Goodness (The Meaningful Life Series)
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Jim delivered a short sermon on Goodness last Sunday before we all rushed down to St Mary le Strand to join their monthly Evensong service. As part of the Evensong service, I was asked to read a chapter from Deuteronomy on the Greatest Commandment. The passage began:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. (Deuteronomy 6:1-2)
A couple of verses later comes the Greatest Commandment:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
While ‘keeping all his decrees and commands’ ensures that ‘you may enjoy a long life’ (Deuteronomy), ‘what must [we] do to inherit eternal life?’ (Luke). The law is good, but living a life characterised by God’s Goodness requires more than obedience to the law. Like the rich, young ruler, we can obey every dot of the law and ‘still lack one thing’.
The additional ‘one thing’, however, cannot be prescribed through another law. While the rich, young ruler needed to ‘give everything [he had] to the poor’, that does not mean we each need to do the same. For each of us there are things that prevent us from living lives fully devoted to God and surrendered to his will. Until we are able to remove these hindrances that prevent us from being able to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’, the law will remain a set of external actions - it will not be ‘written on our hearts’ - and we will lack something.
As Augustine said, ‘Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved’. Or in line with our sermon series, when we live by the Spirit, ‘the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!’ (Galatians 5:22-23)
Loving God and allowing our will to be conformed to his own - through making sacrifices like the rich, young ruler, or spending time in prayer and reading the Bible, or coming together to worship and fellowship, etc. - when empowered by the Holy Spirit, allows to truly live according to the Goodness of God.
One difficult example that Jim left us with, and that I will leave you with, is that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. During the Second World War, the conviction of his faith led him to conclude that faithfully serving the Lord in his situation looked like joining a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. If successful, this action would have meant seemingly breaking the command to not murder. How are we to think about this decision? Can we consider this good?
I have my own thoughts, but I’ll leave you to think about it for yourselves. If you’d like to discuss Goodness further and decide how we should think about cases such as this, join us on Friday at 4pm for our Bible study on Goodness.
Image courtesy of preparingtheway.net