Seek good and not evil, that you may live;
And thus may the Lord God of hosts be with you,
Just as you have said!
Hate evil, love good,
And establish justice in the gate! (Amos 5:14-15b)
Good is a word that has lost its way in the world. It’s not been a recent, cultural problem. The world has wrestled with “good” for as far back as history is recorded. For clarity, let’s call the perspective of the world “good” and God’s perspective “goodness.” That will help set apart the two qualities or concepts for today’s reading.
Goodness is absolute. Good is not. God’s goodness is always His goodness. It doesn’t change. It’s not situational. The world’s good, on the other hand, is. What one person says is good isn’t good for another person. I think peanut butter cups are good (especially the egg-shaped ones); someone else disagrees. I think writing devotionals is good; someone else says it’s a waste of time. I think volunteering is good; someone else says it’s irresponsible to not get paid for time.
Our differences lead to conflict. We try to convince what we value is good should be valued as good by others. We want to be right, so we judge each other and rationalize we’re just trying to enlighten them to truth. But if good isn’t absolute, then truth is often seen as relative, too. And even though we can rationalize our arguments with others, at some point, someone throws in the condition that “No one should tell me what is good and what isn’t. I get to decide. So keep your opinions to yourself. Quit being so intolerant.” As a cooking demonstrator announced in a cooking class: “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”
When we argue about what’s good, we’re already on shaky ground, because it’s not seen as absolute. We can’t get to the shared foundation, because there’s often no foundation to share. We have our own foundations. On the other hand, goodness has a foundation. It’s not about what I define as good or not; it’s what God defines as goodness or not. We might still argue with someone, but it’s not because we’re both arguing about goodness. It’s more often that one is referring to good and the other person referring to goodness, but when the terms aren’t defined, misunderstandings will quickly follow, often with fervor.
Another difference between goodness and good is that goodness is personal and good is impersonal. It’s not a surprise, because personal/impersonal is consistent with absolute/relative. But again, it creates conflict. Goodness is determined by a personal God, who has a relationship with me and can therefore teach, guide, and correct me. Good is impersonal. There’s no personal investment in good. Oh, I might be personally invested in my definition and application of good, and I might even find some people around me who agree and can personally support me, but good in and of itself isn’t personal. No one created and guides it. Because it’s not absolute.
So, what God calls us to love is His goodness. What He says good(ness) is. And because it’s who He is, it’s tied to love and justice. Good(ness) is the opposite of evil. They oppose each other. As much as we are to love good(ness), we are to hate evil. Because both sentiments reflect the character of God.
Dear God, show me Your goodness. Help me not to get distracted by what the world tries to convince me is good. Help me to reflect Your goodness, love, and mercy every time I have a conversation. I don’t want to let the ways of the world seep into how I see You. I don’t want to distort anything about You. I want to live a life of authentic faith. Give me Your wisdom.