Good, bad, or somewhere in between?
Today’s column considers the role we can each play in bringing out goodness in the world.
—Watch just a few of my friend’s Instagram stories, and you’ll quickly pick up on the theme of her content: “horrible people being horrible.” From politicians to fellow patrons in the grocery store, she regularly features people behaving badly – sometimes for laughs, but often for criticism.
It can be tempting to buy into the idea that some people are just awful. But is the unkindness, rudeness, or cruelty we see in the world just the way some people are, and the kindness, mercy, and compassion we see in others the result of a better upbringing, or better DNA?
One of the most powerful things I’ve learned from my study of Christian Science is that each one of us is fundamentally and genuinely good. And yet, when we look at the people around us, it sure seems as if there’s a whole range: that some are good, some are bad, and others are somewhere in between. So how can anyone say that each individual is good?
I’ve found it helpful to reason through this step by step on the basis that God is good, with no evil mixed in. Through her Bible study and prayers, and through putting the spiritual insights she gained into practice in her life, Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy discovered that what this means for us, as God’s creation, His pure manifestation, is that in reality each individual must also be good. As Mrs. Eddy explains in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” “Man is the expression of God’s being” (p. 470).
Think of that. We are all the actual outcome of what God is! Each of us is proof of His intelligence, grace, mercy, and love.
That’s a pretty awesome view of our identity. But what about the negative stuff we see around us? What are we supposed to make of these very contradictory views of what we all are?
Something I like to keep in mind is that having this view of God as totally good, and of each individual as really and truly good, doesn’t mean making excuses for awful behavior or giving anyone a free pass. We aren’t covering our eyes and pretending everything’s OK while people continue to act in ways that aren’t in line with the way God created them.
Instead, what we can do is to help others wake up to their innate, spiritually established goodness. To see that this goodness is the only thing that could possibly be true about them, no matter what we see on the surface. We can do this by sticking with God’s truth about His creation, because that truth is like a light – destroying the darkness of bad character traits, or anything else that doesn’t match up with those fundamental spiritual facts about God and His expression.
I’ll admit that it’s not always easy. Recently, I had a run-in with someone who was acting like a bully and making my life very difficult. It felt as if it would have been a lot easier to just buy into the suggestion that she wasn’t a very good person. But instead, those spiritual facts about the way God created each of us came to my rescue. As I thought about her one day, it was as if God said to me, “That just couldn’t be the way I made her.”
It sounds so simple, but you know the feeling you get when you hear something that’s true? That’s the feeling I had. Almost like an “Oh, yeah!” My view of this person immediately changed, and I accepted that she was good. And all that other stuff I’d been seeing? I understood that it was nothing more than a mistaken view – which no longer had any power to make me feel upset or frustrated, now that I’d taken to heart what God was revealing about her.
And guess what? Our relationship changed. I wasn’t intimidated by her anymore, and her behavior became very different. We even became friendly with each other, which hadn’t seemed possible before.
It’s a small example, sure, but it’s one that gives me hope for the world. If each of us can take this understanding of the way God made us into our day-to-day interactions, think of all the goodness we could uncover among the people in our communities. And these small proofs of each individual’s real identity would be building blocks for us going forward – helping us bring out that goodness wherever it’s needed the most.
A version of this article ran in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section on March 9, 2018.