I’m currently taking a class called Humanities Core. Interestingly enough, the theme of the course this year is “The Human and Its Others: Divinity, Society, Nature.” So far we’ve been discussing and picking apart different conceptions of god. Right now the focus is on Judaism and Christianity. It’s been quite interesting, and intellectually challenging to hear Christianity examined through a philosophical, literature-oriented lens. I figured it’d be good to write brief posts whenever criticism’s and challenges are posed to Christianity to make sure that I can adequately grasp and defend my faith.
A few days ago in discussion, we examined selected portions of Luke 6:
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Emphasis mine)
My professor argued that in this instance the style seems to undermine the basic message of the passage. As Jesus talks about love that selflessly gives and expects nothing in return, his language is filled with talk of finances and rewards. If we follow his advice, it seems that though we may appear to love selflessly, we are really doing it to build up credit with God. Our act is not centered on others; rather, we only perform good deeds so that we might reap a reward. Is this true? Are we as Christian’s selfish, only obeying God for what’s in it for us? Is our talk of love for Christ, and the Gospel only a guise for hearts that seek our own highest good?
It is necessary to clarify what exactly the reward is for the Christian. Is it heaps of gold, piles of silver, and shiny crowns? Is it supreme happiness? Is it a heavenly playground, where we can frolic pain-free for eternity? It would seem that if we accepted the Gospel with these as the chief reasons, we could rightly be called selfish. All our religious duties would be for our own good. God and others would be means for our own happiness and self-preservation, rather than ends in themselves.
Obviously, I don’t agree with that view of the Christian reward. Our ultimate reward is not heaven, or even happiness (though they’re still pretty darn cool); these are merely byproducts of the real one. What then is our treasure? 1 John 1:20 says, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” Our treasure, and proper reward is Christ; it is knowing God fully and being found in him completely, through what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. There is no distinction between the reward we will receive and Jesus, the one who made our reward possible. Our reward is eternal life, and Jesus is eternal life.
We find that the desire for reward, spoken of in Luke 6, is not self-centered; rather it is radically God-centered. When a man is able to love his enemy because he sees Christ as the greatest treasure, God is glorified. God is shown to be more valuable than our selfish notions of revenge, and our petty conceptions of justice. God is exalted because our love towards our enemies points back to and magnifies the love the Father has shown towards us (v. 36)
As always C.S. Lewis addresses this issue far better than I could ever do in this rather long quote. In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, he writes:
We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.
Seeking to obey Christ in anticipation of the day where we will see Him, know Him, and be fully like him is hardly mercenary. 1 John 3:2-3 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” We follow Christ, conform ourselves to his image, and (as Paul says in Phillippians 3:8) count everything as loss, in order that we might gain Christ! He is the consummation, the goal, and the proper reward.
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:5-6)