On page ten of Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants, all brave, sensitive or wonderfully direct people are put in their place. At least when it comes to the scar on Tina’s face.
She wrote, “The grossest move is when they say they’re only curious because ‘it’s so beautiful.’ Ugh. Disgusting. They might as well walk up and say, ‘May I be amazing at you?’”
Fey’s clever quip shows that a universal “good” behavior is not that easy to pull off. We rarely like the same things, appreciate the same approaches or measure kind, moral, good behavior by the same benchmarks.
It’s not a new problem. Case in point: pretty much everybody in the New Testament book of Galatians.
If ever there were a disconnect between “good” vs. “so NOT good and P.S. get away from me while you’re at it,” it would be this juncture when the religious elite were pushing outward signs of “good” while the author (and main character), Paul, was pushing a your-heart-trumps-everything mantra.
Paul was broadcasting this in part because the religious elites’ outward signs of “good” were supposed to express renewed, contrite, changed hearts.
They didn’t. At least not according to Paul.
He thought the religious elite were foolish and biting and exclusive thanks to hidden motives that were written all over their faces. Or, as Tina Fey once tweeted, “’And make it obvious.’ – what I assume some ladies getting plastic surgery say.”
Paul was new to this faith rodeo, so a new convert with a fresh tell-it-like-it-is-faith might have been a lot for the religious elite to take.
Still, their stand on what constituted “good” is a little odd, because they liked to say they took the Bible seriously. Emphatically. Literally.
So let’s do.
Long, long, long before Paul hit the Galatians’ speaking circuit, knowing-the-heart beat out the biblical company-line-on-“good” in one plotline after another.
Back in the days when “burnt offerings,” or outward signs of repentance or worship or drawing closer to God were enormously important, the famous Bible hero of yore, David, wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire…”
He went on, “You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it…the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”
Heart trumped burnt offerings even back then.
Why hadn’t rumor about that spread to the Galatians? Paul said to the Galatians, “How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?”
Because living by the Spirit is hard.
It’s no cakewalk to be “good” by our own effort, but living by the Spirit is not so easy either.
For one thing, nobody likes to be bossed around. As Tina Fey tweeted, “There was a piece of chocolate cake in the fridge and a note, ‘Don’t eat me.’ Now there’s an empty plate and a note, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’”
For another thing, it might help if jumping in line with God’s idea of “good” would come with instructions that are easy to follow. That relationship David had with God took a lot of trial and error – heavy on the error.
Growth is hard. Maturity is hard. We get it wrong a lot more than we get it right. Tina Fey once tweeted, “No one your age has any idea what they’re doing either. No matter what age you are.”
With that lack of clarity, it is not surprising that we settle on “good,” that allows us to wrench some semblance of control over our circumstances.
That might be good. It might even be the right thing to do. But it was not the silver bullet that Paul was talking about, that the Galatians had started to know and that David had come full circle to believe with all his heart.
God set before people a blessing and a curse. The blessing? Him. The curse? Mistaking the blessing for not a blessing.
It is a blessing that promises we need not slide back into doing the very things that we do not want to do. It is a blessing under which we love ourselves but not all the way over to conceited jerks.
It is a blessing where we live in freedom. Hard work. Firm stands. Healed. Restored.
And, just to mess with us, it is also a blessing through which we do “good.” Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
There is a bold, weighty, urgent “good,” championed by a God who promises to be in the trenches with us and much, much more.
It isn’t an easy thing to believe. It wasn’t easy for David. It did not prove easy five hundred pages later for the Galatians.
Admitting it’s hard is not the problem. Striving to do it on our own is where things start to go awry. A condition we are not unfamiliar with, as Tina Fey once tweeted, “I know my limits. I don’t pay attention to them, but I know them.”
What if we try? To pay attention. And attempt “good” through the blessing of God. Knowing nobody’s mastered this approach without some scrapes along the way. David’s contrite heart came at the cost of, well, building a relationship with a God who cared about David’s heart.
It takes time, as with any relationship. Would He meet us, as He did the Galations of yore and David long before that?
We’d have to try Him and find out.
He wishes we would.