The universal tragedy of being good


Holy, holy, is what the angels sing,

And I expect to help them make the courts of Heaven ring;

But when I sing redemption’s story, they will fold their wings,

For angels never felt the joys that our salvation brings.

Johnson Oatman, Jr. (1856-1922)

Think of the host of angelic voices that pierced the darkness of night to announce the birth of a suffering savior. How can you appreciate light if you have never known the fear of darkness? How can you appreciate love if you have never known the absence of it? How can you know what it is to be found if you have never been lost? How can you know mercy if you have never needed it?

When you have spent your whole life trying to be good, and you’ve been relatively successful at it, you are of all people to be most pitied. The part that makes this sadness most operable is the “relatively successful” part. If you had failed miserably at trying to be good and you know it, you are much better off than the one who hasn’t. Understand, being relatively good is a serious flaw in the way in which you perceive yourself. It doesn’t mean you have been relatively good, it means that you think you have. It takes a good deal of self-deception to pull this off, but it’s possible. Thinking you are relatively good disqualifies you for mercy and that is a most miserable state since mercy is mankind’s only hope.

I understand mercy intellectually. I get it. That God has locked us all up in sin so He could have mercy on us all. But what if you’ve spent your whole life thinking your sin is only marginal, and this understanding of yourself is firmly rooted in your psyche? How do you root it out? How do you rid yourself of the thought that God is lucky to have you on His team? When the dirty ones get washed, where do the clean ones go? Here, just let me dust myself off a little; I don’t need the bath. Just a little dust from the road.

Too many self-preserving tactics in my inner workings. Too many subtle judgments of others. All of this is neatly protected and reinforced by years of rationalizations. How do you convince yourself that you are a dirty rotten scoundrel to the core when you know better?

When the only hope for sinners eludes the righteous, the righteous are without hope, and the greatest tragedy is that they don’t know it. When the blind think they see, they are twice blind. And if they stay in this state, they will never even know what they missed.

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5 Responses to The universal tragedy of being good

  1. Sandie says:

    Saved by grace for all eternity – relatively easy since all I have to do is accept a gift. Making Jesus Lord of my life however….day by day, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute…now that’s a different story. The first was God’s sacrifice – the last is MY sacrifice…of MYSELF. Paul tells us to “present our bodies a living sacrifice.” This ‘living sacrifice (me),’ keeps trying to crawl off the altar. :/
    Thank God for Phillipians 1:6 …He who has begun the good work (in me) will complete, finish, perfect it! Thank God for GRACE and all the chances we need!

  2. Mark D Seguin says:

    Love the truth in this: “…the righteous are without hope, and the greatest tragedy is that they don’t know it.”

  3. John A Fagliano says:

    I’ve often thought of the story Jesus told of two debtors. One owed $50,000, the other $500. Both were forgiven so who loved more? The one who owed more of course. Now, in a humorous way I’ve thought “Maybe we should sin a lot now so we could love God more later!” Certainly not what Jesus was saying.

    But it makes me think, what if I owed only $500? How can I be sure I love God enough? Two ways:
    One, My debt of $500 was enormous! If I had 10 or 20 dollars it was all part of what I had to pay back. Now I’m free from that! If I have $600 dollars I now owe nothing. I’ve truly been given grace and should not take that for granted. This awareness leads to the next..
    Two, God actually forgave someone a $50,000 debt! What a God of mercy and grace! There is no way I could be upset or jealous, just in awe instead.
    Sometimes it can be easy to forget just how much God forgives. A good way to remind ourselves is to remember who Saul of Tarsus used to be when we read anything from Romans to Philemon.

  4. Who has ascended into Heaven and descended?
    Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
    Who has wrapped the waters in His garment?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
    What is His name or His son’s name?
    Surely you know!

    Every word of God proves true.
    He is a shield to all who come to Him for protection.
    Do not add to His words,
    or He may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

    O God, I beg two favors from You;
    let me have them before I die.
    First, help me never to tell a lie.
    Second, give me neither poverty nor riches!
    Give me just enough to satisfy my needs.
    For if I grow rich, I may deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?”
    And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s Holy Name.

    If we’ve been foolish in exalting ourselves… we should cover our mouths in shame.
    – Proverbs 30

    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
    a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
    – Psalm 51

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