And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you. Deuteronomy 6:18
We are going to interrupt our study of the Psalms for a few days, in order to address two subjects that are very timely today and tomorrow. Monday and Tuesday we will reflect on the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul and the Holy Apostles. And we will resume our study of the Psalms on Wednesday, July 1.
There are a lot of questions in our world today about what is right and wrong, good and bad, as pertains to the Covid-19 situation and now regarding civil rights and civil disobedience. I’ve tried to reflect on these two situations in a way that is objective and non-political, and also in a way that is Christian. Here are a few thoughts:
Every activity can be classified in one of two ways—it’s either good or bad. Or perhaps it is better to classify as helpful or unhelpful. Or perhaps even better is to classify things as Godly or ungodly, i.e. they either honor God or they don’t.
So, now our minds go to various activities that we do, in order to classify them. Obviously worshipping is good, helpful and Godly. Same thing with helping our child with his math homework or helping her talk through a problem. Even going to the beach with family can be good, helpful and Godly, as it is a bonding activity, something to do together.
How about solitary activity (or inactivity), like watching a ballgame while eating a pizza? That can also be classified as good, because it leads to rest, which recharges us for the challenges of the next day or week. Obviously watching TV and eating constantly are bad things, as they lead to inertia and weight gain. However, some degree of solitary or family inactivity is a good thing.
The problem with defining something as merely “good” or “bad” is that these labels can be subjective. For instance, maybe it’s “good” for me to play loud music on my stereo system at night. While for my neighbor who can’t sleep, what is “good” for me is “bad” for him. So, we can’t only define things as good and bad, there has to be a higher standard.
Before we get to the higher standard, let’s examine three other questions.
Is what I am doing helpful or unhelpful? The first thing that comes to mind when I reflect on this question is helping a child with homework. A parent can be helpful to the point where the parent is doing the homework for the child. That is helpful to the child, but ultimately not good for his or her intellectual development. A parent might think it is helpful to tell their child to sink or swim on their own, and not lend a hand with the homework. While this might help the child learn to fend for himself, it also might zap his confidence and probably will affect the parent-child relationship. So, helpful versus non-helpful is important but also subjective.
Is what I am doing necessary? Again, going to the example of parents and children, sometimes a parent MUST yell at a child, like if the child is about to touch a burning stove. Because yelling creates a sense of urgency and impresses upon a child the seriousness of something he or she should be doing. Sometimes yelling is necessary. Yelling to demean someone is not necessary. There is usually a better way to correct or give constructive criticism than to yell. There is also a way to correct in a way that is constructive and not demeaning. Most of us can improve in this area.
Is what I am doing enough? I remember years ago, my Spiritual Father and I were walking past a group of teens at summer camp. We said hello as we passed by but they were so engrossed in conversation, they didn’t even acknowledge us. He said to them, “Excuse me, am I invisible?” That line has always stuck with me. Because there is good, but not enough, and the not enough usually involves acknowledging other people. For instance, we go to the store to shop for our families which is good. However, while checking out, we are on our phones or looking at magazines and we fail to say hello to the person ringing up our groceries. This is an instance of good, but not enough. Shopping for our families is good. Good becomes enough when we’ve taken every opportunity to show love and concern for others—everyone, every day.
Which brings us to the final question. Is it Godly? Does it honor God? This is a question we don’t think of often enough. Again, I remember a priest from summer camp critiqued one of my sermons in which I was preaching the virtue of goodness. He said to me, and correctly so, “You are encouraging them to be moralists, not Christians.” As Christians, we have a duty to go beyond what is good, helpful, necessary and enough. We have the duty to glorify God in all that we are doing. If we begin our decision-making process by answering the question “Does this honor God?” what we are doing will be good, helpful, necessary and enough.
The Lord said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:7, Luke 20:25) He didn’t say that have to enjoy giving Caesar the things that are Caesars, only that we have to give Caesar what is his. I don’t enjoy wearing a mask, but the government in my state has asked us to wear them. I don’t enjoy limiting the number of people who can come to church, but I truly believe this is a temporary measure, so I comply. No one has told me to stop praying or believing or acting in a Godly way. These things belong to God and Caesar cannot take them away from me.
As for civil rights, God has told us that He has made all of us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Therefore, we are to honor all people as if we are honoring God Himself. That includes big things, like standing up for the rights of others. And simple things like an acknowledgement or a “hello” when we pass by anyone.
We are all frustrated by the Covid-19 situation. We are all tired. We are frustrated by the endless cycle of negative news. Many of us don’t know what to believe as far as what is right. Which is why we need to stop classifying things as right and wrong, good and bad, and focus on whether what we are doing is necessary, enough, and does what we are doing honor God.
In meditating on today’s verse of Scripture, indeed we need to focus on what is right and good in the sight of the Lord. When we do more of that, it will go better for all of us.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing to Your name, O Most High, to proclaim Your mercy in the morning and Your truth at night. Amen. (Lenten Prayer, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Ask yourself today, is what I am doing necessary? Is it enough? Does it honor God?
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