Is there a dark side of doing good deeds that Christians can fall into when they are completing service in the name of God?
That question is the focus of a new book by Peter Greer entitled "The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good," which considers some of the possible ways Christians mean to do good work but sometimes unwittingly complete those works for personal gain and satisfaction.
Greer was able to see firsthand how service can have a negative effect on a person doing good works while he was helping refugees in Uganda.
"In 2002, a volcano erupted in Congo, Central Africa. I went to help. Up high on a platform, I was handing out blankets to refugees, and a photographer was snapping photos. But I wasn't thinking about the refugees. My thought was 'I can't wait until people back home see these photos of me.' It turns out that doing good can be terribly narcissistic. In the wake of a renewed movement of service and activism, we are in desperate need of returning to why we serve," he said.
Greer explains that those who are sometimes sacrificing for God may face a challenge in terms of handling their ego. First, there must be a healthy skepticism of service and good deeds in order for a person to see that it is possible to be self-centered in one's service while also identifying the true nature of a person's will to serve.
Greer recounts that Jesus used to pick on the professional do-gooders, those who are so focused on doing good, but who actually miss the message of what service is. Greer explains when a person is able to do just that, then refocusing a person's efforts to understand why good works are being done is possible.
The breakthrough comes when a person can realize that it is possible to be selflessly serving God and be completely self-centered in the process. Ultimately, when it becomes about us instead of Christ, it sabotages our ability to do good, which can lead to problems down the road.
We have a natural tendency to be competitive about things that might not really matter, and Greer offers an example about how this negative aspect of service can manifest in everyday interactions.
"I think that same attitude spills over into Christian ministry as well -- so we have yard stick that is not about am I really faithful with what has been entrusted to us, but our yard stick becomes how am I doing in relation to others and it is that comparison that leads to either pride, which is the root upon which so many other challenges branch out from or despair if one feels whether or not God is blessing you or if you are becoming successful in doing God's work," the author explained.
This competitive nature also leads to what Greer calls "Christian Karma," which is another avenue for the service of others to be hijacked.
"The concept of Christian karma goes like this: If I do good, God has to reward me in return," Greer continued. "It's like we have a business transaction with God. He owes us if we perform. This is a toxic philosophy-breeding arrogance, entitlement, and resentment. This kind of thinking was at the heart of my attitude toward God. It is one of the most dangerous philosophies in the church today."
The main focus that Greer hopes becomes sharpened is that those who choose to do good work and take a critical eye and examine the true driving force compelling them to serve. It is important to note that humans are fallible and can be emotional, but for those who are willing to have an honest look at their own motivations, they will be able to love their neighbors through service as God intended.