Is it good to do something right for the wrong reason?[A story from Prairie_Chuck at FacesEast.org, adapted by permission]
In Sunday School last week, the lesson topic was about motivation for obedience and service to others. The teacher referred to Elder Oakes’ talk titled “Unselfish Service.” Elder Oakes discussed reasons why people serve, saying that 5 of the 6 reasons were selfish: having a desire for blessings, wanting the association with others that callings bring, and fear of condemnation to name a few. The only right reason to have a calling was because one loved God and had faith.
The teacher referred to D&C 124:119-120 where the Lord says that those who pay for stock in the Nauvoo House must believe in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s revelations, that anything less than this would result in curses rather than blessings.
In answer to the question from the teacher “Is it ever good to do something right for the wrong reasons?” everyone in the class responded “no.” You should only do callings and obey commandments if it is done for the right reason. According to Elder Oakes’ talk, faith and belief in that commandment or calling was the only proper motivation.
So I decided to play devil’s advocate. I asked “So if someone didn’t have a complete testimony of tithing, she shouldn’t pay tithing. Right? According to verse 120, anything more or less than this ‘cometh of evil.’”
Members in the class responded “No, but paying tithing leads to a testimony.” I pointed out that it was a selfish reason to pay tithing, if someone did it to gain a testimony. And what if someone never gained a testimony of a calling they have? Without complete belief in the calling or the person extending the calling, they shouldn’t take it.
Someone in the class quoted Alma 32, where it mentions having faith like a seed. Someone else referred to the story in the Book of Mormon about the Rameumptom tower, where people prayed for vain reasons (Alma 32). I understand all that, but on one side you have people who have complete faith in all church things, on the other side are those who are vain or deceitful. In the middle are most of us — we who lack perfect faith, who struggle with belief on some level. According to the lesson, as it was being presented, these people in the middle are cursed for accepting a calling to serve or obeying a commandment for less than perfect motives.
The teacher then began talking about how faith in Christ completes us, compensates where we are lacking. That should have been the focus of the lesson! Afterward, the teacher said to me “I hope I explained that well enough for you.” I agreed 100% with his final conclusion: that faith in Christ is what counts. Applying D&C 124:119-120 to everything we do in Church would put us all in impossible situations, more or less cursed for lack of belief.
It was funny because there were times when the class seemed so close to what I wanted to get at–we need faith in Christ. He will compensate where we are lacking, when we sometimes just go through the motions. Isn’t it better to do good in the world and serve our brothers and sisters, than to do nothing at all for the sake of pure motivation? I can hardly imagine that is what God has in mind.
I apologized for derailing the class. I said “I guess I’m just the defender of the unbeliever.” The direction they were headed in the lesson is one of the reasons my husband left the church — because he didn’t feel like he was permitted to believe less than 100%. He felt like what little he did believe or practiced was hypocritical according to the community standards. Even if he did the right things, it was counted a curse to him because he lacked faith. The all-or-nothing focus on the pure ideal did not uplift him, and instead pushed him away from a place that can feed and encourage the best in us.
-Brian Johnston, www.staylds.com