Goodness Gracious Me... and You!
Picture this. It’s 1:00am. We (Clutching At Straws) have just finished playing a gig and I’m manning the merchandise stall. Three people, all crying, approach me at different times and want to thank me for being good. This is what was happening at our Clutching At Straws after party slot during the Middlewhich Folk Festival last weekend. This man and two women, who had been part of the audience for our show, had been touched by the lyrics and were now wanting to buy everything they could from our merchandise stand as well as express their thanks towards us. Listening to each of them talk, it seemed that the show had caused some sort of profound effect on them. The man, totally welling up by this point, said “this has been a life changing experience, seeing someone so full of goodness and who sees the good in other people has blown me away”.
And there it was, the bombshell moment where everything clicks into place just like it had in Milan a few weeks ago (see my post Gender, Gelato & Life in all its fullness). In fact this moment was stunningly similar to that moment, in that, what had made a difference to these three people is not some music (I’m hoping it helped) but something fundamental to a healthy worldview and healthy life… yet something that we have all too often left to go unnoticed, unspoken or altogether forgotten about. All three of the teary eyed folkies explicitly thanked me for being a good person and each of them went away wanting to go and do some good themselves. One left with details of the charity Fight The New Drug, Two left with details about Stop The Traffik and the Dalit Freedom Network and all three of them left with details about our work in the Philippines. The most important thing however, is that I was able to speak into each one of their lives and tell them that they too are good. The Bible, the book of Genesis, the first chapter; perhaps the most foundational in helping Bible believers form a solid worldview. We read that God makes some stuff and sees that the stuff is good! On the sixth day God creates humans, male and female, blokes and ladies, lads and lasses, after which he declares that the whole of creation is very good. Creation, all of it, is good. And with humans thrown into the mix, it is very good! Now if you believe in a creator of the universe who is all powerful and all knowing (if you don’t then just follow my logic here), when he says that something is ‘such and such a way’, it’s probably fairly safe to assume that he knows what he is talking about and is correct. So then, as Men and Women we should be able to agree that we are good, because God has said so… right?
Now I know what many are thinking - yes Jake - we were good but remember that whole thing with the apple, or whatever fruit it may have been? We fell from grace… we sinned, we are no longer good!
Now, I don’t want to depart from classical doctrine or teaching etc etc. but I do want to make sure that we’re getting some things in the right order. Yes, yes, we have sinned we have ‘missed the mark’ - the term often used for sin by Paul who wrote a lot of the New Testament. It’s like an archer who has missed the bullseye and has hit the outer circle or has, in some cases perhaps, missed the target all together. I also don’t want to play down the effect of sin. I’m not trying to justify the human behaviour that so often fills our news broadcasts. But, all that crap is not who we really are. The shootings, the murders, the lies, the pornography, the hate… it’s not the truth that underpins humanity, but a distortion. Evil is not creative! Evil does not spring up out of nowhere, instead it is a twisting of what was originally created, a perversion of something that was good. Our desire for justice is good - this gets twisted by our pain into revenge… upscale it… murder… war. Our desire to be at peace is good - this gets twisted by our insecurities into that little white lie… upscale it… webs of deceit… control. Our desire to provide for our family is good… this gets twisted by fear into stinginess… upscale it… extortion… slavery. Our desire for intimacy is good… this gets twisted by selfishness into pornography… upscale it… families torn apart… humans treated as commodity. We end up in a culture of sin, a culture of missing the mark, the target is nowhere to be seen… we create a culture where our starting point is that we are not good. “It should be expected that people will be corrupted by the world in some way shape or form and some people, some people are just evil” … Wrong! We are complex psychological beings and we get conditioned, conditioned by our environment, by the things we observe and by the things people say and indeed the things that we, ourselves, say. We have all been conditioned by this culture of missing the mark - that is really the crux of the doctrine which people call original sin. But here’s the flip side, the same people who came up with the doctrine of original sin were the same people who followed Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus, God in fleshy form, demonstrated a life free from original sin, he lived out a different culture, a culture which was more powerful and more compelling than a culture of missing the mark. The culture he lived out was a culture of love, love that turned everything on its head. A love that was willing to die for humanity so that it could once again be in relationship with its Daddy, the creator. A love that was willing to die so that humans would recognise God within themselves again and allow God’s very image to dwell at the core of who they are. A love that was willing to die so that humans could realise that they are worth dying for… love that reveals to us once again that we are good! Jesus’ death and resurrection reestablish the goodness of God dwelling within us if only we will allow our mind to turn around and believe that truth. Once we believe that truth our minds are renewed and we are transformed. It’s like a rugby player who is told that he is fast by the head coach - know what he’ll do? He’ll go run fast, even if he didn’t before - his mind & his body align themselves with the words of his coach. When we believe that the creator of the universe says we are good what happens? We become good! So often we have got it the wrong way round, we expect people to be good, to clean up their act and then they can come to God or be part of the church or come along to whatever event we’ve put on to entice people to join our ‘club’. It’s nonsense! Jesus tells people their “sins are forgiven” - hey you’re good - “go and sin no more” - now go and be good. Jesus treats people in such a way that he uncovers the latent good in them, they go and start living in goodness, they in turn go and uncover and provoke others’ goodness. This isn’t cheap grace, this isn’t sloppy morality. If we’re one of the bunch who have said yes to following Jesus we have to let him sort us out and when we’re not living out goodness and missing the mark we need to point that out to each other because its not good for us or them! But the way we do that is to remind people that they are are worth dying for, that they are carriers of the image of God, that they are loved… they are good! So what about people who don’t follow Jesus, what do we do… the same! They are also created in God’s image, they too are good! Our job is to tell them and treat them that way! No one is excluded, that is the scandal of the good news! Really good news! So good that sometimes our ‘miss the mark’ culture just cant handle it. Good news that sees the image of God, the goodness, in the homeless woman addled with addiction and invites her home because she is worth a bed and a good meal. She learns she is good! She starts living goodness. Good news that sees the goodness and the potential in the prostitute and so gives him employment at a new start up business. He learns that he is good! He starts living goodness. Good news that sees the goodness in the ISIS fighter and bandages their wounds after a failed suicide attack. They learn that they are good, they start living goodness. Good news that sees the good in the paedophile and welcomes them when the whole community shuns them. They learn that they are good, they start living goodness. Good news that sees the good in people that is worth writing songs about, sings them at a festival and invites people to see them selves as good, those people go away to start living goodness. You are good! So be good! Go inspire someone else to live goodness today!