Goodness (part one)

imgresWhat does it mean to be good?

We seem to have a number of competing images in our culture: innocence; wise experience; purity; having a sweet nature; being a fiery reformer; being a peacemaker; being a warrior who hunts down evil and eradicates it; being spiritually untroubled; being anguished about our sins and failings; being deeply compassionate.

St. Peter describes the Christian ideal like this: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (I Peter 2:1-3) He is speaking of a kind of interior purity, of cultivating a limpid spirit which is untroubled by evil impulses, but which yearns only for what is wholesome and good. I suspect many of us long to be like that, but, how do we get there?

The Jewish masters describe two kinds of very good people. The benoni, or “intermediate person”, who, in spite of the label, is far better than most of us will ever be, is a person who is sinless in his or her actions, but who still suffers from a desire to sin. The tzaddik, who is utterly righteous, no longer commits sin or desires to do so. (Those who see Jesus as a great spiritual teacher, but not as the Son of God, basically see him as a tzaddik.) The key difference between the two is this: The benoni struggles with his evil impulses, seeking to conquer them or to cast them away in a constant interior battle. But the tzaddik does not struggle with them; he simply acknowledges their existence and offers them up to God to be used for good. In other words, the lesser saint seeks purity, while the greater saint seeks wholeness. (Norman Lamm, The Shema, p.131)

There are hints of this vision in Scripture. When the Hebrews have gone into exile in Babylon, God speaks to them through Jeremiah and says, “if you seek me, you will find imgres-1me, if you seek with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13) With all  your heart. I think we often hear this as an admonishment against tepid efforts, which we call “half-hearted” — and it is that. But it may also be sound spiritual advice: When God seeks us, God wants all of us. We are not to mangle our hearts, seeking to slice off the blemishes as if we were rotting fruit. Rather, we are to bring to God all of what we are and offer it. It really is that simple, and that difficult.

Have a blessed and holy day!

This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Deborah Meister and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s