Good vs Bad, Part 3

Good vs Bad, Part 3

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

One of the defining differences between churchianity and Christianity has to do with how concretely good and bad are defined. Some churches and religious leaders are quick to point fingers and condemn those who do not live by the standards they preach (often including themselves). Many of those standards are only arguably related to anything Jesus said or did. Certainly any teaching that ostracizes or excludes others as unworthy of God’s love and care is not based on the message or life of Jesus. Rather, the purpose of those types of standards is more about controlling others and making them believe their salvation depends on the teaching of the church or their religious leader. That is exactly the sort of control sought by the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day and that drew his harshest criticisms. They were misleading people in the name of God. It wasn’t that they were bad people, per se, but they were deceiving others by focusing the attention of their followers on the wrong things.

It is not that bad and evil do not exist. Certainly they do. But bad does not always mean an intentionally insensitive act, nor does bad always equal evil. Everyone does bad things on occasion in the sense that we do things that end up being uncaring or hurtful towards others, often just thoughtlessly. Evil, on the other hand, is a manifestation of a social system – a group of people who have codified certain behaviors over time, usually generations, that benefit one group of people at the expense of others. When a husband leaves the toilet seat up, that may be considered bad, as in inconsiderate, behavior. When a society has laws with built-in prejudices and favoritisms that provide privileged benefits to a few while making life harder for others, that society has systems of evil in place, many of which are difficult to identify and disentangle because they are woven so tightly into the fabric of the society.

I am aware of churches that require couples who have been living together to stand before the congregation and confess their “sin” prior to the church allowing them to be married in that church. It seems a perplexing disincentive to require a couple to humiliate themselves prior to being allowed to comply with the church’s definition of God’s “will,” i.e., getting married in order to live together. Contrast this with Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in the act of adultery[1] or the woman at the well[2]. There was no condemnation, only love and acceptance in order to move forward. As an aside, it is interesting that the men involved in these two stories are not mentioned nor, presumably, condemned for their part, likely the dominant and instigating part, in the undesirable behavior. No doubt, the patriarchal society of Jesus’ day let men off the hook for activities it condemned in women, which is an example of a systemic injustice.

In his Sermon on the Plain[3] Jesus illustrates the circular nature of our life experiences, rotating from good to bad and bad to good. He says, “Blessed are you who weep (bad), for you will laugh (good).” A few verses later he says, “Woe to you who are laughing now (good), for you will…weep (bad).” Some people understand these words to mean we will pay for our happiness with suffering, so the best way to avoid suffering is to avoid happiness. I believe this is a perversion of the teaching. Rather, Jesus is stating what should be obvious: as long as we label some things as good and others as bad, we will continue waffling between the two, just as the moon waffles through its phases between new and full. Perhaps we are better off accepting whatever is as the phase our life is in now without labeling it in positive or negative terms. The unfortunate outcome of trying to avoid whatever we label as bad is that by so doing, we often short-circuit the natural movement of God in our lives. Just because something is unpleasant for a time does not make it inherently bad or evil. When we condemn certain behaviors or occurrences as bad we often bring more of those bad behaviors or occurrences into our lives because we are working against the way God created the world to develop. None of which is to say we should not commit ourselves to working for a better and more just world.

Discerning bad things that need love and mercy from bad things that need condemnation is a life-long and imperfect process. I suggest erring on the side of love and mercy, however.

This is the 38th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] John 8:1-11

[2] John 4:1=42

[3] Luke 6:14-49

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