UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

The Big Question

Are good deeds rewarded?

By Wayne Hilliker

As a young father, Canadian theologian Douglas Hall heard two of his children arguing with each other on the beach. “God knows that you are not kind!” declared daughter Kate to Christopher, her little brother. “Well,” replied Christopher, “Jesus is annoyed with you!”

It is not only children but adults as well who wish for punishment to fall upon those who do us harm. But what about acts of kindness? If we feel that bad deeds should be punished, does that mean that good deeds are to be rewarded?

Last year in Winnipeg, a server at Tim Hortons stuck his head out the drive-through window. After handing the customer his sandwich, he told the driver that the lunch was free because the person ahead had paid for it. “I don’t understand,” said the driver. “What do I do now?” The server laughed. “Pay for the guy behind you?” he suggested. The driver did. Local newspapers reported that as a result of this random act of kindness, a wave of generosity began to roll through Winnipeg. This good deed had its own built-in reward. It made those who “paid it forward” feel good. Was such behaviour lasting? Highly unlikely.

Would that life always unfolded with good deeds being rewarded and bad deeds being punished. We know this is not so. Last year, Malala Yousafzai, the courageous 14-year-old Pakistani girl who dedicated her life to improving the lot of women in her home country, was shot in the head. In 1901, a German scientist named Richard Fiedler invented a horrific weapon of war called the flamethrower. Although some would have wished punishment to fall upon his head, Fiedler instead gained fame and fortune. Bad things do happen to people who perform good deeds. And good things can still fall upon those who cause indescribable suffering.

There is another claim upon our lives that seeks to be heard: the biblical call “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). This call to make a difference in the world can be considered the ultimate good deed. But if rewards are not forthcoming, what will keep us on such a demanding journey?

A helpful clue to the deepest reasons for doing good can be found in the opening chapter of Genesis. There, humankind is depicted as being created “in the image of God.” The implication is that, in the midst of creation, the Creator has set into being one who bears a striking resemblance to God’s self. Just as God was not content to be God for God alone, but for another, so we are called to reflect that relationship. Thus, the very intent of our creation is to enter deeply into the existence of others. If we choose to engage in a style of living that doesn’t bring us into caring relationship with others and our world, then we will be denying our intended creation. That which is of utmost importance has to do with how we relate.

An additional story of creation is handed down to us from one of the earliest books of Jewish mysticism. Called Sepher Yetzirah, or the Book of Creation, it too sheds light on our human condition. The making of the world is described in this way: In the beginning, there was only God whose light filled all that was. Because God was everywhere, there was no place to create the world. So, in order to do so, God had to make a space where there was no God. In that space, the heavens and the earth and all that is were formed. But this meant that in all of heaven and earth, there was no God. So God let some of the divine light into the space. Special containers called vessels were prepared to hold the light.

But something went wrong. There was a cosmic accident. The vessels broke. The result? The universe was filled with sparks of God’s light and useless broken pieces of the vessels. Human beings are left to figure out which is which. Told in this way, our task becomes gathering the sparks of God’s light in order to repair the world and bring creation to its long-intended unity. What an awesome responsibility. Indeed, one might rightly argue that there is no greater reward than knowing we can become God’s partner in completing creation.

Rev. Wayne Hilliker lives in Kingston, Ont.





Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image