Personal Purity

August 2, 2007 | 61 comments
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When I was in high school, I had a friend whose family always struggled to make ends meet. I remember talking to my friend on the phone one day and he said something about the oven door being propped open. Why, I asked. Because the heater was broken and they were using the oven to heat the house. Isn’t that dangerous, I asked. He wasn’t sure. I did the teenage verbal equivalent of a shrug and didn’t give the situation another thought.

Shortly thereafter, I had my dad drive me over to my friend’s house to hang out. My dad came to the door with me and spoke to my friend’s mother. I don’t remember his exact words but something to the effect of having his toolbox in the car and some time to kill before he had to be somewhere and did they have anything that he could fix?

I wasn’t impressed with his charity. I wasn’t impressed with his ability to make it seem like they were doing him a favor. I was impressed that he wasn’t doing it to earn celestial points. My dad is an agnostic so I knew his motives were pure.

My motives are, generally, not pure. I’ve read too many scriptures about the blessings that await do-gooders to ever do good without, on some level, thinking about them. I’m wondering how we go about attaining personal purity. Or must our motives always be tainted by thoughts of rewards in heaven?

61 Responses to Personal Purity

  1. Carson on August 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    I have thought about this many times and have come to two conclusions that help me get perspective:

    1-technically speaking, no matter how difficult/fun things can be to do we should do them because God asks us to and we need to do what he wants

    2-Luckily, God has our best interest in mind so that everything he asks us to do is for our happiness. Sometimes this isn’t direct. For example we might need to walk across the plains so that our children can have a place to worship w/o persecution. The point is that ideally, if we all did this (give for the greater good of the greater family) we would be able to receive the greatest amount of happiness.

  2. BRoz on August 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    God tells us to “lay up in store treasures in heaven.” So, It’s all good, right? I guess the highest reason to do things is out of love and devotion to God. God also says its okay to do things out of fear and dread of God’s punishment. I’ve always wondered how this fits in with Mormon’s teaching that “a man being evil cannot do that which is good.” I guess there are multiple acceptible, pure and righteous motives as well as some not so pure motives. I guess this is what Mormon is talking about when he talks about “real intent.”

  3. endlessnegotiation on August 2, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Julie:

    What makes aspiration for heavenly rewards impure? I can understand feeling guilty for offering help with the expectation of the favor being returned at some point but if all you’re doing is (figuratively) laying your treasure in heaven I fail to see the problem.

  4. Tom on August 2, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Or must our motives always be tainted by thoughts of rewards in heaven?

    Probably. But even your dad probably had tainted motives. I’m sure his service made him feel good about himself, and I bet that’s part of what motivated him to serve.

  5. Jacob on August 2, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Just because you are doing something out of self-interest does not mean you are doing something selfish.

    Also, even if I am doing something “out of love and devotion to God”, I have to ask myself, “Why do I love God?” Probable responses would invariably include “Well, He did this and this for me. . .” There is no escape from self-interest. But, that isn’t a bad thing.

  6. WillF on August 2, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    It still takes faith to believe you will be rewarded for the acts. If you have enough faith that you are sure you will be rewarded, then you also probably have enough charity that you won’t do it for impure reasons. If you still lack faith (I’m guess we all are in that situation to some degree), you will have to do it for pure reasons because you won’t quite believe that what you are doing has merit in heaven. So maybe what I am saying is that there is a direct relationship between faith and charity that kind of protects us from doing things for impure reasons.

  7. DavidH on August 2, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Warning: introspection ahead–

    While I believe in life after death, and accept that my choices in mortality will have some effect on what I am or feel in the hereafter, the hereafter seems very far away and does not have much of a motivating force on me. I stopped worrying some time ago about whatever level of reward or punishment in the hereafter I might receive because of my decisions. Instead, I usually try to do what is right and good because it almost always leads to a greater sense of peace in my life and those around me. And I have come to believe that that is what God wants.

    Does that make my primary motivations the same as that of an atheist or agnostic who chooses to do what is right because they believe it is better for themselves and others or because it comes “naturally” to them. Perhaps it does. But I feel better in leaving to God to decide what to do with us in the hereafter (because I believe He will be kind and fair) and in my trying to do good and helpful things for somewhat mortal reasons. And it also makes me feel less guilty when I occasionally skip a Church administrative meeting because I am tired or because of other demands.

  8. Tim J. on August 2, 2007 at 5:32 pm
  9. Ray on August 2, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    “Must our motives always be tainted by thoughts of rewards in heaven?”

    I believe the truest test of our spirituality is whether or not we think of the rewards for which we hope when we do good. An example:

    It is impossible to talk with my mother for more than 5 minutes without having the conversation turns to the Gospel – very openly and obviously. It simply is how she thinks. It’s not conscious or manipulative; it simply is. Likewise, my father can’t walk away from a need he sees. Again, it’s not conscious or manipulative; it simply is. Neither of them think about it; they just do it.

    Our initial motivation might be any number of things, but I believe we have succeeded when we lose ourselves in the equation and simply act without motivation or prior thought – when we do simply because that’s what we do – because that’s who we are. I have seen that in myself in a few areas, but I still have a long way to go in others.

    I am at risk of being late for my own administrative meetings, so I really do need to stop now.

  10. a random John on August 2, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    At some point one would hope that we could develop to the point where we don’t do things because of any potential carrots or sticks but because we’ve drawn close enough to the Saviour that we emulate Him very naturally. Rewards will play no part in the process. In fact, I go as far as to say that scriptural promises of rewards are crutches that we’ll eventually discard.

  11. greenfrog on August 2, 2007 at 5:53 pm

    FWIW, I think the Matthew 25 account of the King in judgment gives us the right orientation on this point. Those whom the King honors not only weren’t doing those things (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned) for their own benefit, they weren’t even doing them for God’s benefit. They were doing them because they had compassion for the suffering.

    Compassion alloyed with self-interest is better than no compassion, at all. But it’s rather like ice cream blended with gravel. It is even better without the impurity.

  12. Bob on August 2, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Julie, My Mom was like your Dad. I don’t think I ever saw a Bible or BoM in her hands. Always casseroles giving…Yes. That why I have always called her a “Casserole Mormon”.

  13. Jack on August 2, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Good post, Julie.

    I’ve come to the point in my little life’s journey where anything less than compassion as a motivator is terribly loathsome. The problem is, I have less compassion than just about anyone I know.

  14. Matt Evans on August 2, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    “must our motives always be tainted by thoughts of rewards in heaven?”

    I’ve never thought about rewards in heaven, and it’s never occurred to me that others might. Probably because I think God cares who we are, not what we do, I don’t imagine judgment as a great accounting. (I’d change I Am a Child of God from “do” to “be.”) But that’s just who I am. : )

  15. Eric Russell on August 2, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    I’m surprised by many of the comments so far. That the motive of heavenly blessings is somewhat impure seems obvious to me. Perhaps it’s just that “impure” is a strong word. It’s certainly a better motive than that of baser rewards or not doing the right thing at all. But when speaking of charity, I take the “pure” in “the pure love of Christ” to be the purity of motive. Christ’s love was charity because it was absolutely pure in motive – pure altruism.

    But yes, the big question is how we attain it. I don’t know. I think we just have to be aware of it and truly desire it.

    As to subsequent question of why the scriptures entice us with heavenly blessings, arJ said it even better than I was thinking it. “scriptural promises of rewards are crutches that we’ll eventually discard” is, I think, spot on.

  16. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 2, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    I agree with #7 that the prospect of “rewards in heaven” haven’t historically been a great motivator for me. Not because I am selfless, but because I’ve had no idea what that means. When you consider how much we focus on the afterlife, it is shocking to me that there are so few scriptural descriptions of it, and the very few we have are extremely vague and brief. And I remember when I was in primary when teachers were trying to motivate me to do X,Y and Z so that I could be with Heavenly Father again. It had no impact on me whatsoever. I couldn’t remember Heavenly Father, and I sure didn’t remember what it was like to live with Him (you know, that whole veil thing). So the whole “rewards in heaven” thing was not really a great motivator for me.

    More recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that your character, your heart, your mind, your soul, are your own reward or punishment in the next life. If you become a loving, kind, gentle, patient, forgiving, generous person, then you will be happy. If you are an unloving, unkind, abusive, impatient, unforgiving, tight-wad, then you will be miserable. You are your own reward or punishment, because no matter where you go in the next life, you’ll always be with you.

  17. Jacob on August 2, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    NMWE – you are proving my point with the last paragraph – that we have a decided self-interest in doing good to others. We know it makes us a better person, so we do it. That is not wrong or impure. However, I don’t think we do anything for only one reason. Helping another person helps us to develop that love that we should have for others, and at the same time, makes us feel better about ourselves. Just because one of those reasons is self-interested, doesn’t mean that we did the deed for the wrong reasons.

    However, I’ve never been motivated by the promise of heaven, either, mostly because I have a very limited idea of what it’s like up there.

  18. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 2, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Joseph Smith taught that happiness is the object and design of our existence. So is our desire to be happy a “selfish” or “impure” desire? I think not. The desire to be happy is merely a desire to fulfill the object and design of our existence.

    So if I’m kind, forgiving, generous, helpful, etc., because I know it will makee me happy, how could that possibly be seflish or impure? Sounds like the ultimate win-win to me: serving makes me happy, makes the person I serve happy.

    Am I oversimplifying this?

  19. Dan S. on August 2, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Did anyone else receive the ethics lesson about the things that motivate? Supposedly, motivators for humans can be measured on a scale based on our psychological/spiritual maturity. At one end of the scale, the least mature motivator is fear of punishment/desire for reward. Like what motivates little children. The next most mature motivator is desire for approval/fear of disapproval. And so the scale continues until at the farthest end of the scale is the highest form of motivation: the desire to do good for the sake of doing good.

    I think that Christians equate the highest form of motivation to the concept of “charity”, or “having” charity. Like Enos who eventually obtained charity, however he had to progress to it. His initial motivation was first for himself, then for his friends, and finally for his enemies. I can’t think of any scriputures that describes charity along with a desire for heavenly rewards. If anything, Christ says that our hearts and treasures lie together. So if we desire rewards as our treasure, as opposed to the desire to simply do good, then our hearts are immature.

  20. Lupita on August 2, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Good post, Julie. I wish that I could say that I’m not motivated by the thought of rewards but…I am. Even when my initial inclination is pure, the idea that I might be rewarded for my behavior often slithers right in. I don’t even get so far as contemplating the eternal rewards–I’m mired in the mundane. I feel genuine desires to serve and be charitable but I also am cognizant that there are tangible rewards that I enjoy by being so inclined (e.g. people generally like you–the Universal Law of Reciprocity :)
    The concept of only doing good things in order to earn points in heaven is pretty sad and insincere and likely leads to an unfulfilling existence, especially if you’re silly enough to broadcast it.

  21. DavidH on August 2, 2007 at 10:05 pm

    “I’d change I Am a Child of God from ‘do’ to ‘be.’”

    Amen. I suspect Elder Oaks would agree (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 32–34) but I am not sure whether he is on the hymnal lyrics committee.

  22. queuno on August 2, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    Please, let’s not change “I am a Child of God” again. Naomi Randall didn’t like it the first time; let’s not make her role over in her grave!

  23. Eric Russell on August 2, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    NWME, it might be easier to look at, not as something that’s wrong, but something that’s not right enough. A decision motivated by a desire for true happiness may have moral content, but it does not have as much moral content as a decision motivated by the desire to do right as an end in itself.

  24. Paulina on August 2, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    I do things for people because i want to, not to make a few browny points. however my college friends and i kind had this running joke when someone would try to not let someone do something for them. we woudl tell them \”your stealing my blessing!\”

    i still use it in the church, because everyone wants to be the servent. but as Ray Boltz said in his song about the last supper, \”If you know my fathers love the way you say you do then you will serve each other\” most people don\’t want to let others serve them. so every now and then I will tell someone \”hey let them serve you, your stealing thier blessing.\”

    but then thats just me.

  25. Ray on August 2, 2007 at 11:06 pm

    I’ll try to say this concisely and clearly.

    Our goal is to become Christ-like – or to become perfect (complete and whole) as He and Heavenly Father are. I read the Gospels and the BofM, and I don’t get much “theologizing” from Him; I get examples of service and love – interspersed with challenges to love and serve. (“Come unto me,” “Inasmuch as ye have,” “As I have loved you,” “Mourn with those who mourn,” “Comfort those,” “Do unto others,” etc.)

    When we are baptized we promise to take His name upon us and always remember Him. In essence, we promise to be Christ to those around us – to do for them in this realm what He would do for them if He were still here – to do for them physically and emotionally here what he does for them spiritually and emotionally in prayer. I find it instructive that we never covenant to preach to each other in any of the saving ordinances; each and every one of them focuses on what we promise to DO – what we commit to become.

    To the question at hand, Christ didn’t accept His part of the Atonement because He wanted to get glory; He left the issue of reward in the hands of His father – no strings attached. He did it because He loved us – pure and simple. He showed that love by laying down His own life for us – by becoming a “minister” not a “preacher”. He didn’t do it for a personal reward; He did it for our reward.

    Frankly, I don’t think we will gain an eternal reward by trying to earn an eternal reward; I think we will receive an eternal reward when we quit trying to earn it and focus instead on helping others in whatever way we can – when we end up forgetting about being rewarded and simply love and serve for the sheer joy of doing so and seeing the results in the lives of others. We won’t be “given” anything; rather, we will be changed into a condition acceptable to Him. I think we will not be complete and whole until we can act for our Savior in the at-one-ment of others (individually and as a community) – in the process of relieving their suffering, taking their pain and misery from them, bringing them joy and comfort, caring for them in a real and powerful and practical way, and empowering them to do so for others (individually and as a community).

    That’s my two cents’ worth for now.

  26. Ray on August 2, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    One more comment:

    IMO, the focus on the blessings of the afterlife has done as much to advance the “practical apostasy” as the obscuring of the Godhead did to advance the “theological apostasy” – and it has been more detrimental to an understanding of the core principles of the Gospel and the Atonement.

  27. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 3, 2007 at 12:43 am

    I have to admit I’m still not seeing the problem, impurity, selfishness, or spiritual immaturity in serving others because it makes you happy.

    Eric, could you please explain/support the last half of the last comment you made? (#23) I’m not understanding this idea of doing right as an end in itself. The apparent assumption is that it is less-than-optimal to have any purpose for doing right other than as “an end in itself.”

    But what is spiritually immature about doing right because you desire happiness? If happiness is the object and design of my existence, why is it less moral to serve others because I desire to fulfill that object and design? Isn’t that a sign that we are moving towards eternal life, which has been defined as the happy state of those who live God’s way of life? Isn’t the whole purpose of life to learn to derive happiness from those healthy, wholesome, uplifting, love-filled activities that God has ordained for us?

    It seems to me that the vision of the Tree of Life, and Christ’s words in John 15:9-13 point toward a divine goal of happiness, which happiness is received by becoming filled with God’s love, which love is developed by obedience to God’s laws–all of which are based on love: loving God and loving neighbor.

    So I’m sorry, but if doing the right thing and serving others because it makes me happy is a sin, then I be a sinner! :)

  28. a random John on August 3, 2007 at 12:45 am

    I’ll try to say this concisely and clearly.

    Are you implying that I didn’t in #10? :)

  29. giotto on August 3, 2007 at 1:12 am

    It surprises me to think that any faithful member of the church would, or could equate service with a kind of point system. This sounds exactly like the faith vs. works argument most evangelicals rail against us with. Certainly we can agree that we are saved only thorough the atonement of Christ, but only after all we can do (2 Ne. 23). Personally, I serve others not just for the eternal rewards or the earthly joys, however wonderful they may be. I try to serve others because it keeps me humble. I try to serve others because it keeps me to stay in tune, to listen to the Holy Ghost, who alerts me to situations where others need help that I may not be aware of. I serve not because I am proud or think I’m great. It actually has the opposite effect; it really makes me aware of my own nothingness (Mosiah 4:11), and humbles me to think that my seemingly small and insignificant acts towards others are some of the only ways I can serve God who has given us everything. Most here I’m sure are familiar with King Benjamin’s farewell speech on service. Usually the 17th verse of Mosiah 4 is quoted. But verse 16 is worth noting, especially in the context of this blog, where he says,” …I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.”
    “Must our motives always be tainted by thoughts of rewards in heaven?”
    Although I believe that those who serve without charity, or who do so to build up their ownselves in pride will eventually receive their reward, I can’t think of anyone but Satan who would try to sow that seed of doubt. That serving others with pure intent is more a selfish than a selfless act. I believe the Lord lets us know that he recognizes as righteous our striving to draw close to him in this life and our desire to return to live with him in the next. Promising us eternal life and eternal progression is one of the ways He shows his love, which in turn humbles us for we become acutely aware of our unworthiness of it, which brings us to a state of meekness and lowliness of heart, which brings us to repentance, which makes us aware of the awesomeness of the atonement of Christ and a recognition of the goodness of God, where the natural desire is to serve God and his children (Moroni 8:25-26).

  30. Peter LLC on August 3, 2007 at 8:06 am

    #5: Just because you are doing something out of self-interest does not mean you are doing something selfish.

    Exactly. Witness the Invisible Hand: pursue individual self-interest > build common good.

  31. RayB on August 3, 2007 at 8:31 am

    My dad was not active in the church. Frankly, I don’t know if he even believed in God. Yet he was always doing kind things for the people in the ward and the neighborhood. I don’t know what motivated him. All I know is that it is one legacy I will never be able to live up to.

  32. John Mansfield on August 3, 2007 at 10:08 am

    If someone is doing good service because she gets paid $50 an hour to do it and her picture will run on the front page of the newspaper, then I am glad she is doing good service.

  33. Adam Greenwood on August 3, 2007 at 10:30 am

    God’s the one who promises the rewards, so he must not mind much if they motivate us. Plus, He seems to contrive situations where you can’t do good unless you’re willing to do it for its own sake. The hope of future reward won’t be enough.

  34. Jonovitch on August 3, 2007 at 11:32 am

    I don’t remember which philosopher it was (Kant perhaps?), but I’ve always viewed motivations for doing good on three distinct levels of maturity that have parallels in scripture.

    In the Old Testament, the Israelites were motivated by the fear of punishment. In the New Testament, the Christians were motivated by the promise of rewards. In the (Celestial Kingdom? Law of Consecration? certain sections of D&C?), good people are motivated to do good because it’s the right thing to do — that’s all.

    Similarly, small children are motivated by the fear of being sent to time out. Teenagers and young adults are (sometimes) motivated by the promise of rewards (I totally incentivize my deacons quorum). And the wise, old sages who fear no punishment and seek no reward astound us again and again by doing good just for the sake of doing good.

    Jon

  35. Dan S. on August 3, 2007 at 11:56 am

    Non Winter wrote “But what is spiritually immature about doing right because you desire happiness? . . . Isn’t that a sign that we are moving towards eternal life”. . .

    Yes. I believe good works move us toward eternal life, usually regardless of the motive (evil motives excepted – Moroni 7:6 “for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.”).

    So, in the end of this life, I think that Heavenly Father is mostly concerned about whether we did those good works (Moroni 7:5 “For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.”)

    Still, I think that the maturity of the motive can enrich us further and also improve the quality of the good works. Like a missionary who shifts his focus from “obtaining baptisms” to “helping brothers and sisters progress spiritually toward Christ”. The missionary might not obtain more baptisms, but since the motive has changed, the Spirit can work through the missionary more powerfully. The conversion is stronger for both convert and missionary.

  36. Adam Greenwood on August 3, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    In the (Celestial Kingdom? Law of Consecration? certain sections of D&C?), good people are motivated to do good because it’s the right thing to do — that’s all.

    I have my doubts. I can conceive of a heaven where fear and reward and just being good by nature are commingled. I can conceive of a heaven where the experience of virtue and love is so sweet and overwhelming that nearly every good act is hedonism.

  37. Alan Jackson on August 3, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    So were Christ’s motives impure because he was trying to do the will of the father (seeking for approval/fear of disapproval)? I don’t remember any sermons saying “do good continually, not seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    Another thought: if the Kingdom of Heaven is made up of a bunch of people who have the charity, what is wrong with trying to do service in an attempt to become part of and create that community (so that everyone may be happy)? The atheist may be thought of as selfish for exactly the same argument: he is selfish because he just wants to be part of a good society that helps each other.

    Last thought: How is the beneficial to us? Should I stop doing service because I do it in connection with religion? Should I stop thinking about God or the afterlife while doing the same? I’ve heard lots of ideas, but nothing that would translate an idea into an action that would make us more pure.

  38. Adam Greenwood on August 3, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I agree with your point, Mr. Jackson. In particular, I think that God will usually make sure we have situations where we have to act from pure motives so we don’t need to worry too much. But your Christ example doesn’t necessarily work. We know that Christ wanted to do the will of his Father, but we don’t know that his motive for doing it was desire for approval or fear of disapproval (I suspect that he did have those motives, mingled with others, since there’s nothing wrong in them).

  39. Dan S. on August 3, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Rewards in heaven (self interest) can keep us in check. If there is a sliding scale of motives, it keeps the motives from going too far south.

    Some aetheists that I know believe in similar principles that many religious folks do of doing good to others in hopes that it will come back to you or others who deserve it. Religious folks, however, tend to put more stock in gaining the heavenly reward because they cannot always see whether or not their good work had an immediate effect in this life. So, the reasoning goes that if I do a good work without a perceivable effect, then the reward will not be lost. An aetheist who does good, however, does so with more faith in improving mankind in this life. So, in essence, I’ve always been impressed with aetheists who do good works because their motives tend to be a bit more focused on others, not just themselves.

    Honestly, if I were an aetheist I would continue following those instincts to do good for the betterment of others, while improving my character at the same time. I think that “charitable” christians, “enlightened” buddists, etc. do exactly the same thing.

  40. Struwelpeter on August 3, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if I am redundant. I used to have occasion to spend the lunch hour with a group of Orthodox Jewish friends. On occasion, the topic of discussion would turn to a particular commandment, with the general pattern of discussion looking something like this:

    First guy: What is the purpose of Commandment X? I have a hard time understanding it.
    Second guy: Look at all the reasons for Commandment X. When you keep it, you have several advantages and blessings, both temporal and spiritual. Given all these advantages, why would you not want to obey Commandment X.
    Third guy: Why are you trying to understand the “why” behind the commandment? Isn’t it enough that it comes from God? Quit trying to find some advantage that comes from your obedience, and focus on the fact that you love God. Obedience based on anything other than your love for God is sinful. If you love him, obey.

    I think Third guy was right. If you love me keep my commandments. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, might, mind, etc. Too often, our culture places emphasis on the idea that blessings are the reason for obedience. Why tithe? Because I get blessed. We treat God like Santa Claus without the red suit. We’re good because we want good stuff, not the lump of coal.

  41. Matt on August 3, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    We make things too difficult! When Christ did away with the old law, the new law became love one another. If we have belief that there is a God, and if we have belief that God is omnicient, then we should come to the logical conclusion that God knows best for us. Christ said be perfect even as your Father which is in Heaven. Why then would we spend ANY time wondering what Christ’s intentions were concerning his mission. He simply worked on faith till faith became knowlege. He, as we should, never spend a moment thinking what rewards were available. God wants perfection, the blessings are simply a result of perfection.

  42. greenfrog on August 3, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Non-Winter Meat Eater wrote:

    But what is spiritually immature about doing right because you desire happiness?

    I don’t think it’s a question of maturity so much as it is a question of mistaking one thing for another. giotto is on the right track, distinguishing between grace and works issues.

    Do I think that doing good in order to obtain a reward is better than not doing something good? Yes. But not because I think that I’m scoring points with God. Rather, I’m preparing my soul (by becoming more faithful, less distrusting, more malleable, less rigid, more humble, less prideful, more loving, less selfish) to make the different-in-kind step to Godly actions — acting truly selflessly. That act is what I understand Jesus to have prayed in John 17 that his disciples receive. When He taught them “As I have loved you, love one another,” I don’t understand Him to have meant “treat each other as if you really love each other and I’ll make sure you get in heaven what you really are hoping to get.” When the disciples were squabbling over which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of God, Christ rebuked their dim-witted and self-aggrandizing understanding, instructing them, instead, that the only way to greatness was by becoming the most submissive. I don’t understand the greatness Jesus was telling them how to reach was the same kind of greatness that they had in mind. Instead, it was wildly better than their impoverished imagined positions of dominion in the hereafter. But it would require more than they ever imagined giving up.

    That’s how I understand the gospel works.

    If happiness is the object and design of my existence, why is it less moral to serve others because I desire to fulfill that object and design?

    It isn’t. But it’s very easy to think we know how to get happiness, when we really don’t. If real, godly happiness depends upon our giving up everything, then actions aimed at getting more in order to make ourselves happy aren’t leading where we say we want to go. So we have God and the gospel to entrain us to a different approach, one that we wouldn’t guess at the outset will lead us to happiness, but nonetheless does just that. I don’t think that we are more insightful about how to attain our own eternal happiness than Jesus’ disciples were. From Jesus’ perspective, we are still barking up the wrong tree.

    Isn’t that a sign that we are moving towards eternal life, which has been defined as the happy state of those who live God’s way of life? Isn’t the whole purpose of life to learn to derive happiness from those healthy, wholesome, uplifting, love-filled activities that God has ordained for us?

    Yes. But as I understand things, the “carrot-and-stick” approach that is presented in some of the scriptures is intended to get us moving in a direction that will enable us to make the transformational leap needed to become like God. I don’t understand that it, alone, will get us there.

  43. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 4, 2007 at 2:01 am

    I’m just not understanding this “doing right as an end in itself” business and how that is any different from doing right because we want to be happy.

    What is that “end” or purpose of doing right? The “end” or purpose of all God’s commandments is our happiness. Don’t take my word for it; read what Joseph Smith taught:

    “As God has designed our happiness . . he never has–he never will institute an ordinance or give a commandment to His people that is not calculated in its nature to promote that happiness which He has designed . . . .” TPJS 255-56.

    As I read this, doing right for the purpose of being happy is the same thing as doing right “as an end in itself” because the “end” or purpose of doing right is happiness. They are synonymous expressions.

    Can someone please find me an authoritative quote that says it’s wrong or spiritually immature to do right because you want to be happy? I’d love to see one.

  44. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 4, 2007 at 2:09 am

    Here’s a question for the “doing right because you want to be happy is spiritually immature” crowd:

    What if loving and serving God and loving and serving my fellow man makes me happy (which it does)? Should I shun any such desires for happiness as I serve God and my fellow man in order to attain this mythical “purity of motive” of which you speak?

    Honestly, folks, I don’t think that is possible or necessary. To me this is all devolving into a debate about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

  45. Eric Russell on August 4, 2007 at 9:01 am

    MWNE, what if, in some instance, that which is right differed from that which would bring you happiness, hypothetically speaking. Which ought one choose? The right thing, or the thing that brought happiness?

    The right thing to do would be the right thing to do – simply because it is the right thing to do. If someone is guided by a desire for happiness, it is possible that they could, in some instance, do the wrong thing. But if someone is guided by a desire to do the right thing, then they will always do the right thing.

  46. Tom on August 4, 2007 at 9:45 am

    But Eric, doing what you believe to be right always brings some happiness. It might do so at the expense of some other source of happiness, but it’s always gratifying to believe that you have done the right. So in the scenario you outline, the choice isn’t between happiness and doing the right, it’s between two sources of happiness. I don’t believe we can ever take the gratification we get from doing what we believe to be right out of the motivation equation. And that doesn’t bother me. Happiness is the object and design of our existence.

  47. Eric Russell on August 4, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Tom, it’s a hypothetical thought experiment, simply to show that the desire to do right is a higher echelon of motivation than the desire for happiness, even godly happiness.

    I wholeheartedly agree that happiness is the aim of our existence and that doing what is right will always bring happiness. But our hearts ought to be at a place where we would still do the right thing, even if it didn’t bring us happiness. Then will we be like Christ.

  48. annegb on August 4, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I love your question, Julie. I think we keep score way too often, way too often.

    I also loved that you said your dad was an agnostic with pure motives. It seems sort of like an oxymoron, but it made me think how truly pure are the motives of the atheist who does good. Or the agnostic.

    There’s a woman in our ward who epitimizes lack of motive. She’s so humble, but she does so much good, quietly. I watch her and try to figure out she does that.

    I’ve never known another religion who tries so hard to do good, be good, and make sure everyone knows we aren’t a cult, we are good. I’m proud of our collective huminitarian efforts and I’m proud of our individual goodness, but I don’t like the almost neurotic tendency to work our butts off, hoping we get the reward. It seems counter productive.

  49. sleepyzZZ on August 4, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    This is one of the main points that you will have to eventually learn for your self. I had a professor that said that everything we do is for a \”self-interest. He said everyone is like that. \” It doesn\’t matter if to try to help someone else. The very fact that you feel good afterward means you do something for your own benefit. I say it is not true.

    There was and is one individual that never did anything for any type of personal gain. He is the Savior, the son of God. He is our example. We will have to learn to do everything we do for love, and not for any personal gain. Personal gain may come as a result, but that can\’t be the reason for the act.

  50. Ray on August 4, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    There have been plenty of times I have done the right thing and not gotten happiness as a reward. In a couple of cases, it has taken me some time (after the fact) to find total peace with why I had to do what I felt I had to do. In one case, I still don’t feel “happy” about it years later – but I am at peace with it and understand why. Happiness is the object of our existence, and defining that happiness primarily as a reward in the afterlife is, IMHO, incorrect and counterproductive. I believe strongly that miserable people in this life won’t die and be changed into happy people there. I believe we need to try to be happy in this life. However, I also believe there are MANY things that we should do that will not bring happiness in any measurable way – that we should do them just because we should do them.

    Reading the Gospels, I don’t see Jesus glorying happily in the Garden or on the cross. I do see him begging that he not have to do what he was being asked to do, but being willing to do it regardless – not because it would make him happy but because it was the right thing to so. I think for discussions like this we need to separate blessings of the afterlife from happiness in this life, since there are some things we are asked to do that will contribute to our happiness then but that do not make us “happy” here. I tend to focus on the here and now, trusting that the there and then will be taken care of for me. Arguing over greater happiness then can appear to devalue someone’s suffering now – and that never is a good thing. We must believe in the hope of reward then, but I believe we also must accept decisions that do not bring happiness now.

  51. Eric Russell on August 4, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    “There have been plenty of times I have done the right thing and not gotten happiness as a reward.”

    Then you probably didn’t do them for the right reason, Ray.

  52. Ray on August 4, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Eric, given #45 & #47, I have to assume that was not a serious comment. I laughed, but then I thought, “What if it wasn’t intended to make me happy?” Am I laughing for the wrong reason?

  53. Eric Russell on August 4, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    LOL, Ray, I am in fact entirely serious. Let me explain it as I see it:

    A right action done for the right reason (which reason is that it’s the right action) will always bring happiness.
    A right action done for any other reason (to include happiness) may or may not bring some form of happiness.

    This seeming irony is paralleled by Christ in Matt. 10:39, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

  54. Ray on August 4, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Eric, I think we agree MUCH more than we disagree – if we disagree at all. I think part of our difference in phrasing probably is due more to the attitudes we are addressing than to any actual difference in our beliefs.

    I do believe happiness is a condition I have gained over the years; I have had MANY people tell me that I am one of the happiest individuals they know, and I am rarely around people when I am not smiling – naturally and instinctively. My sense of humor tends to sarcasm and “banter” – but it almost never is meant to be mean or reflective of sadness or anger.

    In that sense, I can accept that I “gained happiness” because of the choices I made, but I know too many people who expect an immediate feeling of happiness to accompany every “right choice” they make – or who believe it is OK to be unhappy in this life, who actually seem to glory in their misery as a sign of their righteousness. If “happiness” includes peace and calm and acceptance and lack of misery, we probably agree completely. If it is defined more narrowly to simply mean “feeling an emotion that makes you smile”, then I don’t accept that, even though I smile more than most. (As evidenced by my tendency to overuse the evil smiley face emoticon.)

    Matt. 10:39 actually is a verse I use to explain that. I think if you try to earn true happiness (if you “seek” it), you won’t find it. I think you won’t find it in the individual choices you make, but rather in the sum total of those choices. I think you will feel it often along the way, but I also think that you will only find it fully when you are willing to do things that you feel are the right things to do even if it appears there is no happiness attached as a reward – when you really do “lose your life” in the process of deciding what to do – when the thought of reward (“What’s in it for me?”) plays no role in the decision. I think when you lose the “motivation” to do good in order to be happy, then you will find true, lasting, perpetual happiness – not momentary, fleeting happiness.

    In summary, I agree that right actions aways bring happiness at some point, but I don’t think that they always bring “an emotional feeling of happiness” immediately or in a time frame that can be pre-determined. I think focusing on being happy as a result of our actions tends to keep it from happening, partially because it is easy to think we can be “happier” if we only do more good actions. It’s easy to say, “I could be happier. What can I do to be happier? How can I find happiness?” That focus might bring experiences that include happiness, but I have seen it turn into almost an addiction – something people think they can “accomplish” or “gain” or “find”.

  55. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 4, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    Ray and Eric, I’ve heard a lot of theories about how it is somehow spiritually immature or wrong to obey because you desire to be happy, but I’m still waiting for an authoritative quote to support that position. And I think you’re presuming too much omniscience to assume that Christ’s suffering was not motivated at least in part by the fact that it would make Him happy to save His brothers and sisters because He loved them so much.

    On the other hand, there are numerous authoritative quotes indicating it is good to do right because it makes you happy. Consider these:

    “The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil;” Alma 41:5. Read that again: “according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good.” This goes to my point above (43) that doing good “as an end in itself” and doing right because you desire happiness are synonymous–because happiness is the purpose of God’s laws.

    Or how about this one: “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” Mosiah 2:41. Why is King Benjamin exhorting us to consider the happy state of those who obey the commandments if it is spiritually immature or wrong for happiness to motivate our obedience?

    Or this one: “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” (1 Ne. 8:10) Why did Lehi find the fruit desirable? What an impure desire!

    Or this one: “Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.” (Alma 27:18.) Seeker of what? You mean it’s okay to seek our happiness?!

    Or this one: “What a wonderful, warm, and reassuring thing it is to know that the primary objective of the very God of heaven is “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), or, in other words, our eternal happiness and joy. Sometimes I wonder if we really appreciate what that means and how it should affect our lives. We must give adequate attention to the doctrines of happiness—real happiness, infinite and eternal. They should be the objective of everything we teach in the Church and of everything we do.” M. Russell Ballard, “Answers to Life’s Questions,” Ensign, May 1995, 22. What did Elder Ballard say about happiness?: “the objective of everything we teach in the Church and of everything we do”.

    Guys, this will be my last comment on this issue, so let me just say one more thing:

    This whole idea that our obedience shouldn’t be motivated by our desire for happiness reminds me of that saying we hear all the time at Church: “He never said it would be easy, He only said it would be worth it.” That line is quoted so often it is treated like scripture, but in fact Jesus actually said “my yoke is easy”. (Matt. 11:30.) My point is that there are notions that float around the Church that just aren’t supported by authoritative sources, but that are nonetheless treated like doctrine because they’re repeated so often. This whole idea that obedience shouldn’t be motivated by our desire for happiness is one of those false but widely-held beliefs.

  56. Ray on August 4, 2007 at 11:44 pm

    NWME, I tried to submit a response about a half-hour ago. I’m glad it didn’t take. I am going to reword my response – very carefully and slowly, while breathing very deeply.

    I never said that obedience shouldn’t be motivated by a desire for happiness. I never said ANYTHING that approximates your first sentence. I also disagree with those who do say that. I agree with every single quote in your comment. I said “happiness is the object of our existence.” I believe “men are that they might have joy.” I believe the desire to do right to be happy is a good reason for obedience, and I also believe that it is a natural motivation. I just don’t think it’s the HIGHEST form of motivation. I think love is the highest form of motivation (in ascending order within that category: love of self, then love of others, then love of God) – and I don’t think I need to add quotes to make that point. A desire for happiness ultimately fits into the love of self category – a high motivation within the highest category, just not the highest motivation within that category.

    There is so much more I would like to say, but read my previous comments again, slowly and carefully and without any preconceived assumptions, and I think you will see that I do not believe what your first paragraph disputes. If there is a particular sentence with which you disagree, quote it and let me respond – because I won’t respond to a belief I didn’t claim.

  57. BRoz on August 5, 2007 at 2:34 am

    Lehi taught: “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other” (2 Ne. 2: 16). This suggests the promise of God’s reward, and the fear of God’s punishment are perfectly justifiable and exalting motivations. This is the “real intent” Moromon speaks of which is a manifestation of our love of God. God simply says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Incorrect or false Intent would be to do things for man’s reward, or out of a fear of man’s punishment or scorn.

  58. BRoz on August 5, 2007 at 2:43 am

    I don’t think there is value in creating a heirarchy of motivations. Person #1 is least in heaven because he obeys out of fear of God. Person #2 is a 2nd-class celestialite because he obeyed out of hope of heavenly reward. But Person #3 is the 1st-rate celestialite because he obeys just to obey God. I think that all 3 factors are at play with each decision. Whichever one helps you obey is just as good as the others.

  59. Non-Winter Meat Eater on August 5, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Ray, I sincerely apologize if I misinterpreted your statements above. It may have been wrong for me to address my response to both you and Eric because after re-reading your comments above it looks like I was responding more to what Eric had been saying. I particularly liked, and agree with, your comment 25 (although I think we need to be careful in purporting to know what did and did not motivate Christ). And to clarify, I’ve been assuming all along we were using your definition of happiness in 54, which means it includes peace and calm and is also something long-term that may be punctuated with times of challenge and sorrow. To be clear, the particular statements you made to which I was responding were:

    “I think if you try to earn true happiness (if you “seek” it), you won’t find it.” (54)

    “I think when you lose the “motivation” to do good in order to be happy, then you will find true, lasting, perpetual happiness” (54)

    I think it is difficult to square those statements with the quotes I listed above (55), particularly this quote: “Now was not this exceeding joy? Behold, this is joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness.” (Alma 27:18.) To me, this positive reference to the “seeker of happiness” makes clear that we don’t have to stop seeking happiness to find it. To the contrary, Alma says that penitent and humble seekers of happiness find happiness. And Elder Ballard says happiness should actually be the “objective” of “everything we do”. In fact, as I read Elder Ballard’s statement, he seems to be responding to those who say we should obey just to obey; he’s trying to get us to focus on the purpose of obeying: happiness.

    So to sum up my opinion about the answer to the question originally posed: I’m not motivated by the prospect of a reward in heaven (16), however, I am motivated to do good because it makes me happy, and I disagree with any suggestion that we must abandon such the righteous desire to be happy in order to obtain a “purity of motive”; there is nothing impure about seeking happiness through loving and serving God and our fellow man.

    Seacrest out!

  60. Ray on August 5, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    Thanks for the clarification. I think we are closer to each other than we are apart – just semantic differences of focus, probably based on what we have heard others say.

  61. Patrick on August 10, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    The main reason I do good is because I don’t like to watch people suffer. I have been given so much, and others have not. That is why I do good.

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