Devotion Thirty One
I recently heard a news analysis of the Ukraine situation using the imagery of the carrot and the stick. The commentator talked about how sanctions can be a stick. They can be a punishment and the discomfort they produce is economic pain. Sanctions can send the message to Russia that the world does not approve of what is being done to Ukraine. And sanctions are punishment for that unwarranted hostility.
The commentator also talked about how sanctions can be a carrot as well. They can be used to entice desired behavior. They can be used to encourage Russia to end the war in Ukraine. Stop the war in Ukraine and some sanctions will be lifted. There will be economic benefit to Russia. So sanctions can function as a carrot and a stick.
I think religion can be like that. Sometimes our faith can be like the stick rightfully helping us to see the error of our ways. Faith can open our eyes to the consequences of our behavior that is harming us and perhaps others as well. It can help us see our faults and mistakes. We are suffering as a consequence of our actions. We are doing this to ourselves.
Faith can also be a carrot. When we live the way of Jesus in the reality of God, we experience peace and joy and purpose. Life is meaningful and abundant. We are filled with gratitude for the amazing blessings of life. Faith gives us the framework to live in ways that are true and meaningful; filled with awe and wonder. I think faith functions like the carrot and stick in the here and now of this world. There is no need to extend the carrot and the stick of faith to the afterlife — the carrot of heaven, the stick of hell —though the church has used heaven and hell after death as a means to control people’s behavior.
Is our Christian faith about keeping us from doing bad things? Yes! Is our Christian faith about encouraging us to do good things? Yes! It can be the carrot and the stick, depending on what we need and where we are in our lives. In the wildness of mercy, faith, the way of Jesus, offers us what we need, wherever we are on life’s journey.
Think of a time when your faith has provided a needed corrective in your life and how that has made you a better person. Think of a time when you have done something good because of your faith and how that has made you a better person. Following Jesus gives us all that we need to live lives of purpose, meaning, and joy. How blessed we are through by our faith! Amen.