I probably should title this blog in my alphabetical series: “G Is for THE Good,” because this familiar and pleasant word becomes only a weak description or moderate recommendation as an adjective.
So, something is good. For whom? Under what conditions? For how long? we might ask.
But “THE Good” as noun—as a universal quality—implies that there is an ultimate standard toward which to aim, stopping just short of “God” as a G-word.
THE Good is something we all ought to love and celebrate and take our cues for living from—if only we knew what it was!
In Plato, the image of the sun conveys something of the nature of The Good to humans: “The sun … not only furnishes to those that see the power of visibility but it also provides for their generation and growth and nurture.”
Still, even though we live literally in the light and heat of this metaphor, and could not exist without the good of the sun, the concept of The Good remains elusive and difficult even (or especially) for philosophers.
Is there any practical way to approach this difficult subject?
I am fascinated by what English theologian Don Cupitt calls “solar ethics”—committing ourselves to live as the sun shines: that is, to do what we were created to do without concern for recognition, permanence, or reward.
There is something total and satisfying about contemplating the sun being the sun even as it burns itself out in the process of its fulfillment. Isn’t that also the essence of being fully alive?
Theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson writes, in the spirit of this insight: “We have old lessons to learn from the sun, earth, and sky: how the sun gives so much away and does not ask the earth for repayment.”
If there is a way to know The Good, as humans, it will certainly be by being exactly what we are and ever consciously choosing to move in the direction of what we perceive to be that ultimate Source—whatever we call it (Good or God).
Yet—perhaps we should be less concerned about what we do and look more at what we’ve neglected of the good through indecision and doubt.
Shakespeare wrote: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
And George Bernard Shaw said: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent in doing nothing.”
Taking SOME step in SOME direction in our life seems to participate in The Good merely through our intent to live fully.
Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “He who wants to do good, knocks at the gate; he who loves finds the gates open.”
As I have gotten older, I think less (hardly at all) about parsing every human act to judge it “sin” or “virtue” (as my tradition taught we should do).
Surely “moving toward the Good” as a goal—and enabling others to do the same—is a better focus for us than a judgmental spirit. And it will require us to bring all of our humanness and failure along with us—we have no other options.
William Saroyan wrote: “Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success, you know.”
But we need a richer language for our journey, and traveling toward The Good in our thinking and in our hearts can be a beginning.
How we define our lives and our goals truly matters. We are laying out blueprints in the cosmos as places to build, spiritually speaking.
Harold Whitman wrote: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
And the wonderful John O’Donohue wrote in Anam Cara: “Love is the light in which we see light. … If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility, and depth.”
I’d say it’s hard to get any closer to understanding The Good than that.
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27).
“A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”
—St. Francis of Assisi.