From the Pastor
Obligation is now a dirty word. It’s about someone else forcing you to do something. Things done under compulsion do not come from the heart.
Ethics has long considered the place of obligation. Not just what is right or what is wrong but also what promotes good, and what does not. Such questions are important but insufficient.
If something is right, and promotes good, should I not be obliged to do it? Religion in general, and Christianity in particular, answers with a strong ‘yes’. In Romans 7 Paul talks about the good he knows he ought to do. The (Anglican) prayer book tries to capture this: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Rich and insightful words, aren’t they?
Why ought we to have done them? Two answers. Firstly, because the “Father, who sees what is done [even] in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4) Secondly because we act as agents, or image bearers, or vice-regents of God, who bring his values to bear in his world. As it so happens honouring God and serving others turns out to be a blessing for us.
This is all contained within the wisdom of Christianity. It is how we live the good life.
What if I decide I don’t want to do good? What if I decide that I don’t feel so inclined and I perceive obligations as control? What role does society have to compel me to do good?
For Christians this can be: ‘I need to be nudged to do good’, ‘It’s good for all, including me’. Many non-Christians see this an impingement of my freedoms. My heart sinks as I think how this plays out.