jesus Christ. Right-for-the-sake-of-right just means we haven’t glimpsed God in the world, doesn’t it? Just because you call “Godliness” or “righteousness” something else, something closer to your own understanding, that hardly negates the presence of truth. That hardly negates the presence of God in the world.