September 8th, 2019
“Good & Bad”
Aux. Texts: Mark 10:17-27
Call to Worship: Psa 53
Service Orientation: No one is good except God alone. It is only through faith in Christ, fortified through suffering, that God regards us as good.
Bible Memory Verse for the Week: “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone”. — Mark 10:18
- The setting is in Zedekiah’s reign, sometime between 597 B.C., when Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin and a number of the leading citizens of Judah into exile in Babylon, and 587/586, when the Babylonians besieged and destroyed Jerusalem. The date is probably close to 588, the beginning of the second Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. (J. Andrew Dearman, The NIV Application Commentary: Jeremiah, 224-5)
- Chapter 24, written in the first person, records an experience of Jeremiah in the temple. He saw two baskets, one containing good figs and the other holding bad figs. From this sight Yahweh conveyed to Jeremiah a great truth about the captives in Babylon and those still in their homeland. This chapter is self-contained and has no apparent relationship to the one preceding it or the one following it. But it does serve as a companion to chapter 29. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 229)
- It is not difficult to speculate that the original message delivered by Jeremiah to the community that remained in Jerusalem after 598, as Jeremiah himself had done, was to challenge the self-congratulation and mistaken self-esteem displayed by those who had been left as survivors in Judah. They counted themselves fortunate and singularly blessed by God, reasoning that they must have pleased God to have survived such dangers. (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 146)
- The good are those taken to Babylon and who will be cared for and treated favorably by God so that they will eventually be brought back to their land (vv. 6-7). Conversely the “bad” figs represent those who remained behind in Judah under Zedekiah. They were to suffer every kind of ruination and devastation–sword, famine, disease–until they were utterly wiped out (vv. 9-10). (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 145-6)
- Back in chapter 21 God gave his people a choice between “the way of life and the way of death” (v. 8). “The Way of life” was to go into exile in Babylon. Surrender was their only hope of survival. “The way of death” was to remain in Jerusalem with Zedekiah, the puppet king of the Babylonians. God had determined to do the city “harm and not good.” The king of Babylon would “destroy it with fire” (v. 10), and whoever stayed in the city would “die by the sword, famine or plague” (v. 9a). It was turn or burn for the citizens of Jerusalem. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 358)
- In these verses the vision is revealed; in the remainder of the chapter it is explained. The purpose of the vision was to declare that those who went into exile with Jehoiachin would be better off than those left behind in Jerusalem; those who escaped the deportation would naturally think just the opposite. The emphasis is on the poor caliber of leadership left in Judah in contrast to the able men now in Babylon (cf. 52:28). (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 527)
- Technically speaking, Judah’s exile began in 605 B.C. with the first raid by Babylon’s new king, Nebuchadnezzar. He took a few captives, including Daniel and his three friends (Dn 1:3). In 597 B.C., however, the king struck at the heart of the Jewish nation. He took the “flower of the land.” the historian says, “As the Lord had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the Lord and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the Lord. He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men and all the craftsmen and artisans–a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left” (2 Kgs 24:13-14).
The evidence indicates that a young man named Ezekiel was included among those taken captive (Ezek 1:1-2). In many ways this was the most damaging of all three Babylonian invasions. The fatal blow had already been struck. For the death knell to be final, only one more invasion was required. This came in 586 B.C. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 230-1)
- (v. 1) Set before the Temple As an offering of the first fruits of that kind. (Adam Clarke, Commentary and Critical Notes: Vol. II, 714)
- However much we relate this vision of the good and bad figs to the contemporary political situation Jeremiah and his compatriots faced, in the end it pointed to the priority of the moral and spiritual over the geographical and the political. The community in exile came to be looked upon and certainly to look upon themselves as the remnant chosen by God to bring about a glorious future for Israel. The inherited and well established commitments to the land as the most precious of God’s “gifts” to Israel (cf. Brueggemann, 45ff.), the benefits deriving from the location of the temple on Mount Zion, and to a certain degree the role of the Davidic kingship were all set at a lower level of religious importance than a genuine seeking after God with a whole heart (cf. 29:12-14). God is not to be found through physical symbols of his presence but through an inner spiritual movement of heart and will. These features appear and reappear prominently in Jeremiah so that this prophetic book has become a fundamental charter for the spiritual development of Jewish life in diaspora. (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 147)
- Israel had been spoiling for a long time. Chapter 25 is a prophecy Jeremiah had made some years before, in 605 B.C., the year the superpowers clashed at Carchemish and the Babylonians defeated the Egyptians. The prophecy appears at this point in Jeremiah’s book because it explains how the bad figs got spoiled in the first place. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 359)
The questions to be answered are . . . What is God inspiring Jeremiah to write in chapter 24 of His book? What lessons can we learn from this chapter?
Answer: Humans are not good. But, God can regard us as good. We learn from the rest of Scripture that it is only by faith in Christ that we can be regarded as good and gain the credentials we need to enter into God’s presence and heaven.
Heidelberg Catechism Question # 91 What do we do that is good? Answer: Only that which arises out of true faith, conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory; and not that which is based on what we think is right or on established human tradition. (Jn 15:5; Heb 11:6; Lv 18:4; 1 Sm 15:22; Eph 2:10; 1 Cor 10:31; Dt 12:32; Isa 29:13; Ez 20:18-19; Mt 15:7-9)
The Word for the Day is . . . Good
Goodness is always relative to purpose. —Alistair MacIntyre
What can we learn about human goodness from Jeremiah 24?:
I- Good is knowing God and suffering in harmony with God’s will. (Jer 24:4-7; see also: Jer 29:1-14; Rom 5:1-5; 8:17-18; Eph 2:10; Phil 1:29; 3:10-11; Heb 2:9-10; 5:8; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pt 1:3-9; 2:19-21; 4:12-13; 5:10)
Before seeing how much there is to know of God, we must realize that such knowledge often comes through suffering. Unlike the bad gifs, the good figs followed God right into suffering. They did not go down with the city. There was a way of escape for them. But the way of escape led through Babylon. The good figs were exiles and slaves who had to endure a lifetime of servitude to the Babylonians. They were forced to sit down by the rivers of Babylon, hang their harps on the poplars, and weep for Zion (Ps 137:1-2). In order to know God, they had to pass through the refining fires of suffering. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 362)
One must be driven out from under the possessive features of the false security systems, attached as they are to whatever tangible images our unrealistic thoughts evoke. There must follow the exile into silence and abandonment until we learn to hear the newer word from God. Only by abandonment of the images, and by the movement into holy emptiness, can one learn to wait until the joyous comes. (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 998)
In these closing moments of this age, the Lord will have a people whose purpose for living is to please God with their lives. In them, God finds His own reward for creating man. They are His worshipers. They are on earth only to please God, and when He is pleased, they also are pleased.
The Lord takes them farther and through more pain and conflicts than other men. Outwardly, they often seem “smitten of God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4). Yet to God, they are His beloved. When they are crushed, like the petals of a flower, they exude a worship, the fragrance of which is so beautiful and rare that angels weep in quiet awe at their surrender. They are the Lord’s purpose for creation.
One would think that God would protect them, guarding them in such a way that they would not be marred. Instead, they are marred more than others. Indeed, the Lord seems pleased to crush them, putting them to grief. For in the midst of their physical and emotional pain, their loyalty to Christ grows pure and perfect. And in the face of persecutions, their love and worship toward God become all-consuming.
Would that all Christ’s servants were so perfectly surrendered. (Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds, 93-4)
Knowing God does not come by avoiding suffering–it comes through suffering. Suffering brings increased knowledge of God. Remember what Paul wrote to the Philippians about the overriding passion of his life: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). Paul did not expect to know God except through suffering. He understood that the Christian life is often equal parts suffering and glory. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 362)
Those who have been carried off into exile, on the other hand, have suffered shipwreck. The illusory securities of the narrow nationalist religion of the temple are shattered. They are therefore one step nearer to the liberation of their souls since they are liberated from the hypnotizing powers of their false hopes. They are on the verge of learning what Jeremiah has already perceived, that the focus of life in the tangible temple and its city is not essential to a genuine relationship with God. Therefore the exiles are the potential good figs. (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 997-8)
We have no record of any wide-spread repentance on a national level. But Yahweh would act independently through his sovereignty to preserve a remnant. This was not a matter of personal salvation for each exile. It was an example of Yahweh acting in history to keep alive the messianic hope. God would bring back a remnant from Babylon so the promise would remain with the seed of Abraham and the descendants of David. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 232)
The real difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not their attitude toward sin…the difference is their attitude toward their good deeds. The Pharisee repents of sin, but the Christian repents of his or her ‘righteousness’ as well, seeing it not only as insufficient, but sinful itself, since it was done in order to save ourselves without Christ. (Tim Keller, The Content of the Gospel, 27)
The etymological root of the English word virtue is the Latin virtus which means “manliness”, courage, virtue” from the Latin vir = man. The Romans derived the word virtus to denote the sum of excellent qualities of man, including physical strength, valorous conduct, and moral rectitude. (Webster College Dictionary, 1030). With this knowledge, from a Christian perspective; Pastor Keith would like you to consider that one could not be truly human unless one was virtuous.
The promises God made to the exiles from Judah were all covenant promises. He offered them nothing less than the chief blessing of the covenant–personal knowledge of himself. In his book, Knowing God, J. I. Packer begins a chapter entitled “Knowing and Being Known” like this:
What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jer 9:23 f.). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of Himself. “I desire. . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hos 6:6) (J. I. Packer, Knowing God, 29). (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 362)
The deepest desire of our hearts is for union with God. God created us for union with himself: This is the original purpose of our lives. —Brennan Manning
He is a miserable man who knows all things, and does not know God; and he is happy who knows God, even though he knows nothing else. —St. Augustine
I believe that maturity in Christ isn’t so much being good, but realizing how many places one lacks goodness. (Steve Brown newsletter, April 1998)
We have been made for relationship with God. Therefore it is not surprising that we long to meet and know God. But the God we seek is the God we want, not the God who is. We fashion a god who blesses without obligation, who lets us feel his presence without living his life, who stands with us and never against us, who gives us what we want, when we want it. We worship a god of consumer satisfaction, hoping the talismans of guitars and candles or organs and liturgy will put us in touch with God as we want him to be. (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 65-6)
For the Christian, all troubles are temporary. Most of them will not even last seventy years, although some may last a lifetime. The Apostle Peter had a wonderful way of talking about the limits of tribulation. He was completely honest about the griefs, sufferings, and trials of the Christian life. But he insisted on saying that these things would last only “a little while.” “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Pt 1:6). “The God of all grace. . . after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (5:10). Peter shrank sufferings down to size by placing them next to the yardstick of eternity. Thanks to God’s overcoming grace, they will only last “a little while.” Soon Christ will come to take us home for good. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 365)
After purification in Babylon, the exiles will return, whereas those left in Jerusalem will be slain at the destruction of the city. What appeared in 597 B.C. to be all disaster, the Lord will overrule for good. Judgment will have its intended result. Jeremiah was right: the future of the nation lay with its exiled portion. Physical restoration to the land would be followed by spiritual renewal (v. 7). God foretold their reinstatement into the original covenant (cf. 31:31-34)–an event in the distant future. (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 528-9)
It is of no use our hoping that we shall be well-rooted if no March winds have passed over us. The young oak cannot be expected to strike its roots so deep as the old one. Those old gnarlings on the roots, and those strange twistings of the branches, all tell of many storms that have swept over the aged tree. But they are also indicators of the depths into which the roots have dived. (C.H. Spurgeon, “A New-Year’s Bendediction,” in War Cry, January 1, 1994)
There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life. — Montaigne
II- Bad is living out of harmony with God’s will. (Jer 24:8-10; see also: Dt 28; 29:19; Ps 5:9; Isa 53:6; 56:11; 58:13; Jer 29:1-14; Ez 11:5-8, 14-21; 33:24; Rom 3:9-20; 8:5-13; Gal 5:16-25)
Jeremiah is telling the people that the exiles in Babylon are nearer to Yahweh than those who have remained at home beside the temple, for those who have remained at home worship him wrongly. They are still constrained by the Josian reformation and its doctrine of the inviolability of the temple. Thus the conventions of orthodoxy, and the temple itself, are substituted for the direct relation with Yahweh. Their false center of worship corrupts their images and falsifies their lives. They are thus the bad figs. Nothing corrupts like a false conception of a true religion. (George Arthur Buttrick, Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, 997)
The bad figs represented the people who stayed in Jerusalem. They thought that they were the favored sons, that they still had the blessings that belonged to God’s chosen people. They also thought that they would be safe in Jerusalem. What God had told them to do was to go to Babylon instead of staying in Jerusalem. But they were unwilling to do this because they knew exile would involve suffering. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 358)
Man was made to glorify God–“man’s chief end”, the Shorter Catechism tells us, “is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. And, you see, if we only defined sin as the failure to do that, we would see how everybody is a sinner, and we would see how the most respectable people can sometimes be the most terrible sinners. They have never been guilty of certain particular sins–of course not, but they do not glorify God; they glorify themselves. So many people say, “I cannot feel that I am a sinner, I have never felt it.” That is because they are thinking in terms of sins; if only they saw that sin is really just a failure to glorify God with the whole of their being all the time, they would see that they are terrible sinners. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 1, 64)
What about the group remaining in the land at that time? God would deal with them as those who were strangers to the covenant of grace. They had no part in Yahweh’s plan for the nations. Jeremiah used such words as abhorrent, offense, reproach, byword, ridicule, and cursing when he spoke of them. God would do with them the same thing we do with food so rotten we cannot eat it. Their uncleanness disqualified them for enjoying the blessings of living on the land he had promised to Moses and Joshua. The expression live in Egypt may have referred to those who had already fled to Egypt or those who would go there after the fall of Jerusalem. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 232)
The doom awaiting the Jews in Judah and Egypt is now detailed. The new exiles will witness the same privations as the previous ones had. The people had failed to repent. Those left behind became more hardened in their wickedness. The broad prediction in v. 9 surely looks beyond the imminent Babylonian exile to a world-wide dispersion. The prophecy of v. 10 was fulfilled in part in the Fall of Jerusalem in Nebuchadnezzar’s day (cf. Dt 28:25, 37) but more so in the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman emperor Titus in A. D. 70 (cf. Mt 23:38). (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 529)
- The bad figs represent Zedekiah and his courtiers, and for them a bleak future is prophesied. Jeremiah’s estimate of those who remained in the land coincided with that of Ezekiel (cf. Ezek 11:5-6, 14-21; 33:24). Jeremiah did not mean that those in exile were intrinsically better than the remnant in Judah but that the purpose of God in his unmerited favor promised them a bright future. Those who remained with Zedekiah were yet to be scattered in disgrace. (Notice Jeremiah’s letter [29:1-14] to the self-complacent in exile.) (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Jeremiah, 529)
The people who remained in Jerusalem and the surrounding area in 597 B.C. felt they were the ones delivered by God’s grace. This was because, according to them, they were “special” to him. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 231)
God alone knows what is good for human beings and God alone knows what is not good for them. To enjoy the “good” we must trust God and obey him. If we disobey, we will have to decide for ourselves what is good and what is not good. While to modern men and women such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humanity. (John Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 101)
“I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country…into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight wh. He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which wd. Be real delight if only we were allowed to get it. The thing just isn’t there.
Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us—a false picture or else a false picture which would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. Therefore God does really in a sense contain evil—i.e. contains what is the real motive power behind all our evil desires. He knows what we want, even in our vilest acts: He is longing to give it to us. He is not looking on from the outside at some new “taste” or “separate desire of our own.” Only because he has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good. You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse. (The Quotable C. S. Lewis, page 265 # 615)
(Commenting on St. Augustine’s theological influence on Milton:)
“1. God created all things without exception good, and because they are good, “No Nature (i.e., no positive reality) is bad and the word Bad denotes merely privation of good.”…
- What we call bad things are good things perverted…This perversion arises when a conscious creature becomes more interested in itself than in God,…and wishes to exist “on its own.”…This is the sin of Pride…
- From (Augustine’s) doctrine of good and evil it follows (a) That good can exist without evil,…but not evil without good…(b) That good and bad angels have the same Nature, happy when it adheres to God and miserable when it adheres to itself…
- Though God has made all creatures good He foreknows that some will voluntarily make themselves bad…and also foreknows the good use which He will then make of their badness…For as He shows His benevolence in creating good Natures, He shows his justice in exploiting evil wills…Whoever tries to rebel against God produces the result opposite to his intention. (The Quotable C. S. Lewis, 266 # 618)
III- God will bless good and curse bad. (Jer 24:6-7, 9-10; see also: Dt 11:26-29; chps 28-30; Josh 8:34; Ps 1; Prv 3:33)
What do you do with rotten figs? You reject them and throw them away! What do you do with tasty, good figs? You preserve them and enjoy them! God promised to care for the exiles, work in their hearts, and one day bring them back to their land. (Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 125)
The destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Judah were not accidents; they were appointments, for God was in control. Now the land would enjoy its Sabbaths (2 Chr 36:21; Lv 25:1-4), and the people exiled in Babylon would have time to repent and seek the Lord. In far-off Babylon, God the Potter would remake His people (Jer 18), and they would return to the land chastened and cleansed. (Warren Wiersbe, Be Decisive, 125)
The right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping…You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.” (The Quotable C. S. Lewis, 268 #622)
The Judean leaders had been deported so as to remove potential trouble-makers. The early-ripening figs, maturing in June, were valued as a delicacy (cf. Isa 28:4; Hos 9:10), and contrasted sharply with the rotten figs. They symbolized two classes of people: the good, who would turn penitently to the Lord (7), and the bad, who would continue in their old rebellious ways. The former were now in Babylon, shocked into repentance, and committed to the single-minded worship of God. They would thus receive divine blessing and experience the reversal of the threats of 1:10. The latter, who were present in Jerusalem, would feel the full weight of divine anger because of their hopeless degradation. (R.K. Harrison, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Jeremiah, 124)
In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment. (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 137)
God doesn’t always do what the unregenerate world thinks he should do. (Max Anders, Holman OT Commentary: Jeremiah, 230)
“Compassion flows of His goodness and goodness without justice is not goodness. God spares us because He is good, but He could not be good if He were not just. When God punishes the wicked, Anselm concludes, it is just because it is consistent with their deserts; and when He spares the wicked it is just because it is compatible with His goodness; so God does what becomes Him as the supremely good God. This is reason seeking to understand, not that it may believe but because it already believes.” (A. W. Tozer; The Knowledge of the Holy, 88)
In former days when we wanted to know a person’s views on a particular topic, we would pose the question like this: “What do you think about that?” Now the question is usually stated differently: “What do you feel about that?” The accent has changed from thinking to feeling. Feelings have become the new standard of human “truth.” Even our ethics are decided by the litmus test of passion. Our moral creed is “If it feels good, it is good.” Or, to state it in musical terms that light up our lives, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” ( R.C. Sproul; Lifeviews, 43-4)
Ernest Hemingway said, “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” The fact that he eventually killed himself suggests that he finished up feeling as bad as it is possible to feel, and by his own definition his life must have been deeply immoral. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 104)
Worship Point: Worship the Good Shepherd God who has Good news for bad men.
Gospel Application: The Gospel of Jesus is Good news for Bad men. Through faith in Christ God regards repentant humans as good, righteous, holy and worthy of entering into His presence and thus into heaven. (Gn 15:6; Jer 24:5; Rom 4:3-24; 2 Cor 5:21; Gal 3:6; Phil 3:8-10; )
We are not good. We have broken the whole Law of God. But God regards us as good because of the work of Jesus Christ. Whoever trusts in Christ for salvation looks good to God. According to this gracious reckoning, everyone who trusts in Christ is counted among the righteous. “Consider Abraham: ‘He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Gal 3:6). (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 363)
The exiles from Judah were not good. They were just as rotten as the rest of God’s figs. Like the others, they had ignored God’s warnings to turn away from sin. But God was going to regard them as good anyway. He was going to consider or reckon them good, not based on their merits, but because of his grace. (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Jeremiah, 363)
Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. — Blaise Pascal
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again.
…Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power–it is after all this and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 38-9)
If we can’t accept our own failure and sin, then we can never escape it. Paradoxically, we can find the good life only when we understand we aren’t good. Denial of evil always produces tragedy, in our own lives and in the community at large. We have to understand the evil in ourselves before we can truly embrace the good in life. (Charles Colson, The Good Life, 33)
The gospel is not at all what we would come up with on our own. I, for one, would expect to honor the virtuous over the profligate. I would expect to have to clean up my act before even applying for an audience with a Holy God. But Jesus told of God ignoring a fancy religious teacher and turning instead to an ordinary sinner who pleads, “God, have mercy.” Throughout the Bible, in fact, God shows a marked preference for “real” people over “good” people. In Jesus’ own words, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 54)
We need to bear in mind that much of the spiritual leadership had passed to Babylon, after Jeremiah and others along with him had felt forced to flee to Egypt. This Babylonian community of exiles, whose status must itself have been considerably affected by what had happened in 587, became the central focus for the hope of Israel’s eventual restoration. Henceforth the idea of “return” (from exile, coupled with a “turning back” to God in repentance) was to become the central key to an understanding of the hope of Judaism. (R.E. Clements, Interpretation: Jeremiah, 146)
Spiritual Challenge: Know God better and endeavor to see the world, others, yourself, and deeds done through the grid of God’s definition of good and not man’s.
In Tournier’s words: . . . believers who are most desperate about themselves are the ones who express most forcefully their confidence in grace. There is a St. Paul. . . and a St. Francis of Assisi, who affirmed that he was the greatest sinner of all men; and a Calvin, who asserted that man was incapable of doing good and of knowing God by his own power. . .
“It is the saints who have a sense of sin.” as Father Danielou says; “the sense of sin is the measure of a soul’s awareness of God.” (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 183)
Spiritual Challenge Questions:
- How does aligning with God’s definition of “good” clear up a lot of complaints against God that He sends “good” people to hell just because they fail to acknowledge Him?
- Do you believe the Bible (and Jesus) that no one is good except God alone?
- Augustine (and several Christian thinkers since) taught that only good can exist on its own. Evil (bad) is a parasite because it is only a corruption or twisting of the good. Therefore, it has no reality or existence outside of the good which it is perverting, corrupting or twisting. How could this teaching influence and affect your prayer life? . . . Your approach to Satan and his schemes?
So What?: Man’s good is relative to constant changes in culture and values. God’s good is eternal. A life lived in harmony with God’s good will reap eternal rewards. A life lived in harmony with man’s good produces (at best) temporary worldly benefits.
One of the most remarkable changes in America’s social mores in recent years has to do with changing attitudes toward smoking. Not too long ago cigarette smoking was portrayed on TV as the height of sophistication and an indispensable component of the “good life.” Incredibly good-looking young women exuding health and sex appeal elegantly placed cigarettes between their ruby lips and, leaning back languidly, breathed out wreaths of smoke into the sultry evening air. Meanwhile, the Marlboro man, with jawline straight as an arrow and penetrating eyes, gazed from under the rim of his ten-gallon hat intensely into a distance that hinted of adventure. These ads were selling lies. The Marlboro man model, incidentally, was far from healthy; he died of AIDS. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 107)
ALONE IS GOOD