Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Pragmatic goodness or radical righteousness?

Ecclesiastes 7 v 16 - 17
Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

We live in a time when being good is approved of (well, really, it always has been!). Trying to do the right thing, telling the truth and being nice is thought well of. Most people will believe that being good is good! But when being good starts to affect them negatively they realise that actually being good doesn't always work out well for them. 'Telling the truth is important most of the time, but sometimes telling a lie will be better for me'. 'Being nice to people is great - but not when it will make me worse off'. This is how the world works - like Ecclesiastes says - don't be overly righteous - I'll be good as long as it doesn't cost me too much. When we want to avoid getting into to trouble, we'll tell a lie, when we are angry about what someone else has done, we'll speak maliciously about them. This is pragmatic goodness.

But Jesus showed a different way. Jesus lived a life of radical righteousness. He chose to do good and speak the truth even when it cost him. He spoke the truth to the crowds even though that was not what they wanted to hear. He went to the cross because he knew that was the only way that the sin of the world could be paid for was if he died. Even when he was tempted and whipped and finally killed he chose to do the right thing because he loved God and wanted to do what He said and he loved people and wanted to act for their good.

So the question I need to ask is am I into pragmatic goodness or radical righteousness? Ecclesiastes asks if the meaning of life can be found in being good. Life itself shows that being good cannot bring us this meaning - it always disappoints, because at the end of life I am still going to die - and I can never be good enough for a perfect God. When I look at my life I realise that actually I am more into pragmatic goodness than I like to admit. I don't want to get into trouble, so I lie. I want to help others, but not if that means I have to live sacrificially. What would living a life of radical righteousness look like?

Because Jesus has given me his goodness when I asked for forgiveness it means I can turn around from acting pragmatically by loving myself and focus on loving God and others instead. Through the power of the Holy Spirit it would mean choosing to tell the truth even when it shows that I have done wrong. It would mean living sacrificially so that I can serve others in the way God has called me to (with my time, energy and money). It would mean loving God and trusting him totally so I would chose His way above my own, even when that is not what I want to do!

As a parent I need to remember that although rules are important in teaching boundaries, that actually teaching children to be good shouldn't be about pragmatism. We reward children if they do good - we bribe them to be good! But surely this only reinforces a world view that doing good is about serving yourself. I want Anna and Hope to know that choosing to do the right thing isn't so that things will be easier for them or so that they will get something out of it - but I want to model to them how radical righteousness is different. Thoughts on how I practically might do this are welcome!!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Have twin daughters has taught me new humility! I think I thought that perhaps if I followed the right routines and organised the correct activities, or even taught them the right stuff that my girls would be good. Well, unfortunately they are far from it! They have not needed anyone to teach them to be selfish - that they want the toys that the other one has, even if an identical one is by their own feet. Me and Ben do not scratch, scream and bite each other to get our own way! But my children do regularly. They love themselves and their own desires - and that is their first love.
Yes in their betters moments they cuddle and kiss each other and share toys and it is all rather cute in every way! But it still does not explain away or make right their violent and vicious side that wants to get their own way.
This shows itself in other ways too. They do not in anyway desire to do what I tell them - in fact if they know its something they are not supposed to do, it makes them twice as likely to do it - looking at me with a cheeky grin on their faces - as if to say - 'try and stop both of us!' The vast majority of these things I have said to keep them safe - "don't eat the berries in the garden", "don't climb on the arm of the sofa and dance about", "don't climb on top of the speaker to reach the windowsill" - but they ignore these all the time!
I think I used to think that being a parent who had obedient children was about teaching them the right things, that this would make them good. I'm sure lots of parenting is about this and modelling these good habits. But I've realised that actually what I was doing was relying on my own ability to do these things. What about the moments when I get angry and cross and shout? What about the moments when I lose my patience - over things that aren't even their fault? (Like a cup of coffee left by myself being split?!) I don't want them to learn this behaviour!

Actually I've realised that I need to be humble in my parenting too - realise that I the way I parent doesn't earn God's favour - nothing in the way I'm a parent will ever make me right with God or make me a better person. I can't boast in what I do with my kids - and the only way they will ever learn to be obedient is through knowing Jesus. Every human being is 100% rebellious! I need to remember in my times of lack of self control that I need Jesus's grace and mercy, I can't do this parenting thing by myself. In fact anything I do bring to it needs the Holy Spirit's help! So I want to start each day remembering I can't earn God's favour through works (although I say I know this - I'm sure that I often forget!) and that His help to be a good Mum to Anna and Hope - and to be humble with them when I mess up. Saying sorry to your kids is humbling indeed! And I look forward to a day when they can talk and we can tell them about Jesus:)