Someone once asked me whether their being a good person made them a Christian. I did not have the wherewithal to give them the answer they needed at that moment (the story of my life thus far!). I wanted to express the truth that being a Christian is a way of life that is more than just being “a good person.” At the same time I wanted to assure them that I thought that they were in fact a good person – and all the while I’m thinking of the truth that all people, even “good people” are sinners. What came out may have been true, but could not have been very helpful.
What was missing? Why couldn’t I find the right thing to say?
I know with certainty that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. And not just any love – only divine love. My weak human love gave me good intentions, but God was missing from what I said, because I did not remember in my heart the merciful kindness of God towards me – the love with which He made me His own, picking me up from the gutter to share with Him a throne.
In the place of almost any answer one might give a person who asked such a question, imagine speaking to them simply about the goodness of God and the great need that every person has for Him; “good people” and “sons of guns” alike. Why give any soul seeking God something other than God? It is like the example the Lord spoke of in the gospel, of a man giving someone a stone when they ask for a fish.
If you give a man a stone, he’ll toss it aside as worthless, which it indeed is. There are many spiritualities out there that are simply variations on the futile “spirituality” of self-sufficiency that we will practice anyway, with or without a specific spiritual doctrine that we follow. If we don’t bring God to people, but bring only theology, they will toss away the stone you gave them and find one of these instead, a prettier stone.
Every person hungers for that sweet surrender to God that they were created for, but need only to be assured that He truly is good by someone who has experienced it for themselves. Not someone who experienced it back years (or months or weeks) ago when he had some profound conversion experience, but when he prayed early that very morning, remembering God’s loving kindness to him in Christ, and joyfully praising Him in his heart.
St Paul, Apostle, pray for us!