In the 5th chapter of his book Generous Justice, Keller takes up the topic of motivations for justice. As those who seek to encourage others to act justly, we have to recognize that some attempts to motivate others just don’t work (I know that sounds pragmatic, but it is not the intention). They are not satisfying and truly motivating.
Ignorance regarding our responsibility to pursue justice can happen (though I would argue that like the knowledge of God we tend to suppress it in our unrighteousness). But people need more than information. Motivation, like for the actor, is all-important. He notes that appeals to reason, love and mercy just don’t provide the necessary motivation to change behavior. Keller draws on the work of people like Authur Leff. Sad, sentimental stories don’t really change anything. They don’t move people to act beyond perhaps an impulsive decision to call in a donation. It didn’t break the back of any injustice.
The Bible gives believers two basic motivations- joyful awe before the goodness of God’s creation, and the experience of God’s grace in redemption.
Some might say, “Wait a minute! John talked about love as the motivation in his first letter.” Yeah, but as you examine the context you also see that it is connected to God’s redemptive love for us which provided propitiation for our sins. But back to Keller’s argument.
Apart from a belief in creation, there really is no good reason to treat anyone or anything as having dignity or purpose. This is one of the problems of atheism and agnosticism. They act like they have logical beliefs, but confess a world that is purely accidental and without purpose. All meaning is therefore created meaning- created by us and therefore relativized.