What Makes a Person Good?

I read a post this morning by Derek Leman, Whatever Happened to On, Son of Peleth.  You can read the post if you want to learn who On, son of Peleth is.  What I want to do here is interact with something that Derek says:

“God’s mercy triumphs over his judgment. Those who begin in rebellion can still extricate themselves from judgment. Those who uproot the will to do the deed are as those who uproot the deed itself.

“Is our sense of God’s mercy that strong? Do we assume sinners that we see as we go about our daily lives are people likely to find redemption? Do we sneer when we see a Zacchaeus-like character doing something religious or charitable? Or do we, like Yeshua, grant their actions and words credibility, welcoming them into the kingdom of heaven?”

What makes a person good?  What makes a deed good?  I remembering watching Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Years ago, and, in one episode, a tornado was hitting the town.  Hank, the bad boy of the show, the guy who owned the saloon, pimped prostitutes, and often did not care for anybody but himself (yet showed a soft side every now and then), was about to save someone’s life.  “Hank’s trying to get some heaven points,” someone watching the show with me said.  You do have to wonder why Hank suddenly started acting altruistically!  I doubt it was a sign of his genuine character!

I also think of Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.  “It is too late for me, my son.”  He didn’t feel that he could turn to good, for he was so far along on the bad path.  One act—-throwing the Emperor into the shaft when the Emperor was shocking Luke—-marked Darth Vader’s turn from darkness to light.

I can do a good deed here, but does that make me a good person, if I have a flaw there?  Some Christians talk as if God does not accept incomplete obedience.  Some Christians also like to focus on the motive behind a good deed.  Is it to earn salvation?  Is it to get approval from others?  If so, then it doesn’t count.  Or so they say.

Can a random good deed make a person good?  How many good deeds does one have to do before one counts as good?  I wonder this myself.  Reaching out to others is not particularly natural to me.

Then there’s grace.  God accepts me as righteous, even if technically I am not, on account of what Jesus did.  But I’m hesitant to believe that, since I don’t want to be like the Christian jerks I know—-people who are far from loving, yet take refuge in God’s grace.  And yet, then again, who am I to say that they should not trust God’s grace?  I just wish it would lead to them being more loving.  But who am I to talk?  There are people who can say the same thing about me!

This may come as a surprise to you, but this is actually one of the few days when I am not stressing out over these questions.  My blogging and my state of mind are not always the same thing.  Today, I just prefer to let myself and others be, without worrying about whether I am perfect, or even good.  That doesn’t mean that I will do bad.  It just means that I refuse to make the perfect the enemy of the good.  If I were stressing out over these issues today, this post would communicate that—-you’d see anger, you’d see ranting, you’d see passion.

The sun is shining.  The wind is blowing.  Why blow a perfectly good day on introspection that leads to negative thinking?  Unfortunately, in my case, thinking about religion contributes to precisely that.  So I’ll be pretty selective today about the sermons I listen to!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to What Makes a Person Good?

  1. When the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing, isn’t it so easy to lose oneself in happiness? That’s how I feel when I am in the back tangling with my weeds and working my hands back and forth in the dirt. I let all of the deep stuff flow away and bask in the simple moments, that is peace and tranquility for me. I am glad that you are having one of those days James 😀


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Good choices of words. 😀


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