About This Blog

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good" (Peter Greer)

TITLE: The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good
AUTHOR: Peter Greer
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

What is the problem with doing good? Why should there be any objections in the first place? Are we not expected to do all the good we can? Then why the spiritual danger? What kind of dark sides are we talking about for people involved in charitable work and noble ministries? If these questions bother you, maybe you will also be bothered by the statistics that only one-third of people seeking out to do good, finish well. What about the other two-thirds? Well, some burned out. Others become disappointed with people. Still, some blame God for not intervening. In a nutshell, this book is a description of the many faces of "Christian Karma." For Peter Greer, there are sixteen warning signs for readers to take note of.

Firstly, beware of the erroneous philosophy of "Christian karma." The underlying belief is that as long as we do good, good will return to us. Such a philosophy tempts people to base their own worth on what they do, rather than who they are.

Secondly, doing good can be a disguised form of self-serving and self-centered work. Using the parable of the Prodigal Son, Greer shows us the elder brother who complained about not being rewarded enough despite his faithfulness. The way the elder brother gets angry with the father reveals the true motivation of the faithfulness of the elder brother: Self-centered rewards. Such a motivation is anchored on self-centered earning of a reward. It is far from Christ's version of grace.

Thirdly, one can become enslaved by ministry work that leads to impoverished relationships with one's immediate family and loved ones. Doing good is dangerous when it affects the marriage, the parent-child relationship, and other important family ties.

Fourthly, doing good can be a temptation to be performers and people-pleasers. We are called to be God-pleasers. Performance driven individuals are more concerned about the doing than the being.

Fifth, doing good can invite the "greater good" rationalization that compromises small things in order to get big results. This runs totally against the holiness of God. By justifying small moral lapses with a big picture gain, we progress from compromise toward spiritual adultery.

Sixth, when the desire to do good becomes an idol, one is tempted to move the goal posts of ethics and morality. When success becomes the overriding concern, one easily misses the will of God for the will of men.

Seventh, without committed friends to hold us accountable, our ministry of doing good can turn southwards. Greer mentions the need for "3AM Friends," people who are committed enough to do the right thing even when it is most inconvenient or troublesome.

Eighth, when doing good becomes one's overarching concern, one can easily dichotomize life into the sacred and the secular. Here, Dorothy Sayers's words are instructive.
"It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred."
The ninth spiritual danger is the elevating of oneself to "superhero status." This includes the temptation to take credit for many things, to be the central participant for most events, to be the star of the organization, to be recognized and appreciated, and so on. Crediting oneself only goes to increase pride and the heightened potential to fall and to eventually fail.

The tenth spiritual danger is that of a "panera prophet" where one becomes so busy with doing good that one does not have time or the ears to listen to hard truths. Pride is the natural ear plugs that block off sounds that we need most to hear.

The eleventh spiritual danger is one that masks one from recognizing one's true identity. When the idolatry of doing good takes over, the transformation to the dark side is nearly complete.

The twelfth spiritual danger comes back to "Christian Karma" again, but applied to the idea of suffering and pain. If one gets good for doing good, one naturally concludes that when bad things happened, one must have been bad. Believing such a philosophy is dangerous not just to self but to people around us who can be influenced by it.

Thirteenth, we are warned that doing good can build up the log in our own eye, making us blind to self and in the process making wrong calls and judgment on other people. Worse, one can start behaving self-righteously. 

The Fourteenth danger is quite close to the fourth, where one starts behaving defensively and overly concerned about what people think instead of what God thinks. Seeking approval and trying to please people can lead one toward a subtle shift where one uses "doing good" for others into a project for piling up human approval for self.

The fifteenth danger is particularly applicable for scholars, theologians, and people in the knowledge profession. Doing good can puff one up. Even biblical scholarship and great knowledge of the Bible can create obstacles for others to hear the gospel. Such things can build spiritual arrogance.

The sixteenth danger warns us against pretense and putting up a front that we have gotten everything under control. As long as one keep up with the pretense, healing and recovery is hard to begin.

Thankfully, the book ends with hope of a U-turn from any of these dangers. It is possible to make a comeback no matter how deep we are in any of the above spiritual dangers. While the intent is good, I cannot help but feel that making sixteen points is too many and too scattered. Some of the spiritual dangers that Greer has mentioned can easily be combined, like #4 and #14. Others are manifestations of pride and arrogance. Having said that, the points mentioned in the book are reminders for us not to be too dependent on good works to scratch our desire to prove ourselves. There is no need to prove ourselves. Christ has already died for us. Whatever we do cannot be on the basis of gaining additional approval. It is on the basis of sacrificial serving and generous giving. Grace is given to us regardless of who we are or what we do. Grace is free. So let us not be enslaved by good works to please God. We need to be let our love for God drive all of our good works. For our love for God will constrain us to do whatever good we can in the most noble, God-honouring, gentle, loving, and full manifestation of a godly person. Doing good is never enough. Godliness is. Remember the words from Paul to Timothy?

"For godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6)

That is a Scripture verse we all can memorize.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Graf-Martin Communications and Bethany House Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment