On Monday evenings at BREW (where a group of young adults brew over a brew) we often get into interesting discussions about faith matters. Our recent discussion of the question of “What’s more morally important: the actual consequences of one’s actions or the intentions with which one acts?” kept us going for quite some time. As different examples were raised it was clear that people had some strong feelings on the subject (can we get some air in here).
G.K. Chesterton in an article entitled “Eugenics and Other Evils” outlined a number of categories of people who lent their support to the eugenics movement of his day (bio-social movement which advocates practices to improve the genetic composition of a population[i]). One of the categories he used was that of the Endeavourer. Chesterton said that the Endeavourer was the poorest and weakest of supporters of the eugenics movement because they claim that they’re making “an honest attempt to deal with a great evil: as if one had a right to dragoon and enslave one’s fellow citizens as a kind of chemical experiment.” Chesterton goes on to say, ““It is enough to say here that the best thing the honest Endeavourer could do would be to make an honest attempt to know what he is doing. And not to do anything else until he has found out.”[ii]
Chesterton’s comment is important to those who believe that good intentions somehow make actions taken ok. They endeavour to do what they think is right, but have often not thought through how their actions might be experimental and lack humility. Yes God’s grace and forgiveness is good and the Biblical narrative is one of story after story where God uses crooked nails to build his house. But grace and forgiveness are not a license for ignorance.
In talking about the cost of discipleship, Jesus says in Luke 14 that: “27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”
Can we not agree that history is littered with story after story of ridicule because people of Christian faith did not count the cost? It can be argued that many people build and build and build (and if we take the example discussed at BREW of international development into account, building could be both a literal and metaphorical comment) without taking into account how choices and actions made in the short term with good intentions are actually attempts at justifying a place before God and are nothing but cheap offerings that are neither our finest or our best (Genesis 4 and the Cain and Abel narrative is appropriate reading).
This is not to say that we should be inert and do nothing until we are all-knowing…that clearly stands in opposition to scripture. But we do need to say that “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. (Proverbs 14:7) What was clear (at least to me) from our discussion at BREW was that it is important that we be a people who live intentionally, but recognize that our intentions can be and often are flawed and therefore should be considered suspect (even as we dialogue). When we count the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, it includes living in a way that ‘Endeavours’ to dig deeper than the surface of good intentions.