What does it mean to be a “good” person? One usually recognizes a good person by what they do. Some of the qualities that we look for in good people are: helpful, caring, loving, kind, understanding, etc. Those who do such things are often labeled “good”.
Goodness has nothing to do with the spiritual life. Goodness has everything to do with the spiritual life. These two seemingly contradictory statements are clearly presented in the Bible as simultaneously true.
The Holy Scriptures make a big deal out of the teaching that good works cannot save. Salvation is found only in God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. St. Paul emphasized this teaching in Romans, especially in chapters 3-6. When it comes to salvation we have nothing to boast about except God’s good. In that sense, goodness has nothing to do with the spiritual life.
The Bible also makes a big deal out of the teaching that good works will follow faith and are an integral part of a Christian life. Read the Letter of James for a summary of this point. Those who would follow Jesus Christ will do good things. Goodness has everything to do with the spiritual life.
A dictionary will define a good thing as that which is morally right. In our self absorbed society good is often defined as those things that satisfy our desires and give us pleasure. In other words, if an action makes me feel good, does not hurt someone else, and gives me enjoyment, it must be morally right for me; it must be good.
Let us consider classical terminology that crosses many moral and religious systems. There is a difference between a delectable good and a perfective good. A delectable good is that which gives immediate delight. Eating delicious food is an example of an action which gives immediate delight and is therefore a delectable good. A perfective good is that which makes us better as persons in some way. When eating, the perfective good is the nutrition that good food provides. What we discover about eating is that nutritional value is often found in foods that do not taste as good as those with less nutritional value. So we learn that there is a difference between what gives us delight and what makes us better.
Now there are actions which make us better people and some which get us into trouble. There are things we do that give us pleasure and things that disappoint us. As life goes on we develop an awareness that we face a problem. We often prefer the delectable good to the perfective good. It is easy to get confused and go through life drifting from one pleasure to another, yet wondering why we are so unhappy. The classical goal of education was to help people take delight in doing what makes them better people. Lasting happiness depends on learning to choose the perfective good over the delectable good. In every aspect we can discover that habitually choosing the perfective good is actually more delectable. Hopefully we can learn that getting a good feeling from something is not necessarily a great reason for doing it. Feelings are often unreliable guides to do good. We must be taught to find delight in the perfective good and not base our existence on the delectable good. That is part of a morality that is sadly lacking in many of our lives.
We must acknowledge that our personal judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, can be mistaken. We must admit that, even when we know the good thing to do, we sometimes fail to do it.
Human intellect and divine faith work together to inform both mind and heart and help us to be good people. With the grace of God we can transform the desires for pleasure, comfort, and sex that have been corrupted and twisted by the disease of sin into truth, goodness, and beauty. Goodness does have everything to do with the spiritual life when it comes to living day by day among our families, communities, and world. Only when we learn what is good will we recognize and be sickened by what is evil. Let us turn away with the help of God from what is base to love what is noble. In this way we can become good people.