«By my power I will make my people strong, and by my authority they will go wherever they wish. l, the Lord, have spoken!» (Zechariah 10:12, NLT).
ONE OF THE BASIC ARGUMENTS of Plato’s philosophy is that good people are only good against their own will. They behave well, not because they want to do so, but because they’re afraid of paying for the consequences of their wickedness. To illustrate his point, Plato told the legend of Gyges, a shepherd who worked for the King of Lydia.
After a strong earthquake, a cave opened up in the land. Gyges went down into the cave and found a huge bronze horse. Upon looking inside the animal, he saw a dead body with a gold ring. He took the ring and left. Sometime later, when the shepherds were giving account to the king, Gyges put the ring on, turned it, and became invisible. Then he turned it again and became visible. When he realized the power the ring had, Gyges seduced the king’s wife, killed the monarch, and took over the kingdom. Plato concludes by saying this was «proof that a man is just, not willingly or because he thinks that justice is any good to him individually, but of necessity, for wherever anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, there he is unjust.»
Maybe some of us would end up agreeing with the Greek philosopher. Could it be that we avoid committing sinful acts simply because we’re afraid of facing eternal punishment? If there were no retribution for our bad actions, would we devote our life to doing evil?
Changes in our behavior should not be based on fear of the coming judgment. They should be the natural result of Christ working in us, primarily from the pure and sincere love He puts in our hearts. Although we are unable to be good voluntarily, we can ask God to «strengthen us with might» from His glorious riches so as to transform us within (see Ephesians 3:16).
Plato is right: there is no power in us to become good of our own volition. On the other hand, we can accept that God would help us be genuinely good. That is His promise: «I will make my people strong, and . . . they will go wherever they wish» (Zechariah 10:12, NLT). The New King James Version (NKJV) says «they shall walk up and down in His name.» That walking will not be the result of our fear of punishment, but of being strengthened by God.