Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: – Philippians 2:1-5
I’ve been thinking about the concepts of “good,” and “evil;” “right,” and “wrong;” “moral,” and “immoral;” “virtuous,” and “bad.”
In the aftermath of Paris there is a lot of talk about human behavior, and I’m concerned that many of these terms (good, evil, right, wrong…) seem to represent moving targets, and that the way we respond to horrific events often only serves to muddy the waters, and what we really mean when we say “right,” and “wrong” is often more rooted in self interest than it is something universal, or true.
what we really mean when we say “right,” and “wrong” is often more rooted in self interest than it is something universal, or true.
The beginning point for this post is a question that emerged in a class I lead at church. “Are human beings naturally good, and so our struggle is to resist evil?” or, “Are we by nature evil, and so what we need is to learn goodness?”
We Need Help!
My personal response – and the direction the discussion took – is that it doesn’t really matter. Either way we’re going to need to meet Jesus, so the more important question then becomes, “Who do we follow?”
What we’re born as is not so much wicked, or good, as it is selfish. Then we grow up – typically – to apply the idea of good in relation to what we want. And that is my big concern when it comes to the worldwide stage. When what we want always becomes the standard for “right,” then any means employed to achieve that goal is covered under the umbrella of our self-centered morality.
The way religion is practiced also contributes to this moral confusion, by so often attaching “the will of God” to our own personal preferences. I’m currently reading a series of books on the American Civil War, and I’m struck by the juxtaposition of piety and brutality. Religious revivalism spread through the camps of Lee’s army, generals on both sides were convinced God was directing their campaigns, and Jackson – deeply devout – once answered a question concerning the next day’s action, “If it please God, I would kill them all…”
Religion too often recreates God in our own image, reassigning God’s interest from humanity in general to that of our own tribe. Our “good” then becomes God’s definition too, and what is bad from our point of view turns up on God’s hit-list too.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus:
That’s why following Jesus is often so difficult; because Jesus always puts the priority on self-sacrifice, on loving our enemies, on putting others ahead of ourselves, “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2)
Following Jesus delivers. It delivers regarding all of the issues we started out with – the challenge of being born selfish, the question of who are we going to follow, and our universal need for redemption.
Even if you’re an agnostic, an atheist, or maybe a seeker with more doubts than faith, following the way of Jesus will still answer all the questions regarding the definition of “good.”
Being good means to adopt the attitude that Jesus modeled, and the Jesus Way is – always – the antithesis of self-interest.
I’d say that’s a good starting place, both if we want to heal the world, and if we understand the need we have for healing ourselves. And we do.
In love, and because of love – DEREK
Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.
Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.
Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.