“You can be good for the mere sake of goodness; you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong – only because cruelty is pleasant or useful to him, In other words, badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Family dinners. The holidays are approaching too quickly and I need some intentional time with my children. So I’m deliberately learning new recipes. The ones where the mother sits down after everyone else to inhale her, now room temperature, food. The kind where the side dishes that will eventually need to be washed chuckle at you with every clink the spoon makes as it returns to the bowl after another helping. Where the conversations are interrupted by reminders to mind manners while at the table. No electronics are allowed and eye contact is needed when you speak. Please say more than “good” when I ask you how the day was.
But they still say “good” which forces me to ask them to morally define it. Now they grumble.
“What do you mean when you say something or someone is ‘good?’ Can something or someone still be good even if it makes you unhappy at that moment? Is it only good if you are happy?” I ask.
“No,” they say in unison as they shake their heads.
My children are 8, 6, and 4, and they’re sponges living in a high skeptic and moralistic therapeutic deistic first-world (i.e. God exists to make me happy).
“Why can’t we base goodness on how we feel?” I question as I settle in my chair, suddenly quite content with my chilled mashed potatoes.
“Feelings change,” my 6-year-old chimed in. “Sometimes how you feel about something isn’t the same way another person feels about something.”
I nod and tell them when Mommy goes to the gym, she has a very different feeling about it than when Daddy goes to the gym. Physical exercise is good for the body, but Mommy doesn’t like it as Daddy does. Does that mean it’s not good?
They shake their heads.
I push further, “Is God good?”
“ALL THE TIME!” My 4-year-old is proud of his Bible Belt response. I wink at him because I’m proud of him too.
Luke 18:19 says, “No one is good—except God alone.” I ask them how God is good.
They tell me He doesn’t change as we change. That no evil exists in Him as it does us and that He always does the right thing.
“Yes, He does always do the right thing for us, even if we don’t understand it or if it doesn’t make us feel good at the time — When we don’t feel good about something that’s happened, how can we change those feelings?” I push further.
“Read our Bible,” they respond confidently.
“Yes. Mommy and Daddy can’t change how you feel. Your friends can’t always change how you feel either. We can make things seem better sometimes but, just like the gym, you have to go to the Bible, even if it doesn’t feel good at that moment to exercise your own heart, your own mind, and your own spirit. No one else can do that for you.”
I put down my fork.
“Mommy,” my 8-year-old is ready to speak. “So, Saint Nicholas was a real guy. He was a good guy who loved God. Now he is in Heaven and we celebrate his goodness (I haven’t yet told them about the legendary time Nicholas slapped Arius in the face for defaming Christ) and we celebrate our need for a Savior in Jesus. God is the greatest. . . So where does that put the Tooth Fairy? Who is she in all of this?”
“WE KNEW IT!” They shout.