The Good and the True
It is the longing I first remember. I desperately wanted to be good. Of course, I tested the boundaries tightly drawn around parental definitions of good and bad, approved, condemned, and censored. It was usually clear that I was not lining up with these oft-voiced thoughts of the good. Yet somehow this didn't seem to enter into my childhood account of the virtue. I wanted to be good. Good in a manner far beyond parents and teachers (though I seemed more eager to please the later than the former). Good in a way that altogether overwhelmed the inane legalisms and relative pieties around me. Good in a way that somehow reached the source itself.
It was Plato who famously argued that we should struggle out of the dark caves of ordinary human existence and towards the eternal Forms—of which the supreme Form is the Good. The pull of goodness was for me the first step toward the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose very name indicates the first step was not my own). I desperately longed to be good, to know Good, to somehow become united with it. Yet unfortunately, when climbing out of dark caves, churchly regulations and narcissistic perfectionisms look much like the thing you think you are seeking, and the terrifying God who demands perfection seems the terrible schoolmaster who will not have it any other way. No matter how many A's my adolescent efforts were able to manufacture, no matter the good deeds for shut-ins, the outrage at local racism, the attention to ethics in history and in school, God seemed a teacher I could not please.
My pursuit of the good no sooner became an impossible undertaking than it became my most devout undertaking. The God I followed through high school and college was one I feared, though at the time it was not the kind fear that comes from the force of great beauty, but more the terror of insatiable expectation. I did not yet have the words to voice what C.S. Lewis's Orual managed in Till We Have Faces, when she finally had her chance to state her case against the gods. And yet, the first time I heard her words I knew they were my own: "That there should be gods at all, there's our misery and bitter wrong. There's no room for you and us in the same world. You're a tree in whose shadow we can't thrive."
I resigned myself to this God nonetheless. Whether I saw myself more as the wry opportunist keeping one's enemies close or the sad duckling eating out of the hand of the one who plucked all her feathers, in those days God was never far from my mind. I wanted to be good, I wanted to please, I wanted to meet God's approval, I wanted to be united with it. I knew I was failing, but new formulas for success, much like the latest self-help manual, appeared as often as I needed them. Until finally, I resigned myself to failure.
It was in the throes of giving up my defeated attempts to please this divine terror and pursue his Good that his face began to change. Images of good kings, gentle fathers, and untame lions, childhood hopes and fairytales long forgotten, began to appear in thoughts and dreams. Some one or some thing seemed to be on my trail, and I found myself suddenly startled by the troubling idea that I was angry—not because I couldn't reach the higher good myself, nor at the ravenous headmaster who demanded it. No, I was maddened at the thought that the Father who demands perfection could be good and kind Himself. Goodness had so long seemed unattainable that I willed the Source had to be evil or only a myth. I was angry at the possibility of a good God's mere existence. Suddenly my personal quest for perfection seemed disconcertingly not about me, but about a God who might well be both good and true.
The idea of following God because of some good this following would afford me, the idea of following God out of fear, dread, legality, or even hatred—this somehow made sense to me. But the idea of following God because the story was true, because a good God was really there, because Christ indeed was who he said he was—this had never entered my mind.
What if it was all true?
It meant entertaining a new starting point; it meant admitting that I might not have been seeing with all the facts in the first place. It meant that God, though I labored to please him so that I might find him, was there all along.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, truth, and hope. By stirring the imagination and engaging the mind, we want to share the beauty and truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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