Years ago, I had a debate with a friend about the phrase “God fearing.” We were discussing the ides of forced conversions and whether or not they had the same value and meaning as willing conversions. My stance has always been that a willingly made decision is more heartfelt and sincere than one you’re forced into. My friend, disagreed … and we never really resolved the disagreement.
More recently, we had a similar discussion in my Bible study. We were discussing morality and our concept of right and wrong – a distinction we’ve each learned over time based on lessons from our parents and things we’ve learned along the way. A friend of mine explained that he knew the difference between right and wrong because he felt “good” about right actions and guilty about wrong ones. Kind of a high-level description of conscience.
The question, though, was whether our feeling of guilt was driven by a natural, inherent understanding or whether it comes from those live lessons ingrained in us by our parents and faith. It was an interesting, enlightening conversation … unfortunately, I don’t think we came to any definitive solution.
The problem comes not from our disagreement over guilt and life lessons, but over motivating factors in learning these lessons. One person made the broad statement that they take certain actions not out of a quest for the joy of doing “right” but to avoid the guilt in doing “wrong.” I understand that argument, but I have some significant problems with it.
First of all, guilt is the last thing on my mind when I take any action or make a decision. Yes, if I do something “wrong” I’ll eventually feel bad about the misstep … but that’s not the reason for why I take the “right” action. There’s a certain sense of joy and personal accomplishment related with doing right. Or at least there is in my mind.
So in a way, my faith is motivated by selfishness. Which is ironic, because those driven by an avoidance of guilt also have a faith ultimately motivated by selfishness. It’s a glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty scenario. While I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it, I’m at least glad that I understand it.
What motivates your faith. Do you believe out of the fear of the punishment for unbelief? To you do “right” to avoid the guilt caused by doing “wrong?”