Why Can't We Do Right?

by Greg Leitschuh

You have probably read stories at different times in the newspapers about people who have committed terrible crimes. When we discover that some of these people have come from good families and upbringing, it causes us to wonder what it is within them that causes them to act this way. Do we ever question why violence and lawlessness are on the increase in an age where education and technology are supposed to teach and enable us to live better lives? What is it inside ourselves that motivates us and often, we find it easier to do wrong rather than right? This is a dilemma that has been with people for centuries and I would like us to examine some of the reasons for this.

In the last issue, I wrote about the question of where our laws originated. I mentioned that in order for laws and ethics to have meaning, they must come from outside ourselves. If our laws did not come from a Supreme Being, then they are merely the result of ethical values obtained by experience, observation, upbringing and tradition. Moreover, if we are only the result of matter, plus time, plus chance as many evolutionists suggest, then our moral codes and values become almost meaningless. But to go further, if we do believe that there is a God who has given us our laws and we acknowledge the 10 Commandments or Jesus' teaching in the 'Sermon on The Mount' as morally binding and of the highest ethical value, why is it that we find it hard to obey them?

Closer to Home

Have you ever found yourself angry with a friend, business colleague or loved one because of a disagreement or something didn't go as planned? We start the day full of expectation and the best of intentions and then the unexpected happens; we find ourselves arguing about a business decision or the day seemed to go the opposite of what we planned. Inwardly we are tense and frustrated and feel that there is almost another person inside us that is not at all gracious and at rest. On the one hand we know it is not right to argue, be critical or become frustrated but on the other we find there is something within us that is difficult to control. If we realise that the nature within us that springs up and does not want to do what is best is in essence of the same seed that causes someone else to commit a more terrible crime it may cause us to shudder. There have been various books written which tell of this experience which is well illustrated in Stevenson's book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of which many of us are familiar.

This dilemma is an age old common one. As far back as A.D. 64, a Jewish writer, Paul wrote, "The good that I would I cannot do but the evil I hate is what I do."1 He describes in that section of the book of Romans his failure to live up to the demands of the law. He also suggests a solution to this problem which is as relevant today as it was then. That solution is to have our natures changed. This attitude that is so prevalent in many of us--"I ought to do this but I won't", or "I ought to do that but I don't want to"--convinces many of us that you cannot educate someone to do what is right. What is needed is not only a power which will enable us to do what we know is right but an inward desire to do right. How do we acquire this?

The problem of self-control and the ordering of our desires has been the topic of many of the world's greatest religious and philosophical teachers and leaders. Buddha, Mohammed, Plato, Confucius, Jesus, Gandhi and many others have offered various solutions throughout the centuries to deal with this dilemma. From self-negation to meditation, to self-denial and other techniques, the results have usually been unsatisfactory. Is there a way that can work for everyone no matter what their culture or upbringing has been? I would like us to look next time at a possible solution that has been a way of life for many over the centuries and can work for us in these days.

1. Romans 7:19

Return to April Table of Contents