Every language in the world has a word expressing good in the sense of having the right or desirable quality. Media has projected the idea of “good” like a sliding scale, from desirable like The Beach Boys who were looking for Good Vibrations, though in point of fact this good is regarding Transcendental Meditation. As the song of the same name indicates “Transcendental meditation can emancipate the man and get you feeling grand it's good, it’s good, it’s good.”1 On the other end, good is something to be avoided as Billy Joel says in Only the Good Die Young, "They say there's a heaven for those who will wait, some say it's better but I say it ain’t, I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners are much more fun... You know that only the good die young.”2 More recently The Black Eyed Peas twist “good” to involve spending the night partying in a way that they will probably not remember the next morning. “I’ve got a feeling, that tonight's gonna be a good night that tonight's gonna be a good night tonight's the night, let's live it up I got my money, let's spend it up go out and smash it like oh my God jump off that sofa, let's get, get off”3
Good has become a low hanging fruit of on the scales of approval. There is good, better, best. It is not even in the top of consideration, therefore, when the world speaks of being a good person the assumption of their level of affirmation is median at best. With the definition of good being so far from the Biblical meaning as Jesus says in Mark’s Gospel ”Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone."4 It would seem no wonder why the world does not understand what good really is. Good has taken on a new definition as adequate or slightly above acceptable. There are some good restaurants in this neighborhood, but across town, there are great ones. Even though great has traditionally referred to a designation of size, we use it as a descriptor above good. Would that indicate that Jesus wasn’t a great teacher, but only a “good” one, certainly not? The modern world has skewed the importance of what the word “good” means especially with regard to salvation and the conditions of acceptance into heaven.
Often the rebuttal to a question of one's salvation sounds like this, “But I’m a good person. Don’t I deserve to get into heaven?” or “How could a loving God, send good people to hell?” These questions come up again and again, with the misguided equivocation of the term good meaning nice, as opposed to its actual meaning of righteous. Jesus again clarifies the issue “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” 5 Those who are evil still know how to give good gifts. Being good at being a human is not the same as being good in the eyes of righteousness. As humanities goodness or moral scale continues to slide one should realize that being good at being a human should not be the ultimate goal.
Humans are the ones responsible for all atrocities on earth. Humans are the designers of everything from pornography, pedophilia, and pyromania to horror movies, haunted houses, and hostages. Humans are the articulators of political corruption, the agitators of social unrest, and the proprietors of the global destruction of our rainforests and oceans. As George Orwell said, “Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.”6 The evidence shows that humanity is not and should not be the litmus test for what goodness is or the goal to which one should attempt to achieve. One horrifying realization about murderers is that they can otherwise be good humans.
John G was a well-respected business owner and heavily invoked in his community. He was the vice-president of the Springfield Jaycees a community group known for civic engagement and philanthropic involvement. Mr. G was even named as the third most outstanding Jaycee within the state of Illinois.7 He was the Democratic precinct captain in the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s. Mr. G was even a member of his local Moose Lodge 8 and was heavily involved in charitable services at fundraising events, parades, and children's parties where he would dress as "Pogo the Clown”. John G or John Wayne Gacy was convicted of thirty-three murders in 1980. His good community service and actions were no match for what was deep within. The good actions of this man meant nothing during his trial and subsequent conviction. While most people aren’t secretly serial killers, all have at one time or another held contempt in their hearts, and as 1 John states, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” 9 While most good humans would not physically commit murder it is safe to say that holding contempt in one's heart is a pang of guilt that all have faced at least once and realistically more than thirty-three times like Gacy.
When one thinks of good humans the name Gandhi frequently comes to mind. As one who the world often cites along with Jesus as a leader to be admired. He was thought of as a great man who was the architect of a form of nonviolent civil disobedience that would influence the world and inspired future leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. One would think this would be the ultimate example of human goodness. However, in his book Gandhi: Naked Ambition, author Jad Adams, claims that Gandhi, “a London trained lawyer-turned-guru, was a ruthless cult leader who enslaved his followers with such bizarre sexual demands that it became difficult for many people to take him seriously, even during his own lifetime.”10 Gandhi was said to have slept naked with his two nieces, and other girls, in an attempt to test his resistance to temptation.11 What does not seem to be thought of by the guru was how this type of behavior was mentally damaging these young girls who were having to sleep with a naked adult male relative while they were being used as pawns in his personal quest for spiritual superiority. This was not the action of a righteous man but rather one who was good in the world’s eyes. Clearly following the examples of humans in their quests for earthly goodness seems to lead to nowhere. The only exception could be Paul’s direction to “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”12
When one thinks of the ultimate quest for goodness on this earth what typically comes to mind is world peace. It is a standard answer at most beauty pageants, graduation ceremonies, political rallies, and more. Humanitarian efforts attempting to achieve world peace have been the goal of many good humans throughout the decades. Imagining that one day if we could all work together to reach the ultimate goal of a good utopian society, free from suffering, pain, hunger and more. That humanity could achieve the ultimate good on earth. John Lennon’s song Imagine has been the rallying cry for many “good human” movements, the lyrics are telling,
“Imagine there's no heaven, it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today. Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace…No need for greed or hunger a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”13
This again is the world’s idea of ultimate good, through imagining goodness, happiness, and peace. Sadly, this idea of peace without the ultimate author of peace is a world that we will never see. John Lennon’s memory continues to this day to inspire many humans to seek good for this world. While that goal seems noble and John seems to many to be the epitome of the good human preaching world peace, give peace a chance, and war is over if you want it. However in the book, John Lennon: The Life, a very different individual is painted, one who habitually abused his two wives and child, as well as leaving the band due to serious heroin addiction (as opposed to what John told the public, which was creative differences with Paul), among other telling character flaws.14 The idea that man can be good on their own has shown itself, again and again, to be false. Being good at being a human is not what is required for salvation. Being a good person is different than being saved. Earthy goodnesses ultimate goal is still only going to be good enough for the earth.
The organization called Good Inc. defines good by saying “Good is a question, not an answer…Our beliefs guide how we make sense of what’s good in the world. Good to us is when you live well and do good…We aim to create a world (and solutions) that do not force us to choose between what makes money and what does good, or what’s meaningful and what’s fun.”15 The guiding philosophy of organizations like Good Inc. indicates good is arbitrary based on what is good to them, they will not force a definition of what is meaningful and do not offer an answer but rather question. However, they will still try to make sense of what is good in the world. This creates a cognitive dissonance that is often seen when there is no objective moral grounding. Good is only good when it’s good for them. Good Inc. host events like Goodfest “Celebrating progress, positivity, and the power of people through music.” In an interview with Good Inc. Yoko Ono stated that to be good in this world all you have to do is think differently. “Your thoughts create reality. The most pragmatic way to create world peace is to use your power of visualization. Think Peace, Act Peace, Spread Peace, Imagine Peace. Your thoughts will soon cover the planet. The most important thing is to believe in your power. It works.”16 The self-centered, internal thoughts and humanistic belief in one's own power is not a tenable method to gain the ultimate peace that can only be found through salvation in Christ. Thinking peacefully my gain temporary calm within oneself, but that is all the farther it will go. Even in the minds of good humans, there is a reason that the term self-righteousness has a negative connotation. Most individuals know that if one is always self-focused, even on good thoughts, it won’t cover the planet as Yoko Ono implies. Paul shares a similar statement in Romans 8:8 people who are self-centered aren’t able to please God. Humans cannot produce righteousness by themselves, that only comes through the power of the Holy Spirit of God.
C.S. Lewis had it right in the Screwtape Letters when he said, ”There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them"17 When the focus is on the earthly goals, aspirations, worries, and human endeavors then the mind and spirit will not be able to focus on the will and desire of God.
A study found in the journal of ISCON18 asked subjects to list up to 10 attributes associated with each of six different self-concepts. Each self-concept involved a particular domain of the self (i.e., the “actual” self, the “ideal” self, or the “ought” self) combined with a particular standpoint on that self (i.e., the subject's “own” standpoint or the standpoint of a significant “other”). As predicted, the actual-ideal discrepancy was generally associated with dejection-related emotions and symptoms, whereas actual-ought discrepancy was generally associated with agitation-related emotions and symptoms.19 These findings seem to line up with the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans 7:15-20 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it."20
Paul was clear, he could no longer rely on himself to be good, his goodness no matter how much he wanted to do good would never amount to anything, without the righteousness of Jesus. In Matthew, Jesus clears up any question as to what good means, “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Why do you ask me about what is good?” (Matthew 19: 16-17 ) Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” Jesus told the rich young ruler what to do. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Matthew 19:21-22) Jesus knew the condition of the man’s heart, his desire was to do a good thing, but when faced with doing the righteous thing he went away sadly. Not because he was unaware of what to do, but rather because he was unwilling to do what had to be done.
As one can see, bad people can do good things. However, it is more than good things that God is calling us to do. One must look past earthy good into the realm of righteousness. One must recognize that what the world views as good is only worth anything to the world. Often it has little eternal value. Therefore, when people say “I’m a good person, I deserve to go to heaven.” One should ask them good at what? Are they good at sports, are they good at recycling, are they good at being nice? Outward goodness is no match for inner goodness which Jesus called us. First and foremost Evil is a matter of the heart. Jesus made this very clear when speaking to the Pharisees, who were thought to be the example of goodness. Matt. 23:27 ”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Even being active in the church is not reason enough to gain access to heaven. Many Christians have spent their time and energy focused on the outward good and have missed the mark of the inward good Jesus calls all believer to live by. This truth is summed up very well in Matt. 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’’
Does this mean there is no hope for anyone?
None of these things count when in comparison to what is being called of all believers, and that is righteousness. A difference between someone who is good and someone who redeemed can be summed up in the mentality of when they realize they have done something wrong. The questions, “Am I going to get caught? or “Is this a sin?” tell the overall worldview of the individual.
The response that I have frequently given when talking to atheists and concerned believers on this topic is an analogy of a family reunion. While Dr. Jones may be a very nice human and while I like him as a professor, he is not a member of my family. Therefore when the Chase family reunion is hosted, Dr. Jones will not be receiving an invitation. If Dr. Jones had married my second cousin Gertrude, then Dr. Jones and his lovely bride would be more than welcome at the family reunion, and I bet he would do great at the three-legged race. God calls us to His family, the response is acceptance of that call and thereby inclusion into the family of God. There are immense benefits and rewards associated with this acceptance, including being welcome into the greatest family reunion that will ever take place in heaven.
Like the rich young ruler, who had kept the earthly commandments and felt as though he was secure, many thought living a good life was enough, being nice, friendly to the elderly, willing to serve on the PTA, and taking snacks to T-ball games, or even dressing up as a clown for charitable fundraising events, but all these things don’t make someone saved. Being good at being a human is not the qualification that God is requiring of us. We are called to more than earthly goodness, we are called to salvation through Christ into righteousness. Jesus answered I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the father except through me.21
1 Beach Boys, “Transcendental Meditation”, Friends, Capitol Records, 1968↩
2 Billy Joel, “Only The Good Die Young”, The Stranger, Columbia Record, 1977 ↩
3 Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”, The E.N.D., Interscope Records, 2009 ↩
4 Mark 10:18 ↩
5 Matthew 7:9-11 ↩
6 George Orwell (1970). “A Collection of Essays”, p.191, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ↩
8 Ibid. pg. 143 ↩
10 Roberts, Glenys. “Sexual Torment of a Saint: A New Book Reveals Gandhi Tortured Himself with the Young Women Who Worshipped Him, and Often Shared His Bed.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 9 Apr. 2010, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1264952/A-new-book-reveals-Gandhi-tortured-young-women-worshipped-shared-bed.html. ↩
12 1 Corinthians 11:1 ↩
14 Norman, Philip. John Lennon: the Life. Anchor Canada, 2009. ↩
16 “GOOD Spends International Day of Peace With Yoko Ono.” GOOD, 17 Feb. 2015, www.good.is/articles/good-spends-international-day-of-peace-with-yoko-ono. ↩
18 The International Social Cognition Network, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~ucjtrc1/ISCON/ ↩
20 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® ↩