Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"But I'm a 'Good Person'!"

This article by John-Mark Miravalle really hits the nail on the head about this phenomenon of "I'm a good person." I'll add more below.


In my experience, some people just don’t want to talk about the big questions – Does God exist? Is Jesus Lord and Savior? What must I do to be saved? – and their dismissal of these kinds of questions almost always appeals to the notion of “good person.” It usually goes something like this:

“If God exists, then all He cares about is whether you’re a good person. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is being a good person. And I’m a good person, so I don’t really need to worry about anything else.”

What are we supposed to say to this? What do we say when someone pits “being a good person” against the urgency of accepting and spreading the Gospel?

Well, I think there are a couple of things you can say to a “good person” who doesn’t feel the need to worry about God or His Christ or His Church:

First off, ask the person: have you ever really tried being a good person? I mean a really good person? Because if you have, if you’ve really made an effort to be fair and courageous and to think your decisions through carefully, and only to say what should be said, and not to act on cravings or impulses you know are addictive and hurtful, and to really behave as though other people are just as important as you are – if you’ve ever tried to do that, then you know it’s incredibly difficult. It’s hard even to know how to be good, let alone actually being good. In fact, one of the best preparations for understanding who Jesus is and why we need Him as our Savior, is actually, sincerely putting “being a good person” as the number one priority of you life. When you make that your main goal, you’ll really see how desperately you need help–how desperately you need Christ.

Or maybe this “good person” dismissal is trying to say that the only thing that matters is to be an okay person. An average person. Not a psychopath or a sociopath. Maybe what some people mean by “good person” is just a “pretty good person.” But is that really all that matters? Would anybody really say that the main thing in life is to be mediocre? Because if mediocrity is your priority, if that’s what matters to you, then you actually have some very serious problems – you are lost in life, and you badly need to get some direction. You need to ask God for help, and you need to be open to the help He sends you.

Here’s another point: either Christianity is true or it isn’t. If it’s true then the things it says about how to be good are true as well. And if you don’t recognize that then you won’t know as much about how to be good. In other words, if Christianity is true then it matches up with reality – but in that case your ignoring or rejecting Christianity will set you in opposition to reality. And if you’re acting against reality then it doesn’t matter whether you’re a well-wishing sort of person, you’ll actually be doing a lot of harm. So if you really care about being good then you simply can’t ignore the special claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And finally, let’s talk about what God cares about. Remember, according to the Scriptures, God is our Father who loves us dearly. So He wants to be close to us, the way every good Father wants to be close to His children. Do you think it’s “good” to ignore the loving Father who gave you everything? To ignore His Son, to ignore his family? Do you think it would be admirable for a child in a loving family to ignore all his relatives because he was too busy being a “good person”?

Consider this illustration: one thing every schoolteacher notices is the difference in class between the students who have a strong, positive relationship with their parents and the students who don’t. All the students may be “good kids,” but that parental relationship makes a big difference, a difference in the way the students relate to their peers, to authority figures, to assignments. It makes a big difference even to the students’ self-image. Better to be a “good kid” with a positive parental relationship then to be a “good kid” on your own.

So too, it’s better to be a good person with a positive relationship with God the Father, and that’s precisely what Jesus Christ came to offer. You can be a good person and an orphan, but it’s a harder life without that core relationship. You can be a good person and a non-believer, but it’s a harder life without that core relationship.


Source: John-Mark Miravalle, "Is It Enough to Be a "Good Person"?," Prayer and Perspective Website, April 12, 2014, accessed April 14, 2014, http://www.prayerandperspective.com/2014/04/is-it-enough-to-be-a-good-person/.


See this article for a deeper psychological analysis into this issue of being "nice": http://www.chastitysf.com/q_nice.htm


If a sick person desires health without limitations, with greater reason we should desire the love of God, without limiting our desire to a certain degree. We do not know the degree to which God wishes to lead us and will lead us if we are faithful and generous. St. Thomas says: "Never can we love God as much as He ought to be loved, or believe and hope in Him as much as we should" (Ia IIae, q. 64, a. 4). In contrast to the moral virtues, the theological virtues do not consist essentially in a happy mean: their object, their formal motive, their essential measure is God Himself, His infinite truth and goodness. [...]

We cannot love God too much, believe too greatly in Him, hope too much in Him; we can never love Him as much as He should be loved. Thus we see more clearly that the supreme precept has no limit. It asks us all ever to strive here on earth for a purer and stronger love of God.

If hope is the mean between despair and presumption, this is not because the presumptuous man hopes too greatly in God, but because he displaces the motive of hope by hoping for what God could not promise, such as pardon without true repentance. Likewise, credulity does not consist in believing too greatly in God, but in believing what is only human invention or imagination as if it were revealed by him. [...]

To wish to make the theological virtues consist essentially in a golden mean as the moral virtues do, is characteristic of mediocrity or tepidity, erected into a system under pretext of moderation. Mediocrity is a mean between good and evil and, indeed, nearer evil than good. The reasonable, golden mean is already a summit, that is, moral good; the object of the theological virtues is infinite truth and goodness. This truth has at times been brought into relief by the comparison between the mediocre man and the true Christian. [1]



1. Cf. Ernest Hello, L'homme, Bk. 1, chap. 8: "The truly mediocre man admires everything a little and nothing with warmth.... He considers every affirmation insolent, because every affirmation excludes the contradictory proposition. But if you are slightly friendly and slightly hostile to all things, he will consider you wise and reserved. The mediocre man says there is good and evil in all things, and that we must not be absolute in our judgments. If you strongly affirm the truth, the mediocre man will say that you have too much confidence in yourself. The mediocre man regrets that the Christian religion has dogmas. He would like it to teach only ethics [à la Kant], and if you tell him that its code of morals comes from its dogmas as the consequence comes from the principle, he will answer that you exaggerate.... If the word 'exaggeration' did not exist, the mediocre man would invent it.

"The mediocre man appears habitually modest. He cannot be humble, or he would cease to be mediocre. The humble man scorns all lies, even were they glorified by the whole earth, and he bows the knee before every truth.... If the naturally mediocre man becomes seriously Christian, he ceases absolutely to be mediocre.... The man who loves is never mediocre."


Source: Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, trans. by M. Timothea Doyle (Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1989), 200-201.


Would God send a "good person" to hell? Ultimately only God knows who will go to hell, for He alone will make the judgment. That being said, God has given us this little bit of insight into the process, which I think should make us pause (Matthew 7:13-27, DR):
[13] Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. [14] How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! [15] Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 
[16] By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?[17] Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. [18] A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit. [19] Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire. [20] Wherefore by their fruits you shall know them. 
[21] Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.[22] Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? [23] And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity. 
[24] Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, [25] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. 
[26] And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, [27] And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.

Remember St. John of the Cross's commentary on verse 14 of the above passage. He calls attention to our Lord's choice of words—"How narrow!"—as if to say, "Yes, the gate is very narrow, narrower than you think" (cf. Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2.7.2 ff.).

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.