Can great men (and women) be good?

A Christian Science perspective: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” As depressing as they may be, these words of British historian Lord Acton from more than 100 years ago are often accurate. Regrettably, reports of criminal and/or sexual misconduct are all too commonplace. And even after the handcuffing and apologies, a cloud of distrust can hang over the public.

Perhaps that was the scene in ancient Israel, when word got out that King David – beloved leader, heroic warrior, and “sweet psalmist of Israel” (II Samuel 23:1) – had committed adultery and intentionally sent the woman’s husband into the front line of battle so that he would be killed. Learning of this shocking news, David’s subjects might have felt his reformation a futile hope.

Fortunately, someone felt otherwise. According to Scripture, the prophet Nathan was sent by God to restore David’s sense of justice. He told David a story about a rich man with many sheep who took the single, beloved lamb owned by a poor man and killed it for a feast. Angered by such wickedness, David called for justice only to learn that the tale was aimed at himself. Realizing this, his integrity came to light. Not denying his guilt, justifying his actions, or shifting the blame, David simply confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (II Samuel 12:13). With this admission and deep repentance, his sense of human decency returned, as did his devotion to the Almighty.

Nathan isn’t here today to bring offenders to their senses. But we’re all here, able to care enough about our fellow man and woman, including our leaders, to help recover their innate, God-given purity. As God directed Nathan, He will surely guide our prayers to restore a sense of integrity to leadership.

If that sounds like a tall order, it helps to first reform our concept of one another. The common notion is that we’re good-and-evil physical beings, separate from our Maker and forever enticed by the flesh. This can lure us into thinking we have license to act immorally, even criminally.

Instead, consider this description by Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “Man’s genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true.” How empowering to accept this view of everyone’s actual spiritual identity. Further, she cautions: “Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity, – namely, reformation” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” pp. 294, 5).

Even the relatively small steps we individually take toward reformation can help arrest society’s tendencies toward corruption. Favoring integrity over personality, purity over crassness, and always considering others’ welfare, we’ll be helping to light the way for those around us, including our leaders. “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light,” counsels the Bible (Ephesians 5:8). It’s not too much to hope that each individual effort and prayer for reform will contribute to supporting others, helping them understand and prove that greatness and goodness are one.

Adapted from a Christian Science Perspective article published May 26, 2011.

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