Have Duty and Honor Become Cliche’?

Honor and duty are two reoccurring themes throughout the book of Proverbs. As we embark on a new series at The Crossing, working our way through this ancient book of wisdom, I couldn’t help but see examples of these themes in a widely circulated report from last week. The story concerned the Japanese earthquake and tsunami recovery efforts. It appears that over $78 million dollars in found money has been turned in to authorities by Japanese citizens. Japanese police forces report approximately 95% of the money has already been returned to the rightful owners or the next of kin.

There are quite a few different avenues through which one could process a story such as this. There is the very real tradition of the Japanese holding honesty in high regard. It is also, without a doubt, an encouraging story regarding its light of hope in the middle of such a terrible human tragedy. One could also highlight the diligent detective work needed to uncover the original owners of the over 5,700 safes that were returned.

My first reaction was to wonder if such a display of duty and honor would have been exemplified in a similar tragedy on American soil. I couldn’t help but recall many images from hurricane Katrina and the rampant looting by New Orleans citizens and even crimes committed by local police during that terrible event. I’ve read enough sensationalized reports in the media to recognize most feel-good stories aren’t as rosy as depicted and similarly most discouraging reports aren’t always as “chicken little” as they initially seem. Even the most discerning pessimist would have to acknowledge the report of the returned money in Japan is simply amazing.

I don’t think one could really effectively argue that the Japanese are simply genetically programmed for honesty. Instead, there appears to be a sincere cultural emphasis on doing what is honorable and just. What is the origin of this type of thinking? The consistency in behavior is almost overwhelming. I will admit the behavior seems so robotic and uniform in nature that it appears almost insincere. How pessimistic indeed!

Our culture, on the other-hand, seems enamored with duty and honor, but only at a safe distance. We appreciate the duty and honor of those serving our country in the armed forces. We appreciate duty and honor in movies like Star Wars and Braveheart. But what does our collective consciousness scream when the open safe is at our feet? Take the money and run!

Here is where I believe the Christian culture has a very tangible opportunity to influence those around us to examine the gospel with open eyes and hearts. What if Christians were known to forgo individual gain for the good of the group? What if Christians were universally known as givers and not takers? I am afraid our track record to date does not exemplify the character of Christ, nor the motivation provided by the gospel. Even when we happen to choose the more noble path when faced with a dilemma, it is simply to appease a guilty conscious, not because we believe the promises of God are more satisfying than sin.

Imagine the witness of an entire gospel believing community who would turn in 5,700 money filled safes. Not because it is just the right thing to do, but because they collectively believe someone else’s money is just as unsatisfying as their own money! Wouldn’t that cause a few heads to turn?

“The wise inherit honor, but fools get only shame”

-Proverbs 3:35

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