Nice Intentions You Have There!

By Scott Keith

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Intentional is the new buzzword in higher education.

Everything we do must be “intentional” in nature. It is so pervasive in the vernacular of our everyday conversations that I often wonder what something would look like if it were unintentional. Intentional has seemed to replace words like quality or good. It is as if we do something intentionally, it automatically becomes a thing of quality or a thing that is in itself because it was intentionally done, good. This is simply not true. As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


Intentional education schemes, or intentional programs can be just as bad, or worse than those that are unintentional. The goal ought to be to work hard to intentionally produce quality products which produce good outcomes. Intentions don’t help with this; hard work does. What gets lost when we focus only on the intentions is the hard back breaking work that is required to turn these intentions into reality. Intentions in and of themselves are nothing. Likewise, intentional education efforts and intentional programs are nothing.

What it takes to make these intentions into something is that which is often lacking in our society is the grit, fortitude, and patience to make these good intentions into good realities.

I am not alone in this thinking. Aldous Huxley claimed, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” Margaret Thatcher believed, “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.” Cindy Gallop, “I have a low tolerance for people who complain about things but never do anything to change them. This led me to conclude that the single largest pool of untapped natural resources in this world is human good intentions that are never translated into actions.” And Finally, Albert Camus, “The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”


For Christians, this reality is even more sticking, for we know that apart from Christ, our intentions are almost always self-serving in nature. From Romans 1:28-31, “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” Intentions in and of themselves are not only not necessarily good, they are very often bad.

So is it bad to be intentional in our actions, planning and programming? No. But it is not enough to be intentional. Intentional is only the beginning, it is not an end in itself. Intentional is just another buzzword unless those intentions are bolstered by something better. That something better needs to be the desire to attain something good, something of quality. As Christians, that quality is found when we not only have the intention to fulfill what is called our “vocation,” but rather, when we actual fulfill them. God has called us to himself in Christ to be free from sin, death, the devil, and the curse of the law. This freedom now allows us to freely serve, intentionally, our neighbor, not out of bondage but out of freedom. Yet the intention to do so is not freedom. The actual serving is freedom. Fulfilling one’s vocation, in the doing of the thing, is where one finds quality.


In his book, God at Work, Gene Veith says it this way: “Luther goes so far as to say that vocation is a mask of God. That is, God hides Himself in the workplace, the family, the Church, and the seemingly secular society… To realize that the mundane activities that take up most of our lives––going to work, taking the kids to soccer practice, picking up a few things from the store, going to church––are hiding places for God can be a revelation in itself. Most people seek God in mystical experiences, spectacular miracles, and extraordinary acts they have to do. To find Him in vocation brings Him, literally, down to earth, makes us see how close He really is to us, and transfigures everyday life.” Intentional then can be good, as long as those intentions are grounded in a vocational outlook on actually serving one another in the everyday mundane things of life. Or just doing our job when we are called on to do it.

Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown