I’m a big fan of the Stargate television franchise, both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis. Maybe that makes me a geek to admit, but I think they’re fascinating. And science fiction is one of my passions because it’s a form of storytelling that allows you to tackle difficult cultural topics without being offensive.
I bring this up today because I just recently watched an episode where one of the characters faces the choice to do the right thing (telling the truth) or to do what she has always done (lie and run away). And one of the other characters encourages her to do the right thing because she will experience relief and happiness as a result.
Is that what happens? Well, not exactly. The character who chooses to do the right thing is actually put in prison and sentenced to life. Not what I would call happy or a relief. If you want to see the episode, it’s called “The Powers That Be” (Stargate: SG-1, Season 9, Episode 5). And it’s the first thing I thought of when I read today’s verse.
Today’s verse is Psalm 119:1.
Joyful are people of integrity,
who follow the instructions of the Lord.
Crazy science fiction shows aside, truth is true no matter where you find it. And that’s the case with this concept: people who do the right thing can be joyful. But in many instances, our culture defines joy as happiness, and they’re not the same thing.
Happiness anymore is identified with instant gratification. We want immediate results in our favor when we make any choice, difficult or not. That’s why people make bad choices many times because bad choices usually provide instant gratification of some sort, but when the consequences catch up with us, that’s when life isn’t much fun anymore.
Joy is different. Many times, when you do the right thing, when you try to make choices based on the Bible, when you try to live the way God has called us to live, life won’t get easier. On the contrary, it may even get harder. As in the case of this television show episode, even though the character decided to do the right thing, she had a lifetime of bad choices built up that she still had to pay for somehow. Consequences don’t go away just because of one good decision. That’s a law of the universe. If you’ve planted a whole field of bad seed and choose–at the end–to plant a few good seeds, you aren’t going to get an awesome harvest. Maybe those few good seeds will sprout something nice, but the majority of the harvest will be horrible. And that has nothing to do with God. That’s the result of your own choices.
But what if you always make the right call? What if you always do the right thing? Doesn’t that entitle you to some instance or moment of immediate satisfaction, beyond just knowing that you did the right thing?
But at the risk of sounding hyper-spiritual, isn’t joy reward enough? I mean, joy is rarely instant, but it is constant. And why do the right thing at all if you want a reward? Is that the reason to do the right thing? Is that the reason to live the way we’re supposed to live? Isn’t it enough to do right because it’s what God expects?
If we live our lives because we want something in return for our good decisions, I don’t know if we’re living with the right perspective. If we make choices because we will receive a reward for them, I don’t know if our focus is right. Why do you make the choices you make? Why do you do the things you do? What is your motivation for living, for making choices, for choosing between right and wrong?
I’m not saying rewards are bad. No way. I’m just saying I don’t think they should be our focus.
If you’re in a relationship with someone, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage or whatever, do you do good things for that person because they will reward you for it? Do you do good to that person because you expect them to do good back to you? Maybe you do. I don’t know. But to me, in my relationships, I do good for people because I love them. I don’t expect anything in return. I don’t do good for people so they will reward me; I do good for people because I want to be a good friend, an encouragement, a blessing.
Rewards are nice. But what is better is a deeper friendship than I had before.
That’s what’s at stake here. You can do the right thing for God because He will reward you. He’s said He would, and He does. But if all you want is a reward, your life will be shallow. And even the joy you receive won’t satisfy completely because you’ll always want more. But if you do the right thing for God because you want to know Him more, because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, the joy you get will be far better than any financial gain. There’s no end to God, and the better you get to know Him, the more you want to know about Him.So if you’re facing a difficult choice today, choose to do the right thing. Make a decision based on the Bible. Do what God would have you do. But don’t choose based on a reward you might receive. That’s the same motivation you would make a bad decision with. Do the right thing because, even if the results are difficult to handle, you’ll get closer to God, and that’s better than a reward any day.