Rock-bottom motivations for moral decisions tend to revolve around these views. First, altruism: I help my neighbor, regardless of what I think of the person, because helping others is a good. Second, the alternative to altruism is ethical egoism: I help my neighbor because it makes me feel good or somehow will help me down the road. Third, legal or contractual: I help my neighbor because the law says I should or because I’ve entered into some kind of contract with the person. Fourth, honor: I help my neighbor because it protects my reputation or increases my reputation. Fifth, individual freedom and conscience: I help my neighbor if and because I want to. It is my right. Sixth, communal tradition: I help my neighbor because I have been taught this by my community or because this is what my community wants. What, I’m asking today, was the motivation that Jesus used?
I believe most Christians do good things for a variety of reasons, but frankly I find the predominant one to be that “they know it is right” or “God says so” or because “the community expects this.” This is a legal basis for moral action or it is a communal shaping of a moral tradition, and a legal action alone is or a community decision alone is insufficient. On the downside of this fundamental ground for moral actions is that many Christians don’t do some things because they fear they will be judged by God or others for such an action.
Examining this question can help us in considering how Jesus might respond to same-sex actions. What were his base motivations? You might be surprised by this, but the base motive for Jesus was reward. Have you ever noticed how often Jesus appealed to rewards? “If you do this… your reward will be great.” “If you do this… you will receive no reward.”
First, Jesus was big on the Judgment Day when each person will be judged. Matthew 6:1-18 resonates with this theme; one can easily see the same in Matthew 25:31-46. However, lest this be overdone, it is not always discernible if Jesus is speaking of the Judgment or of consequences here upon earth. I think here of the beatitudes, which are not always clear to me.
Second, because Time ends with Judgment, Jesus spoke often of rewards. And the essential point is that final destiny correlates with life on earth. Again, rewards can be here (daily bread) or eternal fellowship (Matthew 8:11-12; 26:29).
Most would agree that “reward” is at least somewhat metaphorical and speaks of one’s earthly and eternal blessing of fellowship and proximity and intimacy with God.
If this is the case, this is what follows: moral decisions, according to Jesus, are to be made on the basis of pleasing God, of intimacy with God, of fellowship with God, and of the consequent blessings such an orientation brings to life here on earth. We need to be careful again: Jesus is not an ascetic who denies all of life in order to focus entirely on Eternity. There is a harmonious balance in his life and teachings between life here and life then. Some overdo it and deny the value of God’s redemptive work on this earth; others focus here so much the Eternal is no longer in view. We need balance.
But, we need the most is to see that Jesus’ motivating factor (often) is pure and simple: do what pleases God. Live in light of our relationship with God. Which means, for those of us who are committed to following Jesus, living a relationship with God by following in the way of Jesus. If Jesus is the face of God, then pleasing God is pleasing Jesus, and pleasing Jesus is to follow in his way in our time on earth.
All this comes down to a fundamental conclusion: moral decisions are ultimately relational decisions. If we love God, and therefore God-as-present-in-Jesus, we will be completely shaped by that relationship to Jesus. Altruism, egoism, statement of law, honor, and even individual conscience fall down before the relationship we are to have with Jesus and that relationship governs everything we do.
We need to be careful that we do not turn this into radical individualism and end up with little more than a Christian sense of individual conscience: to relate to God is to relate to his people. Tradition and denomination and local community of faith shape what we think is right and how we are to behave. And they should. But, if seen aright, community of faith is the extension of loving God to loving others. This is why I liked so much the Windsor Report when it came to the Anglican Communion: from start to end the issue became fellowship and communion — with God and with God’s people.
This relational “warrant” for behavior undercuts all other warrants, and puts each in its place. The implication for same-sex actions is this: the moral warrant for such behavior cannot be altruism, egoism, statement of law, honor, individual conscience, or even communal warrant. The only warrant for Jesus is living before God in the way of Jesus as a personal relationship with God and its manifestation in the community of faith. That is what matters: What does God think and how is God speaking in his people? is the question. Not what do I want, not how do I feel, not I am entitled to such and such, not it brings me the most joy, none of that is as important as What does God think as he has made himself known in the way of Jesus?
I will next post a summary statement of the various elements of moral logic work in the proposals I have made on Jesus and homosexuality. There could be some surprises.