When Augustine said his heart was not at rest until it came to rest in God, was he simply saying that we are selfish and coming to God makes us happy? That we use God for our own ends? Is the reward system of the Bible — “do this and you will live” — a mercenary system of doing things so we will get a prize at the end? Julie Clawson, over at Emerging Women, weighed in recently on how educational systems frame learning with rewards and she calls that into question. This question — how moral is a reward system for morals? — is a question worth thinking about.

Brief note: I’ve got a new “doo-hickey” on the side called “Blom Me” It is an Instant Message kind of thing. I’m not all that sure how it works, but if you sign up and we are on the computer at the same time, I think we can chat directly. I want to give this a chance.
Are you troubled by evangelism for the sake of a reward (heaven) or the elimination of a punishment (hell)? Are you bothered by motivating others by what they will get if they do what you say? Is this nothing more than warrants? How do we deal with the regular presence of reward/punishment language in the Bible? What is our motivation? And, to be honest, how often can we realize what we think should be our motivation? Does the altruistic system — do what is right because it is right — depersonalize our behavior and turn into learning to live in the only real objective reality?
Now we get practical: How do we motivate others? Does a reward system of immediate results or less-than-final results create superficiality?
I stumbled upon Gilbert Meilaender’s new book with a gorgeous evocative cover: The Way That Leads There. His first chapter converses with Augustine the issue of desire and he virtually leads us through this discussion to a nice place — at least he does for me. I loved his first chapter. There are six chapters in this elegantly written and ruminating study of the Christian life. I’m savoring it.
“On the face of it, then, our desire for God seems selfish” (9). But, we are not to seek God for the sake of our own happiness for that makes ourselves the final end. And self-denial can be seen as the alternative, but self-denial is never an end in itself in the Bible and it too makes us the final end of our motivation. The biblical moral basis is neither mercenary nor disinterested altruism.
For some finding God is about possessing God; for others it is about praising God; for others it is about the presence of God. Augustine, Meilaender argues, “does not seek God in order that he may thereby live a happy life; he seeks God in order to delight in his presence” (11). Perhaps this puts it all in pleasing perspective: “The point is not to have joy but to rest in God’s presence, which will of course bring joy to one who loves God” (12). “We can call this a loss of self (in the praise of God) or an expansion of self (as one flourishes in God)” (12).
Is this an ethic of relational love?
He critiques Luther for thinking he was thinking correctly in saying he wanted God’s glory so much that he’d go to hell if that meant glorifying God. Meilaender: “To renounce even desire for the vision of God,” which is what Luther in effect was doing, “is to renounce our creatureliness — which is the primal sin” (22). Later: “It would be prideful self-sufficiency for one who is God’s creature to repress the heart’s desire for God” (36).
I come to this reflection: Christianity is not in the end mercenary and it is not an ethic of disinterestedness. Instead, it is a relationship with God, it is delight in God that motivates. The reward is not the point; the reward is God and relation with God. Our motivation, if we are to hold our a reward, is to know God and to gaze at God in God’s presence. Motivations of our behaviors with fellow Eikons, then, can be framed in the same way: It it is about delight in their presence, about relationship, about love.
Any thoughts?
More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad