Self-Portrait by Nod Young.

Why do people choose to do or not to do good? Psyblog recently posted a psychological study that tried to recreate the ancient story of the Good Samaritan. In doing so, they wanted to see if character really has more influence over our actions than circumstances. Check out the article for yourself. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it. Here are some of mine:

1. Only God knows the heart. In the study, seminary students at Princeton were unknowingly placed in a situation where they had to get from point A to point B within a limited amount of time. That amount of time differed for each group (a mildly rushed, moderately rushed, and severely rushed group). Each participant had taken a psychological test to determine their level of “religiosity.”  On their way from point A to point B, each individual passed someone in the hallway who was struggling to breath. The study results showed that the amount of time given for each participant to reach his/her assigned destination was directly correlated with the number of participants who were actually willing to stop and help a person in need. Time was more of a predictor than the individual’s reported level of religiosity. From this study, they drew the conclusion that circumstances, not personality or character, were more important in determining a person’s actions.

My question is this? How were the participants’ levels of religiosity assessed? I would have to assume that it was based on a self-reported questionaire. If this was the case, then there is a problem with the study because the Bible says that “the heart is deceitful…who can know it.” We may think we have a certain level of religiosity but that is only proved when we are put to the test and even then, when we do the right thing, our motives can still be suspect. No one but God can judge the motives of people. It could be that each person’s character was being tested in this study. It is just that the arranged circumstances brought their true character to light! We also do not know the real reasons for why certain individuals did stop. Maybe they figured out this was a test. Maybe they never wanted to make it from point A to point B in the first place and this gave them the opportunity to shirk their responsibilities. Who knows? Only God. 

It is hard to make a judgement call about someone’s personality or character from an isolated incident, but patterns are indicative of how we live our lives. If circumstances rule your reactions, that speaks to your character and personality. This is hard to measure in a test tube!

2. Jesus told the parable of the Samaritan, not psychologists. As humans, we might assume that if the circumstances of the story had been different (i.e. – if the Samaritan had been in a rush), he would not have stopped. But, as humans, that is all we can do – assume. Jesus, however, knew the heart of the Samaritan. He knew his character. As Jesus describes the story, it becomes clear that the Samaritan put his whole life on hold to help this man, despite the inconvenience. The circumstances of the story made his actions that much more admirable. True integrity is not allowing circumstances to dictate right behavior.

3. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide. This study accurately proves that when we are too busy, we often miss out on opportunities to serve others. We are all guilty: priests, doctors, homemakers, business people, all of us! Whereas the article tries to justify the actions (or in this case inaction) of people who are the slaves of their circumstances, I believe that we all stand condemned. However, if we ask God to give us a heart and mind for others, He promises to give us the power to overcome our circumstances and serve Him with heart, soul and mind. Our job is to listen to God’s voice and be ready for action when the time comes.

Question: What motives do you think lead people to do or not to do good?