Anthrocide

Anthrocide.net is the official website for D.L. Hamilton, author of several Christian novels and essays.

Goodness!

What follows are two seemingly unrelated thoughts that actually do tie together, so please bear with me.

The first relates to a radio commentary I heard recently that made a significant point. It said that the U.S. government should not be as shocked as it is that the “Arab Spring” has not resulted in democracies rife with fundamental freedoms and equality for all citizens in those countries where dictators have been ousted. Our government seems amazed that the rest of the world would not readily embrace the concepts of equality and liberty that we all so cherish. The commentator made the point that our republic succeeded as a form of government because it had Christianity as its underpinnings. Absent those Christian roots of love, kindness, righteousness, and a recognition of the intrinsic worth of each and every individual not only will democracy fail, it doesn’t even make sense. Hence, those non-Christian cultures overthrow a despot simply to trade him for another form of totalitarianism, but one that is more closely allied to the rebels’ views. The despotic governments we see moving in to fill the vacuum in places like Egypt and Libya should serve as a cautionary tale for us as our nation continues to divest itself of its Christian roots.

The second relates to goodness. It is one of the nine attributes the Apostle Paul lists as the “fruit of the Spirit;” that is, behaviors that result from the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life. They are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There have been any number of Bible studies and curricula that delve into the specifics of each of these and their effect and manifestation in the life of the Christian. However, the one that is often hardest to fashion an hour-long class about is goodness. In fact, one study series I found on the subject was only eight lessons long. They completely skipped over goodness. One can develop myriad class sessions on love, peace, and the nuances of faithfulness. But on the surface “goodness” seems too generic. Okay, we’re supposed to do good, to be good. End of study. However, goodness is a concept that may be more complex than all the others put together. Why? Because it demands that we define “good.” What is good? And how do we know? Is good defined as whatever is best for me, personally? If so, it would be good for me to steal your car since that is to my benefit. And, of course, if you abide by the same definition, it would be “good” for you to slit my throat to get your car back as that would be to your benefit. Etc. So, what then? Is “good” whatever benefits the largest number of people? That just takes the previous examples and expands them. For the majority to steal everything the minority has would be to the majority’s benefit. Hmm… How about goodness is any behavior that does no harm to anyone else? Key question: Why would doing no harm be superior to being cruel and brutal to others? Why would such a philosophy be better than “might makes right?” Or put another way, “Says who?” When there is no Who or where there is only a “who” whose scruples are, well, unscrupulous, the definition of goodness becomes either nonexistent or perverse.

But, for the Christian, the definition of goodness is so obvious that we cannot even put together a decent hour-long study on it. That is not to say that all Christians’ behavior is characterized by goodness—Lord knows there have been atrocities aplenty among those who claim to be Christian. But evil behavior by fallen, imperfect people does not negate the unsullied Biblical definition of goodness. Which is, if I may wax a tad overly simplistic, goodness = God-ness. In other words, that which is true of our Lord defines that which is good. Hence, we recognize good over evil as: truth over lies, kindness over cruelty, generosity over stinginess, love over selfishness, gentleness over ferocity, mercy over condemnation, sobriety over drunkenness, industriousness over sloth, optimism over pessimism, grace over judgmentalism, and so on. Additionally, not only does this provide a definition of good, it is eternal, unchangeable, and adherence to it has consequences—the approval of the omnipotent God.

Now to tie these two disparate thoughts together. With a common societal absolute standard of what constitutes good vs. evil it becomes possible to not only establish laws to encourage good and discourage evil, but to trust the citizenry to be a government “of the people.” Good citizenship means to exhibit good behavior—not primarily out of fear of government reprisal but because of the common recognition of what good is and the desire to be good. Those who choose to do evil recognize it as being evil. They understand that they run the risk of suffering the consequences of violating laws that not only exist in some code book but that coincide with Almighty God’s laws. Although there are examples of the church disassociating itself from those involved in flagrant, perpetual, unrepentant sin; by and large Christians are responsible to govern their own behavior and answer to the Lord. Such is not the case in other cultures without Christian influence. Jesus said, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In many non-Christian societies this concept of individual freedom is completely foreign, not merely to their political power brokers but to the average citizen as well.

Equality among all citizens and our system of government go hand-in-hand. The New Testament concept of “…in humility consider others better than yourselves…look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Php. 2:3-4) steers citizens toward good behavior and away from our natural dog-eat-dog proclivity. Governments must exist, but they govern benevolently only to the degree that they accurately distinguish good from evil and recognize the infinite, intrinsic worth of each individual deemed precious by the omnipotent God of all. Attempts to frame our republican democracy around a society whose concept of goodness is “might makes right” will quickly degenerate into a totalitarian monstrosity much as we see happening in the middle east. Karl Marx envisioned a utopian society where everyone happily subjugates his own ends for the good of the society at large. But everywhere communism has been tried the result has been oppression by a tyrannical government. The primary reason is that Marxism’s atheistic roots provide no answer to the inevitable “why” question. Why should I set aside what benefits me for the sake of anyone else, let alone for the sake of faceless “society”? Because some guy named Marx says to do so constitutes “goodness”? Who bestowed him with the power to define goodness? For that matter, who bestows anyone, or any government, with the power to define goodness?

Ah, and so we are back to the basic point. There is Someone with that power. And, not only does He define goodness, the indwelling of His Spirit produces goodness as a by-product of our surrender to His lordship over our lives. As America moves ever further from the Christian basis for its concept of government and from God’s definition of goodness, one cannot help but ask, as Lincoln did, “…whether that nation…can long endure.”

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