The trouble with being good


Sterile morality is so boring.

Being good for no reason other than a sort of general feeling that’s it’s a good thing to be good - well, that’s not very good, is it? Why bother? I’ve been googling my own mind on the subject, as it were. Do have a go at that by the way. Occasionally you find a couple of nuggets among the dross. Anyway, here’s what I thought.

            It is fashionable to ridicule those television programmes in which patently inadequate people are persuaded to confront a studio audience. They are then roared at angrily by their host when they have the effrontery to display the symptoms of their inadequacy.

            A fairly common view is that victims of this alarming appetite for programmes in which ordinary people get very upset, are distressingly shallow and often morally reprehensible. It  distresses me to admit that it is a view I have previously shared. I repent. I really do. Recently I have understood that the problem is not one of shallowness, it is one of waste. The real tragedy is that people who might have explored the fascinating depths of their own human potential are skittering around on the surface of experience, before spiralling down into glum acceptance of grey as the unvarying colour of all things.

            Perhaps it begins with failure to grasp the deceptively destructive effects of instant gratification. Some of the relatively young people who appear on programmes like this have already fathered or given birth to two, three or even, in one case, four children, each conceived with a different person. Many of the explosively emotional public arguments so beloved of the programme makers have at their heart the question of whether husbands, wives, boyfriends or girlfriends have been unfaithful to their partners. Incredibly, lie detector tests are administered in order to restore trust in relationships. Faintly ironic, wouldn’t you say?

            It is as though the sexual act is indulged in as one might indulge in a succession of cream cakes, and please, let’s not be hypocritical about this. Many people, Christians included, who would consider themselves to be sensible and disciplined in their behaviour, are all too familiar with the impulse, if not the gratification. And I’m not just talking about cream cakes. 

            The fact is, though, that the unrestrained consumption of squishy confectionery and indiscriminate sexual promiscuity have something in common. Both might provide a sense of instant satisfaction, but they also militate against the development of the kind of fitness, physical on the one hand, and moral and emotional on the other, that will ultimately allow the richer and more genuinely rewarding discovery of what it means to be functioning as a complete human being.           

             All right, this probably sounds like the typically resentful ravings of a man who has reached an age where over-indulgence in just about anything causes physical or moral indigestion, but it’s much more than that. Jesus came to bring fitness to men and women, to benevolently shock them sometimes with the rich complexity and potential for enjoyment that already resides in the person that they are.

And of course it’s not just cream cakes and sex. I know a man who was in prison for years. Apparently ineradicable, terribly negative habits of violence and resentment ruled his life. He cried out to God, and found to his amazement that within him were the dormant mechanisms of goodness and compassion. He embraced these things and his life changed.

There was a girl, a young woman who had known only illness, rejection and bitterness through her childhood and teenage years. She was filled with the Holy Spirit one morning (you would have to ask her exactly what she means by that) and it was as though something dark and dreadful was flushed from her system.

In both cases problems did not totally disappear, but they began to be tackled in a context of hope and optimism.   

            I have to say that, in my case, the process of transformation seems to be taking a long time, and there are times when I get very low, but I cannot (and do not want to) lose awareness of a bright and mysterious horizon that beckons and attracts me more than the seductive trivia that characterises this age.

And, in the end, that is why it is a good idea to be good, if that’s what we want to call it. We are definitely not called to sterile morality, but to an ineffable, multi-layered happiness, rooted in commitment to the will of God, and it is how we human beings were always supposed to be.

When the Israelites were trekking through the wilderness God gave them a complex set of rules to live by, not because he likes rules, but because he knew exactly what was needed for successful desert survival. In the New Testament we are given spiritual teaching and guidelines, not in order to oppress and repress us, but to direct us towards the surprising joy of true authenticity.    

                  And that, I’m sure you’ll agree, is good.