Loving People into Goodness
I’ve been pondering these words of C. S. Lewis for years: “God doesn’t love us because we are good; because God loves us, God makes us good.” This goodness (dikaiosune in Greek) is deep and sweet, yet also courageous and virtuous. It is an attractive goodness, like what you see in a really good grandmother. For such a person, we behave in kind, brave, even honorable ways that surprise us. We go the extra mile without thinking about it.
God can love people into goodness in several ways, one of which is how God loves us through certain people. For example, I’ve noticed how a certain person in my life treats me in a loving way and the result is to make me good (or a little better) without my trying to be. This person in my life loves me into goodness by:
- loving me for my own self, not for what I do or accomplish;
- not joining others who praise me for things that are not wholly good (pushing the river, performing, making a big deal over him);
- not running over me, and not allowing me to run over him;
- believing in me by pointing me beyond where I am; he sort of spots the smallest amount of goodness in me and seems to assume it is all of me. He might say, “I know that you… (something good that is me only 5% of the time), and I think,Yes, God, let it be so!
In other words, this person sees the best about me and capitalizes on it. Such treatment woos my rebellious, contrary self into goodness.
Think of how Jesus interacted with Zacchaeus, the hated extortionist-racketeer. As far as we know, Z climbed up in the tree only because he longed to see this strange “friend of tax collectors.” Jesus took that small good longing and built on it: stopping where Z was hidden, noticing him – really looking at him – and saying “Hurry and come down; I want to stay at your place.” In the face of such radical acceptance, Z repented, experiencing a change of heart and life in the very town where he was hated.
Jesus accepted people as they truly were and reached out to them, inviting them to become the kind of persons they wanted to be. Maybe this is part of what is meant by:
Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Lk 6:35-36). And, love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6).
So instead of being annoyed at people for their faults or their negative behavior toward me, I want to be willing to reach out and love them. Perhaps they will cooperate with the Holy Spirit in being loved into goodness – or perhaps not. I don’t necessarily expect my love to change people. The other person may not even notice how I’ve loved them. I want to do this because I sense God inviting me into the beauty of being obedient by offering love to others, as I have been loved by God and people who walk in love.
Grace and peace,
© Jan Johnson – For permission to reprint, Click Here