What exactly does ‘goodness’ mean?
By Brooke Stacia Demott
“I try to be a good person.”
Everyone would agree that there’s value in goodness. The problem is, we don’t have a consensus on what “goodness” is. Why does my version of good look “bad” to some, and vice versa?
What does it mean to be good, anyway?
“Good” is a standard of measure, and there is a war of interpretation between what feels right and what is right.
As the tremendously wealthy Western world transitions from a scurrying age of discipline and ingenuity, to a yawning era of entertainment-saturated apathy, pleasure has become the new morality.
“Morality” has taken such a beating in our day that one might be tempted to believe absolute truth doesn’t exist. The word itself is shelved and dusty; its heavy crash will silence any conversation.
The Gen X (and Y) consensus is that biblical, godly morality is outdated, archaic, or un-evolved.
That leaves us with a society of impulse-driven happiness seekers, blindly riding their appetites toward meaning.
Ironically, we’re the most anxious and depressed people in history, seeking remedies without understanding, unwilling to see the plain truth.
Our version of “good” isn’t very good after all.
Now, let’s be clear — some things are purely preferential. There are choices that hold no moral value: Chocolate or vanilla? College or trade school? Adirondacks or Vegas? (Well, that might walk a line.)
However, just because some things are morally neutral, doesn’t mean everything is. “I’ll do what’s right for me” isn’t about ethics; it’s about dismissing the status quo.
Today, the most original thing you can do is to reject the standard, which makes you a revolutionary. Independent thought widens those narrow minds, which is the highest virtue, right?
Whole generations have marched away from “antiquated” ideas of God and the common good, and they don’t even realize that they are the new status quo. They have become the mainstream, and they still aren’t happy.
We’ve lost our sense of direction. Instead of looking toward the godly ideals that gave previous generations peace and order, we forge ahead in our confusion and call it progress. We roll out a new gender every month, toss marriage vows out the door on a whim, and name a dozen new neuropathies that arise with each virtue we cast aside.
We stumble around in this new age fog where families crumble and hopelessness abounds.
We need a “good” that is better than we are.
A rich young ruler asks: “Good teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus: “Why do you call me good? Only God alone is good.”
The young man comes to Jesus with the pretense that he’d always been a good guy; he goes on to remind Jesus of his excellent track record of good works.
Jesus answers with a tongue-in-cheek trifecta.
First, He responds to the kid’s faith is his own righteousness — “Hate to break it to you, kid, but you aren’t that good.”
We’ve got to understand that apart from God’s will, instruction, and spirit, our best version of good is misguided at best, and delusional at worst.
Second, He points the boy in the right direction — “Only God alone is good.”
Jesus as God
Finally, He uses a little sarcasm to demonstrate that if Jesus were just a man, He couldn’t be innately good. But since Jesus is God in the flesh, He is the only good teacher and a far better instructor than our wayward hearts.
No one likes this. Why? It’s because teachers give rules, and rules mean boundaries. Boundaries, to the natural human mind, mean unnecessary restrictions on freedom and potential happiness.
We prefer a world free from limits, where we can reinvent ourselves every day, and consequences are damned.
For example, in a divorce situation, it is not uncommon to hear:
“If the kids get shafted and their sense of security is distorted because we got a divorce, well, that’s just life. They are resilient. They’ll get over it. After all, I need to be happy. I’m sure they will understand when they’re older.”
Consequence rarely motivates us unless it’s personal. But selfish is the new sexy; if you are adversely affected by my decisions, well, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.
What difference does it make? If the world is just a random planet in a random universe, if we are just a glitch in monkey DNA, then do whatever you want.
But we know that’s a lie.
How? Humans crave meaning, love, music, heroism, and a sense of accomplishment. Those qualities are useless to a being that evolved by random chance to simply survive. They demonstrate the beauty of a timeless creator, inspiring us to search for purpose outside of ourselves.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:31-32
The truth is we are all seeking freedom; there is freedom in the truth. And it’s all good.
• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.