Doing Good for Bad Reasons

Doing Good for Bad Reasons

In 2007 the richest woman in Asia apparently left her multi-billion dollar fortune to a fengshui practitioner who had promised her immortality. I’m not sure why the irony didn’t strike her as she wrote her will.

The merciless greed of the fengshui practitioner is reminiscent of the young man in Jesus’ “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (The Bible, Luke, Chapter 11) who demanded and then squandered his inheritance before his father was even dead. Jesus represents God in the story as a loving, compassionate and generous father who sacrifices his wealth, reputation and dignity first to give us the freedom to make our own choices in life and then to restore us when we make bad choices.

But there is a second child in Jesus’ story. When the younger son disappears with his inheritance, his elder brother stays with the family and works for his father. When the younger son returns, the elder brother refuses to join in the celebrations. He reminds me of a certain Anthony Scott who in his last will and testament wrote: “To my first wife Sue, whom I always promised to mention in my will. Hello Sue!”

Again, the father sacrifices his dignity, leaves the celebrations he is hosting and goes to beg his eldest child to come in. The elder son continues to snub his father and protests: “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.”

It’s challenging to realise that we can be as self-centred, unloving and mean by being good as we can by being bad. The elder son’s motivation is revealed when he says: “I’ve slaved for you.” The father tells his son: “You have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.” But the son’s good behaviour has not been out of love for his father or the joy of sharing his life with him or even just because it was the right thing to do. He has rather been doing grudgingly hoping to put his father in his debt.

The younger son wanted to free himself from what he saw as his father’s shackles and do things his own way; here we find that the elder son went one further: he not only wanted to things to be done as he saw fit, but he wanted to tell his father what he should do as well.

Dr Timothy Keller, in his book “The Prodigal God,” comments that the common advice that honesty is good for business because it boosts morale and avoids damaging legal action is really only an appeal to personal pride and fear – which doesn’t help if you are faced with a situation where telling the truth might cost you dearly or telling a lie might benefit you stupendously. It is one thing to be honest for your sake, and quite another to be so for God’s sake. Keller concludes that “a person motivated by love rather than fear will not only obey the letter of the law, but will eagerly seek out new ways to carry out business with transparency and integrity.”