Sorting Out Good and Bad
Have you ever had a relationship where you thought everything was going okay, and then you didn’t call home when you were going to be late and your partner treated you like you had leprosy?
Or, have you thought you were doing well in golf, and then played a rotten game and felt enormous hatred for yourself? It felt as if you were a total failure, all bad.
Or, have you ever prepared a special meal for friends, planning the perfect evening together, then the cake falls and the whole evening is ruined?
The world around us is good and bad. The people around us are good and bad. We are good and bad.
Our natural tendency is to try and resolve the problem of good and evil by keeping the good and the bad separated. We want, by nature, to experience the “good me,” the “good other,” and the “good world” as all good. To do this, we see the “bad me,” the “bad other,” and the “bad world” as all bad. This creates a split in our experience of ourselves, others and the world around us—a split that is not based on reality and cannot stand the test of time and real life.
This splitting results in an inability to tolerate badness, weakness, and failure in others and ourselves. It leads to two basic problems: sometimes we deny the existence of bad; sometimes we deny the existence of good. We feel like we are all bad when we fail, or we think we are all good when we are doing well.
Dealing with the Good/Bad Conflict
Generally, we deal with the conflict between good and bad in our lives in four different ways, three of which fail.
1. Deny the Bad
Denial is the way some people handle the bad in their lives. People deny feelings that are not part of their “ideal self.” Sometimes people who have been taught that their emotions are not acceptable deny sadness. Denial of emotions leads to depression because sadness is God’s way of dealing with hurt and loss. Some deny sinful feelings such as lust, envy or bitterness. They think that Christians shouldn’t have these feelings, so they deny their existence. The Bible urges people not to deny the badness they have inside, but to get it out into the light of God’s forgiveness.
2. Deny the Good
Some people deny the good. People who feel so under the pile of what “the ideal” demands, do away with standards altogether. As a result, they live in the badness, without any realization that it is bad. Their conscience becomes seared and they have no concept of acting in a way that is wrong.
Another common way people deny the good affects our view of others. We may see a bad characteristic in someone else and draw the conclusion that there is no good in the person. We write them off as all bad.
3. Attack and Judge
Attacking and judging is the most common way of dealing with the bad. Whether we attack others or ourselves, the outcome of being critical and harsh is condemnation and hurt. When we attack the bad, there may be truth in the attack. But, if it is done without grace and acceptance, it accomplishes nothing.
Acceptance of good and bad is the biblical alternative. It is called grace and truth. In this alternative, we deny neither the good nor the bad. We accept and forgive the bad, while clinging to the ideal as an unrealized goal that we strive for in an atmosphere of full acceptance. We stand in grace. This strategy does not split the good and the bad, nor does it get angry and condemning, but it grasps onto both the good and the bad at the same time.
Just as we accept the good and bad in ourselves, we need to accept them in others. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) We must face and deal with the truth, but we must accept, not reject; we must be kind, not angry.
Love and Acceptance
Love is the solution and resolution to all problems of good and bad. When we were in the Garden of Eden, perfectly loved and accepted, good and bad was not an issue. When we disobeyed, good and bad became a paramount issue.
If we have enough love and limits, or grace and truth, we begin to experience the way God relates to us and to learn that we are standing in grace (Romans 5:2), where judgment and condemnation don’t come into the picture. We experience badness and failure as a sad thing for it causes us to miss out on loving someone. If we aren’t worried about condemnation when we sin, we have more energy to be worried about the one we hurt. That is godly sorrow instead of crippling guilt.
Jesus says the whole law could be summed up in the law of love. When we see our failures and sin as a lack of love for another person, instead of “badness,” then we have moved to a more mature way of seeing issues of good and bad.
This is true of ourselves as well. If, when we sin, we can see how our sin hurts us, instead of calling ourselves “bad people,” we can begin to get out of the slavery of the “law of sin and death.” Only when we get a picture of the self-destructive nature of our sin do we begin to change. Guilt manipulation does not work; it only makes us sin all the more. “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (Romans 5:20)
This is the simple truth of the gospel: only grace sets us free. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul asks when he is struggling with repeated sin (Romans 7:24). He goes on to say, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). It is only when we are no longer condemned for the bad that we can let go of it. Because we have been set free from that law, we can walk after the Spirit. But, if we still see our badness as something that incurs condemnation and guilt, the sin cycle will continue.
It is a powerful thing, this “no condemnation.” It transforms lives. When someone can get to a point where they do not feel condemned, no matter what they do, they are well on the way to being more and more loving, for “he who is forgiven much, loves much.”
From Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud; Zondervan, 1990, 1992.
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