My off the cuff answer would be, no. No amount of ‘goodness’ on our part automatically requires rewards of whatever nature to come flowing our way. Life is not like a vending machine. You put in the good coins and good stuff pours out at the bottom. With that said, I do recognise that when you put good out into the world, good stuff does come back to you in a multitude of different ways, but that doesn’t mean that you should EXPECT it. It’s not like a transaction that we make with the universe. If we do ‘good’ to others it’s because it is what we expect of ourselves, not because we are working for some kind of prize.
As a Jehovah’s Witness we are taught in many different ways that there is this ‘vending machine’ that rewards you if you are good. Even if you don’t get a single prize at all while on ‘this side of Armageddon’ we will ALL get the great big prize of Paradise. Yes, that delusional belief just fixes everything, no matter how awful your life might be now, holding out for that is worth it.
To break it down – if you attend all the meetings, you are rewarded with friendship and community with the Witnesses. If you prepare well and answer regularly at the Sunday meetings you get a reputation for being ‘spiritually minded’. If you put theocratic efforts at the forefront of your life you are ‘spiritually strong or even spiritually mature.’ That mature thing is a biggie because all Jehovah’s Witness children or those studying to become Jehovah’s Witnesses are urged to attain this standard of ‘spiritual maturity’.
Now, let me tell you a story of how awful that thinking really is. Once upon time when I was in my early twenties I really felt like I had achieved this spiritual maturity. Okay, maybe I was young to be saying such a thing but reflecting upon the life I led you could forgive me for thinking I was doing pretty darn amazing. I worked full-time at a responsible job, I was my mother primary caregiver, I kept to a gruelling schedule of theocratic activities, including three meeting a week (at the time) field service on weekends, devoting my time off to pioneering or helping pioneers get their time in and volunteering for ‘talks’ during the now defunct Theocratic Ministry School. Whenever a sister’s ‘householder’ hadn’t arrived for the meeting, I would become the substitute and quickly go over lines in the toilets before the meeting started, occasionally even going over them while in my seat, or on at least one occasion completely winging it because the sister hadn’t finished writing down my lines! (If you have no idea what this ‘talk’ and ‘householder’ business is, drop me a message and I’ll explain)
So, I had garnered a reputation, extremely hard won I might add, as dependable, mature and responsible. This led to being noticed by some brothers (not a whole bunch…I wasn’t THAT pretty) but one in particular was an elder at Bethel. He was a young elder only a few years older than me ( I was about 25, so already an old maid) and he made some ‘enquiries’ about me. He asked another Elder in my congregation about me and this Elder took me aside one night after the meeting and told me.
Let me tell you, I was shaking when Brother Elder told me all about this, it was like ‘It’s finally happening! A brother has finally noticed me!’ My joy was extremely short lived because this Elder had to tell me that because I had to work full-time to take care of my mother (seriously I had to) there was no way I could possibly pursue a relationship with this brother because he was adamant about not leaving Bethel. He could not ‘break’ his fulltime service. Being that I could not join him at Bethel since I had to work, that meant our getting together would simply not be happening.
I wonder to this day why Brother Elder had to even tell me…honestly, what was the purpose of it? To crush my spirit? To remind me of the absolutely shitty circumstances I was living with and the heavy responsibilities that I was carrying that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy? All I desired at that time was to be in full-time service, I would cry pitifully of my lost opportunities because I had to take care of my mother. Now, just to add the icing on the cake…a guy likes you, but oops, sorry…it’s not going to happen.
Since finding marriage mate is a pretty big deal to the JW sisters, and believe me I saw more than enough desperate attempts of snagging a mate in my home congregation, this was like a hammer blow to the guts.
I got home that evening after the meeting, it was around 10pm and as soon as the door was closed behind me I sank to my knees and just cried. My book bag, smacked against the floor and stuff fell out and I didn’t care. I just sat there and cried, in fact it was more like wailing. I had been suffering from depression for years (caregiving can definitely do that to you) and that night it was like something inside just broke.
I had done everything to be that ‘good girl’. I had avoided all the bad stuff. I avoided certain worldly friendships, I was careful about my movies and music, my clothes, I did all my Bible readings, I prepared my Watchtower every week, I read my Examining the Scriptures every morning, I hardly missed meetings… just everything, and instead of receiving said ‘reward’ I was getting nothing at all. I genuinely felt that Jehovah himself had looked at me and said ‘No’. My heart broke that night and when I stood up I was different girl, a wiser girl.
You simply cannot go through life and expect that ‘being good’ will mean God will reward you. I have said many times since my little awakening and then my very big awakening in leaving the cult, that God is not a genie. You don’t just pray over and over and magic and sparkles, there is what you asked for. With everything in life, it all takes hard work and effort, and sometimes even that doesn’t mean you get results. Now, I am a Christian, I may not strictly follow Bible but I do follow Jesus and I am also way more practically minded about prayer than I have ever been. Does that mean I lack faith, or does it mean that I trust Jesus so much that I reckon He trusts me enough to get on with it. (A discussion for another time perhaps.)
When we think that our being ‘good’ is just not working and why the hell even bother, we go in the opposite direction – we are then being ‘bad’. We go out drinking and partying and sleeping around and doing exactly all the things that we would previously have avoided – but why? Are we rebelling? Are we showing God ‘the finger’? Since you are not holding up your end of the bargain I’m going to do exactly what I want. Just to clarify, if you enjoy doing those things, I am not judging you – seriously, I say enjoy yourself, and the mother in me says ‘for God’s sake just be careful, I don’t want to hear about you passed out in a ditch!’ We all have our own choices to make, and the consequences to bear, so have fun (and be safe), life is too short anyway.
Should we even expect God to hold to our view of ‘the bargain?’ To a Jehovah’s Witness, the big reward is paradise, so any and all discomfort and hardships now are small potatoes compared to permanent utopia. In reality paradise on earth is a myth so the bargain is void anyway.
To drive my final point home – we should be ‘good’ because it was what we expect of ourselves, whatever that may be. We each have our own view of what is good, our standard of how we treat ourselves and our fellow human beings. Being kind to one another is a massive positive in an otherwise very negative world. We do the good things because, firstly we want to, and secondly because that is ‘simply who we are.’ I do not save an insect from being crushed to death because I think Jesus is looking on and putting it on my list ‘of good deeds’. I do it because it is who I am.
The reward we receive is from ourselves. No outside source needs to hand it to us. If it does happen, its gravy, its extra – because all the reward we ever needed was right there in our own hearts, telling us ‘Well done, you! That’s who I am!’