Monday, October 18, 2004

Seeking the Good

The search for the very best in life is one that I believe is in the hearts of most living people, but unfortunately is only in the intentions of a minority and in the actions of a select few. I myself have the intentions, but I'm not sure I can rightly judge yet of my actions. I know there are times when I have taken the initiative to do with my time that which I felt was the best thing for me to do. But there is an overwhelming majority of time that I spend doing what I do not believe is best. But perhaps it is not just in the things that we do, but also in how we do them. I imagine a caricature of a man going out to volunteer at a soup kitchen, but being rude and degrading t0 all the hungry people he serves. Such a person isn't living life the very best that he can. Nor is he searching for it. I don't want to do good out of guilt. I want to be someone who does what is good and right and even wonderful out of the goodness that is stored up in him. But does that goodness get there by practice, some spiritual source, or what?
There's a difference in theory that people have on this subject. Some people are behavioralists, and they think that the only way someone becomes "good" is by consistent practice in behavior. A selfless, charitable, caring kind of love comes not from a feeling inside, but rather develops through habit and intentional practice of it. The feeling, then, becomes more of a natural result, which reinforces the action. It's like a child learning to play the piano. The music at first is just plunking out notes and learning boring scales. But after much practice, the player finds that not only does he do most of the music with a kind of natural ease, but he also grows to love it and even depend on it.
And not only that, but he comes to know music and gains an intuitive sense of the beautiful in what he plays and is able to bring out more and more in each song. It doesn't really come the other way around. Some of it, though, might be more natural to some than to others. And some musicians have better musical instincts, regardless of time spent in practice. And that's where an opposing theory might fit as well: that it is the love that comes into a person, either directly from God or from others or in some mysterious way we don't understand, and that love causes a person to act out of love. Biblical support seems to lean a little more toward the latter idea, but reality doesn't seem to follow. By that I mean that having the spirit of God in a person, through the life of Jesus Christ, does not necessarily make it easy for a person to be good. I have lived all my life in God's family, and I have never felt God's love well up in me and cause me to consistently do the good and loving things that I would do. And I know of many others who are the same way. One might argue that I must not have the holy spirit, the counselor that came to the church at Pentecost, but if that is so, then I must wonder if every believer and follower of Jesus I have ever met or heard about is missing something in that regard. Even the charismatics and pentecostals that I've met, who believe in a sort of second blessing or a baptism of the holy spirit that happens after one is "saved", which they claim much of the rest of the church has not experienced, have not shown to me more love than those who are not of that tradition. (By that I mean love that I have witnessed from them, not that they have shown particularly to me). So if I am missing something, then I must conclude that they are missing something, too.

But let me get back to my first question. Why is it that we do not choose to earnestly seek the good. Don't we all want it. I know many, who are ungodly, have utterly forsaken it or become calloused, but it seems to me that there is a burning in each person for the glory and goodness of God. So why do we so often ignore it. I confess that it isn't all the time that I experience this burning as a specific feeling. Just as one who is hungry, does not always notice that he is hungry. Or even when the stomach growls, the person might not care to think about food. But the need is there. And to not earnestly seek it is like a starving man who does not bother to look for food. He will starve, and he will die, and I believe we will, too.

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