How Good is Good Enough?
Are you good at being good? I’ve had my decades. Of course, the problem is that much of my definition of “good” is a delusion. And therefore, so is much of what I think is “bad”. And therefore much of makes me feel guilty, and much of what fills my calendar…
I shudder to think of who I might have been in history’s past, during the age of certain regimes and rules, because I’ve been so adept at culture’s “good de jour”. At best I could be the Pharisee; at worst… I don’t want to know.
The life-long attempt to align with the current perception of good is a noble (perhaps even divine?) desire. At least, better that, than to actually want to do evil! The pursuit of goodness is often the daily driving factor (yes?) to be it, to do it, to give it, to be worth it, to have it—to whatever attainable degree—assuming that upon achievement … what then? Regardless, this commodity, or lack thereof, is quite a powerful catalyst for all sorts of ways of living.
Generally, for the majority of people, being good by a relative assessment of the word bodes well for us. Until it doesn’t. It appeals as the ticket to eventual freedom, or immediate self-assuredness and merit, until it becomes a cross of oppression. Maintaining a validation of goodness by the world subtly morphs into carrying the weight of the world, until finally, for some of us at least, we give up.
If we are lucky—blessed—at some point, we will fail, or become profoundly disappointed in the power of our own goodness. We’ll see that it had its purpose and benefit in our lives, but that it cannot be an end-goal in itself because any sense of goodness constructed of this world is fickle, breakable, somehow self-serving, and finally, disappointing. It is not the Ultimate source of satisfaction.
What must I do to be good? To be perfect? To be saved? Healed? Or at least to be good enough? These are the questions that humanity—both the tormented rich and the hopelessly poor—has asked for thousands of years.
“What must I do, God?” I ask for several reasons. I suppose at times, I’ve asked with the motive of self-elevation. But also, I’ve asked because I’m seeking reassurance or guidance or help. I ask out of desperation and real concern for my situation or somebody else’s. Or I ask because I desire something which I don’t have and perhaps it’s because I’m doing something wrong. And I ask, because the horrible feeling of not being good enough comes at me from all sides. I just can’t seem to satisfy its burgeoning and elusive definition. When can I finally be at rest?
By whatever tragic, humiliating, painful, or contemplative means we come to our own end (either we cannot achieve good, or be satisfied by our version of it), there we find the gateway to the sufficient Goodness we’ve been seeking: the state of surrender—a resignation from chasing after my own definition of good. In that place, I have an opportunity to learn that God alone is good, and He is the only hope for me. When we finally experience this as truth, we say it less morosely, and more with a sort of praise or relief or gratitude. Maybe even excitement.
Of all the times in the Bible when person asks “What must I do?”, the answer is centered on knowing Christ, believing in Christ, and allowing Him to become our central point of origin for everything.
For the oppressed Israelites, for the bleeding woman, for the father of the dying child, for the thief on the cross, and for the doomed prison guard—each of them desperate to be rescued from their current or impending suffering, and into something good—the reply is: to “know God” (Jeremiah 9:24), and “Your belief has healed you” (Mark 5:34 and Mark 10:52).
Our belief, or acceptance, of who God IS, perfects us.
For whoever would like real, unbreakable goodness, the answer is: “Whoever believes in me will have (it)” (John 3:16 and John 6:40). If anyone wants to be saved from the darkness that is all around us, then “believe in the Light, that you may becomes sons of Light” (John 12:36).
For the rich young man who wanted to be perfect, Jesus essentially asks the man to believe that Christ alone is the source of status and security and importance—the things this man pursued. Jesus asks the man to live out this belief by dethroning everything else (Mark 10:17-27).
And to the crowd who seeks easy or sensational, short-term gain, yet longs for Christ’s approval, Jesus says “’Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on Him (alone) God the Father has placed His seal of approval.’ Then (the crowd) asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered: ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.’” (John 6:27-29).
Without even realizing it, we really do want eternal life. Deep down, we want validation, security and love, and all the things that are of life-in-God. We just look for these things in the wrong places. We go after what we see with our nearsightedness—things that have their own disappointing end woven into them. And as we flail in the ensuing fear or anger or sickness, God simply says:
“Don’t be afraid; just believe” (Mark 5:36).
This means to accept as truth—as actual, real now-ness—that The omniscient, loving, powerful creator-Being is present and is bringing His overriding goodness to complete fullness in me and in all things. Even in this circumstance right now.
Developing a taste for this kind of goodness takes a miracle. Even as I write this, I’m wishing for a flatter stomach, for a vacation, for my children to reach their full potential, and that somewhere out there was a really good Pinot Noir for under $10.
Chasing our version of goodness is something we’re fated to re-surrender constantly—it (repentance) is the behavior pattern that we are tasked to be very familiar with in this world, because Jesus knows this world will constantly lure us back with its promise of enticing rewards and will fool us with its cover and seeming plausibility. Ebb, flow… ebb, flow.
But as God fills and re-fills each new, empty, resigned place in me with Himself, I begin to crave it more often and more completely. And gradually, my hope is growing for a fullness of God-in-me. (This is something that sounded ridiculous and foreign and anti-climactic to me in the height of my “good” years).
“Believe in Me”—that’s it! But most of the time, I can’t believe that’s ALL I have to do. Other times, I can’t believe that that would make me happy, and especially, I can’t believe that that applies to every practical thing in my life…
The miracle of believing is one of the biggest miracles of all, and yet it happens often enough to where I forget it is a work of God.
What is the ultimate definition of good? What is the timeless and current version of good? “God alone is good” (Mark 10:18). When I believe that that is true, I am finally good enough. My acceptance and pursuit and submission to God (and therefore the dethronement of whatever else concerns me today) is the only real hope for increasing goodness in me. And since Jesus illustrated how unlikely I am to do all of that believing and dethroning on my own, then truly, God alone is my hope for goodness to be brought to its fullness in me.
Moving forward through my insufficient funds, through my worries for my children, amidst my failure to live up to the golden standard of a virtuous mother, and toward my unknown future, will God’s promise hold true? Will I be good and perfect even as I just believe? Will my fear of the unknown be superseded by the eternal One who is making Himself known? Will I be made whole, will I be secure, will I feel validated, will I be content, will I possess real goodness with God-in-me regardless of my old definition of goodness being satisfied?
There is only one way to find out…
And so… Onward! It’s funny that you wrote this. I’ve been contemplating the first chapter of second Peter and the term “virtue”.
You have revealed to us the struggle in the human mind of how to be good. And it ends up being a huge tangle, somehow landing on following Christ in the here and now. But it also leads us to realize that it is not the ultimate question. To paraphrase, summarize your landing, the question is not how to be good, but how to participate in the life of the One who is good. This is, in fact, the meaning of “eternal life”, zoen aionios, the life of the Ancient One. Failure and suffering, according to Rohr, are certainly our entry points. We’ve got to go through all of that thrashing that you revealed to finally let go. “Necessary suffering” Rohr calls it. It’s not bad to go through all that thrash. In fact, to avoid it leads to superficiality and narcissism. But getting to the letting go, giving up, is the entry point, only the beginning. From there we can go at life more contemplatively and receptively. Thanks for the thrash.