Being Good Vs. Doing Good

“Why do you call me good? None is good except God alone.”

Checked thus, the youth turns to the question which, working in his heart, had brought him running, and made him kneel: what good thing shall he do that he may have eternal life? He thought to gain his objective by a doing, when the very thing desired was a being: he would have that as a possession which must posses him. But the Lord cared neither for isolated truth nor for orphaned deed. It was truth in the inward parts, it was the good heart, the mother of good deeds, he cherished. It was good men he cared about, not notions of good things, or even good actions, save as the outcome of life, of love and will in the soul taking shape and coming forth. He would die to make men good and true. His whole heart would respond to the cry of sad publican or despairing Pharisee, “How am I to be good?”

When the Lord says, “Why askest thou me concerning that which is good?”

we must not put emphasis on the me: he was the proper person to ask, only the question was not the right one. The good thing was a small matter; the good being was all in all. ‘Why ask me about the good thing?’ There is one living good, in whom the good thing, and all good, is alive. Ask me rather about the good person, the god being – the origin of all good. It is not with this or that good thing we have to do, but with that power whence comes our power even to speak the word good. To know God is to be good. It is not to make us do all things right he cares, but to make us hunger and thirst after righteousness.

The youth is looking for some unknown good thing to do, and the Lord sends him back to the doing of what he knows, and that in answer to his question concerning the way to eternal life. He has already more than hinted where the answer lies, namely, in God himself, but that the youth is not yet capable of receiving; he must begin with him farther back:

If thou wouldst enter into life, keep the commandments.

For verily, if the commandments have nothing to do with entering into life, why were they ever given to men? They are the beginning of the way. If a man had kept all those commandments, yet would he not therefore have in him the life eternal; nevertheless, without keeping of the commandments there is no entering into life; the keeping of them is the path to the gate of life. It is not life, but it is the way to it.

The Lord says nothing about the first table of the law: why does he not tell this youth as he did the lawyer, that to love God is everything? He had given him a glimpse of the essence of his own life, had pointed the youth to the heart of all, for him to think of afterwards: he was not ready for it yet. To love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength, and mind, is to know God, and to know him is eternal life. But to begin with that would be as sensible as to say to one asking how to reach the top of some mountain, “Just set your foot on that shining snow-clad peak, high there in the blue, and you will at once be where you wish to go.”

George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons

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