Why Can't We Do Right?

Part 2

by Greg Leitschuh

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you knew you should have acted in a dignified way but either were unable or did not want to? Most of us have probably experienced this and wondered what it is in our natures that prevents us from doing the good we know we should do. With all of our education and the dramatic rise of technology and communications we still find it increasingly difficult to live up to the highest that we know. It seems the more knowledge we have, the worse we become. The idea that lack of education is the source of most of societies' problems does no longer seem to be true. There is something in our makeup that is unable to respond to the best teaching we could ever experience.

Many of us would agree that intellectual and moral education are not sufficient to train someone how to be good. You can teach someone what is right to do but how do you instill the desire to live up to the highest they know? But beyond that, we are aware of the growing problem in our society of not being able to do the best that we desire to do. We are taught from early on the benefits to ourselves and society of living a good moral life but when a situation comes along where we have to make a decision to choose right or wrong, we often compromise and go against what our conscience may suggest in order to have our own may. We hate to admit it but we are like the one described in the lyric from Paul Simon's song 'The Boxer' where he says, "All lies and jest still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest". Dostoevsky perhaps puts the point more clearly when he says that 'man will work against his own best advantage to have his own way'. What is it within us that causes us to think and act this way?

Buddha and Plato

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. They were all aware of the dark side of our human nature that seems to naturally follow a downward trend. 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, they have tried to restrain and control the evil side of our nature with very little success.

It seems that what is most needed is not moral laws or education or techniques involving self-denial or meditation but a power, an inward desire that naturally wants to do good rather than evil and can enable us to live up to the highest that we know. Where does this come from and how can we obtain it?

Paul and Jesus

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 his book called 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. Paul realised that however hard he tried to do good and obey the law, he found within himself a desire that wanted to do otherwise. His inmost deepest desire wanted to do what his conscience told him was right but he found another 'power' within which was antagonistic to the good. It's as if there were two men fighting against each other. He then saw that he needed to die and be made all over again, or as some have put it, to be 'reborn'. Jesus Himself refers to this when He said to Nicodemus 'you must be born again'. As radical or astounding as this may seem, it has been the heart of Christian teaching and has transformed the lives of countless millions over the centuries.

A Changed Heart

Is it possible that we can have a new nature within us that does not retaliate when criticised, has always a forgiving spirit and loves its enemies? These are things that Jesus demanded of His followers in His teachings in 'The Sermon on The Mount'. Moreover, He demands that we have such a condition of heart that we never even think of doing them -- every thought and imagination of the heart and mind is to be pure and blameless. This goes beyond what Buddha can offer in attempting to eliminate desire through self-negation or other popular self-help methods of trying to do right by exercising the power of positive thinking. This is also what drove Paul to despair because he realised that of himself he could not live up to this standard.

This standard of purity that is set before us is impossible to obtain unless we have a change of heart. Whether you believe that Jesus is God's Son or that the Bible is God's word to us, you are still confronted with the notion that this is the way that many non-Christians believe is the key to finding meaning and joy in life. We have all heard that saying, 'he seems like a changed person' after someone has gone through some type of crisis or deep experience such as falling in love. It is this change that can take place within us that can enable us to walk through life in freedom and without strain. This was the disposition that characterised the life of Jesus, and it is the same disposition that He can give to us if we so desire it.

1. Romans 7:19

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