Wednesday, June 8, 2011

no reward is worth this? or just no reward, period?

Dealing with Rollins' "The Orthodox Heretic" has been a bit puzzling to me, mostly because of the time I currently don't have much of. But in reading through a few of his 'tales', I'm finding a few similar themes. That is to be expected. In reading the works of authors I like, such as Louis L'amour, Terry Pratchett, and David Weber, all of whom were or are quite prolific writers, they too have similar themes from book to book.

One theme I've noticed in some of Rollin's clever little stories has to do with reward. It comes up in one he calls "Being the Resurrection", and in another form in "The Reward of a Good Life" and "Mansions", and maybe some of the others I haven't yet read.

Here is what one of his characters says in "Being the Resurrection".

Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children's children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life.
p 69

Here's what Rollins writes in his commentary to this 'tale'.

In order to explore this theme the story creates a type of prolonged Holy Saturday experience...In the liminal space between witnessing the Crucifixion and hearing of the Resurrection, the members of the community described above have given themselves wholly to the teachings of Christ. In this wa, they follow him without thought of some future reward, and thus they follow him in a truly sacrificial way.
p 71

Let's leave aside the problematic aspect to this story that people who took Jesus' teachings so seriously while He was alive would have known about His teachings concerning His death and resurrection, that they would have been familiar with his teachings on rewarding faithfulness, or how a group of people leaving on foot could have outdistanced the news of His resurrection. Let's focus, instead, on his concept that only sacrifice without any hope or desire of reward is real sacrifice, and that the hope of reward somehow corrupts a sacrifice.

Is this biblical?

During what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls some kinds of people "Blessed". One of those He says this about are those who are reviled and persecuted and slandered for His sake. In mentioning them, He says that they should rejoice, for "great is your reward in Heaven".

Nor is this the only place He speaks of rewards in the life to come. Right before His death, He tells His disciples that He is going away to prepare a place for them, a mansion in His Father's house. His parables often deal with rewards for those who are ready, those who serve well and faithfully.

I intend to bring in C.S. Lewis again here, but here is a bit that seems to apply here.

Indeed, if you consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignoant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The Weight of Glory, pp 3-4

Was Jesus wrong to make such grand promises of reward to those who are faithful? Does it make us mercenary, as Rollins seems to say, if one reason we follow Christ is that we have the hope of eternal life, not to mention all the other blessing Christ has given to us, and will bless us with? If we did not have the hope of reward, would we be more faithful Chistians?

As I've been thinking about this, I've come to notice how much Rollins comes off like Satan in the book of Job. In Job 1, Satan tells God that the only reason Job fears God is because God has blessed him a whole lot, and God protects Job and all he has. In other words, Job was bought off, Job's love and fear of God was strickly mercenary.

Satan was wrong, as the further course of the story of Job shows. And I think Rollins is wrong, too.

Here's a bit more from Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and to nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics an is no part of the Christian faith.
p 3

Whatever the source may be for Rollins, I think his notion is equally no part of the Christian faith.

In the following pages, Lewis deals with desires and their right and wrong rewards--a man who marries for money is mercenary, but a man who marries because he loves his bride is not. In a similar way, the Christian's desire for Heaven, to be where God is, to be a source of real pleasure to God, to be known by God, to even be such a source of pleasure to God as to be rewarded by Him, is quite good and proper.

No doubt, one can find some people for whom such desires have become mercerary or a bribe, but I would contend that that is rather a very few. I can think of when I read Puzo's "The Last Don", and the old Don at one points things about all of the ways his corruption and violence have made his present life so very well, and how due to his occasional nods to his Catholic faith, he could also look forward to a pleasant afterlife, too. For such a man, it may be said that he is but a mercenary, but for several reasons he would not be a Christian. For real Christians, Heaven is not a bribe.

In fact, it is not Christianity that teaches that desires are evil, but Buddhism. For the Buddhist, desires are one of the causes of suffering. The Bible teaches no such thing. There may be times when we must accept that our desires will, at least for the time, not be fulfilled, or that God may choose to take away the thing we have desired, but at no point is desire ever considered a bad thing.

We are not inhuman automatons, who must forsake our desires. There may be times that, like Job, we must say "The Lord give and takes away, blessed is His name". We will, no doubt, have many times when God takes away from each of us, we will have times when grief and disappointment will overwhelm us. But let us suffer those things as human beings, who acknowledge the loss and pain and still cling to faith in God, and not a an emergent like Rollins, who seeks simply to beat down the desires and to not expect anything better.

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