To be and do good while humbly realizing we are not good.
“Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’”Mark 10:18-19
This reflective time of Advent teaches us that religion is the practice of our faith. It is the action behind our profession that we believe Christ so that others can believe us about Christ. The object of religion is to be ‘good‘ as Chesterton noted in his book Heretics. But in this we are presented a dilemma: only God is good yet the desire of the righteous, a desire that the Holy Spirit puts in us, is to be good. And therefore to be like our heavenly Father. Not in His power, but in His image. Most of us, in our fallen state, are naturally inclined, like Eve, to want the power.
Eve wanted to be like God but her desire, even though natural and understandable, was not righteous; she wanted to be like God only in his power and knowledge. His goodness is what God meant for all of his creation to reflect. We do this not by grasping for it or asserting ourselves but by emptying ourselves out in the example of Christ.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,”Philippians 2:5-7
This is the same attitude that John the Baptist had: He must increase; I must decrease. (John 3:30) The same is echoed in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with the character of Galadriel when she passes the test that Eve failed in real life, by refusing power and so says: ” I pass the test. I will diminish and go into the West and remain Galadriel.” Yes, and it is the same for us. To become our best selves, to remain who we were meant to be in Christ, we must also pass the test of offered power and refuse it in order to reflect God’s goodness in the lives of others by quietly doing good to others for their sake. And part of that doing good is preaching the good news, not to gain attention for ourselves but to gain attention for Christ. Both together, quietly preaching the good news and doing good, have the astounding and opposite effect of being like a crash of brass that gets the attention of others in the cacophony of a distracted world, as Chesterton observed.
“History unanimously attests the fact that it is only mysticism which stands the smallest chance of being understanded of the people. Common sense has to be kept as an esoteric secret in the dark temple of culture. And so while the philanthropy of the Salvationists and its genuineness may be a reasonable matter for the discussion of the doctors, there can be no doubt about the genuineness of their brass bands, for a brass band is purely spiritual, and seeks only to quicken the internal life. The object of philanthropy is to do good; the object of religion is to be good, if only for a moment, amid a crash of brass.” – G.K.Chesterton, Christmas and the Aesthetes, Heretics, 1905