What Attitude Does God Want?

8 08 2009
Affection Instead of Despair
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Came across an interesting discussion by the Philo of Alexandria, about ways of coming to God – whether to get something or otherwise. Think its an interesting insight into the way some Jews in the first century were thinking about their relationship with God:

Men when they perceive that, under the pretext of friendship, some persons come to them, being in reality only desirous to get what they can from them, look upon them with suspicion, and turn away from them, fearing their insincere, and flattering, and caressing behaviour, as very pernicious. (127) But God, inasmuch as he is not liable to any injury, gladly invites all men who choose, in any way whatever to honor him, to come unto him, not choosing altogether to reject any person whatever; and, in truth, he almost says in express words to those who have ears in the soul, “The most valuable prizes shall be offered to those who worship me for my own sake: (128) the second best to those who hope by their own efforts to be able to attain to good, or to find a means of escape from punishments. For even if the service of this latter class is mercenary and not wholly incorrupt, still it nevertheless revolves within the divine circumference, and does not stray beyond it. (129) But the rewards which shall be laid up for those who honor me for my own sake are rewards of affection; while those which are given to those who do so with a view to their own advantage are not given through affection, but because they are not looked upon as aliens. For I receive him who wishes to be a partaker of my beneficent power to a participation in my good things, and him who out of fear seeks to propitiate my governing and despotic power, I receive so far as to avert punishment from him. For I am not unaware that, in addition to these men not becoming worse, they will become better, by gradually arriving at a sincere and pure piety by their constant perseverance in serving me. (130) (On Abaham, 126f)

1) Philo does not seem to believe that good deeds (or even the motive behind them) is crucial to being accepted by God; 2) But he does believe that God still wants people to do things for the right reasons (eventually); 3) This quote does show that motives were important in the first century thinking about an individual. This last point makes me think of Krister Stendahl’s essay “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” where he argues against the inward look. Philo’s not encouraging an inward look, but he is conscious of motives. It gets me thinking about this question too – in evangelism, how bad is good works? Sometimes we think that the worst possible person is the religious moralist who is trying to earn things from God. But Philo says that at least they are looking towards God. Is a religious moralist further from accepting the grace of God in Christ or closer than (say) an irreligious person? Is the first step to challenge moralism? Or help them in “gradually arriving” by shifting emphasis to God’s grace?

Posted by Bruce Lowe

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3 responses

8 08 2009
My little Yoga rant. | Asana Yoga

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11 08 2009

I think you are onto something with the idea of “gradually arriving” at God’s grace. There’s this whole forgotten category of Christians (of whom I am one) who can’t begin to tell you the year when they were converted, much less the moment, and I think we do people like them, whether converted at the moment or not, a disservice by assuming that an evangelistic method is only successful if it drives a person from zero to saved in a single encounter or a brief series of encounters. The attitude of guiding someone to gradually arrive at grace is, I think, a good defense against that tendency.

Good stuff!

13 08 2009
Bruce Lowe

nice to hear from you again. Thanks for your thoughts. I remember some years ago someone noting about Acts 17:34 that some people “became followers of Paul and believed.” There was in the first place an allegiance to the person, which is obviously not the end goal (2Cor 4:5), but perhaps another example of a possible process.

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