Today I want to expand today’s topic on the importance (or relative non-importance) of motives out of the realm of economics and into the wider political realm.
A lot of what I’m about to say is stuff I’ve said before. For the most part, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their politics. Unlike many on the Left, I tend to say that those who disagree with me do so because they’re misguided and possibly ill-informed, not due to a defect in their character. I don’t accuse them of hating the poor or minorities. I think that the vast majority of them truly want to benefit the lives of those in need and who are part of traditionally oppressed minorities. I wish they’d extend the same courtesy to me, but oh well. . .
But if you’ve been paying attention at all to these postings and the general discussions on this blog, you can probably guess where I’m going with this: When it comes to macro-political and economic issues, one’s motivations are not nearly as important as results. People think they’re helping the poor by handing them money and food, not questioning for a moment if it helps more than it harms the intended beneficiaries. People think they’re working for “peace” by disarming good nations and not standing up to the bad ones. People think that a social worker—who has all the best intentions in the world—does far more good than a greedy business owner, even though the latter provides jobs, pays the taxes, and works to improve the lives and raise the standard of living for all of us. Because the business owner only cares about making money, therefore he can’t be doing good in the world. I’d like to think I’ve refuted that way of thinking in the last couple of posts on this topic. The great thing about the Free Market System (the FMS) is that it takes into account the fact that we’re not angels, and it channels less-than-pure motives into productive improvements in our society.
But this really needs to be expanded into all the areas of our horizontal relationships. God knows my heart inside-out and that’s ultimately what he cares about in my relationship with him. If I truly desire to love him and serve him, then he can take my worst screw-ups and turn them into something beautiful. But in my relationships with people, it’s different. I can’t see your heart and you can’t see mine. You might have the best of motivations towards me, or maybe you’re just faking it. I don’t know. That’s between you and the Lord. But what I care most about in my relationship with you is how you actually treat me.
I’ll go even further with this. Let’s take my relationship with my spouse. I certainly don’t want her to outright lie to me when she says she loves me and is committed to me. I don’t want her saying “I love you, Keith, and I’m here until the grave separates us,” all the while thinking “Yeah, buddy, you’re an idiot. The minute I get what I want out of this, I’m outta here!” Obviously I don’t want that. But what if she doesn’t at that moment harbor the warmest of feelings towards me? Do I still want her to be sweet and kind and considerate in her behavior towards me, even if she doesn’t feel like doing so at that particular moment? Of course. No matter how I feel towards someone at any particular moment, I need to treat them like Christ treats me, with love, patience, kindness, etc.
Lots of times my wife has had a really harsh emotional roller-coaster ride courtesy of her strong hormones. She’ll say she feels alone, or that she feels like a failure, or that she feels ugly. My response? “Baby, your feelings can lie to you. There may come a day when I don’t feel like being faithful to you, that having an affair would solve all my problems. What do I need to do then? You know the answer: Tell my feelings where they can go.”
Does Scripture have anything to say about this? Why, yes it does! Here’s 1 John 3:16-18:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
Note that this passage says nothing about Jesus feeling compassion—or any other emotion--towards us. Yes, he did feel love and compassion towards us. But this particular passage doesn’t say anything about that. John—the so-called “Apostle of Love”—says that the ultimate expression of love was Jesus Christ laying down his life for us. He took action, which is recorded in the Gospels and explained in the Epistles.
And in following his example, we need to do the same. Not feel a certain way towards others in need. Not even speak a certain way towards them. We are not to “love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” That means treating people a certain way.
It applies in the “macro” level as well. Politicians and political leaders and pundits might have the best of intentions regarding this country. They truly want to help those in need. But often the policies they propose and support are incredibly destructive towards those they want to help.
You see, motivations don’t matter that much when it comes to questions about how to fight poverty, or how to deal with crime, or how to deal with this or that rogue nation on the national scene. If our goal is to actually improve things in those areas, then we need to move past accusing those who disagree with us of racism or blood lust or nationalistic jingoism or whatever. We have to ask ourselves what works. The Bible actually has some things to say about these and other topics, and that’s what this blog is all about: Making the case that the politically Conservative viewpoint in general is more compatible with the Scriptures than the than the Liberal/Progressive/Leftist counterpart. If the conservative viewpoint really is closer to the Scriptures, then to my mind it’s ipso facto better for society in general all the way down to individual lives.
So speaking about love, I have some of the tough variety to offer to my siblings in Christ on the other side of the political spectrum. I’m not your Judge. Only One knows your heart, and I’m not him. But does it matter to you whether or not what you’re doing actually helps those you’re trying to help? Does it matter to you whether your “peace” initiative actually prevents war or exacerbates it? Does it matter to you whether your efforts to help the poor actually get them out of poverty in the long term? If so, if results actually matter to you, then maybe you have some homework and some thinking to do.
Do motives matter? In our relationship with the Lord, absolutely. When it comes to our horizontal relationships, not so much.