I woke up this morning early (as I always do in the summer) and wondered why on earth I ought to be good. Really. What’s the point? Why would anybody be motivated to be good?
I immediately thought of some reasons why we ought to be good and none of them really impressed me and inspired me to be good.
So why be good? Here are some reasons
- Because if I am bad I will get caught, punished and shamed. This is a strong negative reason to behave myself. I don’t want to get caught being naughty. What would people think? My reputation would be ruined. I’d lose family, friends and maybe my job and livelihood. OK, so I’ll be good.
- Because other people expect me to be good. They rely on me being nice, kind, understanding, self sacrificing and all that stuff, but do I really care about what they think that much? Maybe not. But I’ll be good anyway because:
- Being good is easier–at least I won’t get in trouble if I behave myself. They’ll let me alone if I’m good. So that’s a selfish reason to be good.
- Society tells me to be good. I should be a good citizen and obey the law of the land.
- My religion tells me to be good. I’ve got the precepts of the Church, the corporal works of mercy and so I should be good because my mother the church tells me to
- God tells me to be good. He’s given the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. They are his laws. I’d better obey them and be good.
All of that is all well and good (as it were) but it is not good enough. All that really does is motivate me negatively, like Fido who obeys because he doesn’t want to be beaten.
This is where so much religion goes wrong. We follow the religion and try to be good enough. But we can’t so we fall into hypocrisy, anger and frustration and we use the rules not only to beat up on ourselves, but worse–to beat up on others and blame them for their failures–projecting our flaws onto them.
Being good therefore too often leads us to be bad–really bad because self righteousness and blaming others is the worst kind of badness. (See my book Immortal Combat for a deeper discussion of this demonic dynamic.)
I should be good because I WANT to be good. I should be attracted to goodness instead of being attracted to my laziness, cupidity, stupidity, lust and greed.
Sometimes in the confessional when counselling a young man about pornography I’ll say, “Pray to be changed on the inside. Self control probably won’t be enough. Pray that your heart, mind and imagination will be supernaturally changed so that you regard the porn for what it really is: poison for the soul. Let’s say you are walking along the street and you are really hungry for lunch and you see in the gutter some road kill–an old possum that has been hit and has been lying there in the sun for two days. Do your eyes light up and you say, ‘Yum yum. Lunch!’ No. You are disgusted not delighted. Pray that the eyes of your heart will be opened so that you come to regard porn like that decaying possum.”
Its an illustration of the inward transformation that is required. We are not only called to do good. We are called to Be good…to be transformed into children of light…to become incarnations of goodness. All the rules and regulations of religion are simply the means to an end. They are not the end.
This conversion is the work of an instant and the work of a lifetime. If we pray for it God will illuminate the soul and if we work for it we can, by God’s grace, make that illumination a daily reality.
So why be good? So that I might become Good–that I might become the icon of Christ in the world that I am called and created to be.