A Celtic Christian Worldview (19)
But meanwhile having been appointed to the dwelling place of this world after their original sin, human beings not only lost all the natural goodness they had at their creation, but had corrupted what was first spoilt by the [sin of their parents] with evil habits [added] on top. And it so happens that just as they gather the fruits of the cursed earth with hard toil, so they cannot keep the natural goodness they inherently possess without wearisome trouble…
- The Book of the Order of Creatures XII.1
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.
- Genesis 1.31
God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
Every one of them has turned aside;
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
- Psalm 53.2, 3
Chapter XII of The Book of the Order of Creatures (the Liber) addresses the state of human beings in their original condition, fallen into sin, and either redeemed or condemned. In the process, the question of goodness is broached, but without much in the way of discussion.
Yet this is a crucial question. Everyone wants to have a good life, and for many people, that entails the right to define goodness in terms agreeable to them. To a certain extent, this is not unnatural, and it is to be expected, since people are different in many ways, and their preferences and tastes vary widely. What is good for one person – in vocation, aesthetic tastes, cuisine, and so forth – may not be good for someone else. The understanding and experience of goodness thus floats along a broad spectrum.
But only relatively so. When we turn to discuss goodness as an inherent moral quality, then we have to think in different terms. Not every moral system or choice is equally good. And even though someone may prefer to act in a certain way, believing his preferred repertoire of actions and choices to be good for him, no society can exist where every person is left to do what is right and good in their own eyes. The book of Judges shows us where such thinking leads.
All people share the idea of goodness, and this alone suggests that there is not merely an idea of goodness, but an ideal of it, a state or condition of goodness that is truly and unchangeably good. In the Christian worldview, such a condition exists only in God, as Jesus explained: “No one is good but One, that is, God” (Matt. 19.17). God is good – pure, unadulterated, unfailing goodness. He is good and therefore He defines goodness. The creation – including Adam and Eve – was good in its original state. It reflected God – His being, will, and ways – in wholeness, moral excellence, appropriateness, completeness, and perfectibility. Another way this is put in Scripture is to say that people were created upright (Eccl. 7.29). The rule of our Lord and King Jesus is said to be a rule of uprightness (Ps. 45.6). His is an order, an administration, and an economy in which people are being returned to their original condition of goodness and uprightness, as the Spirit of God works with the Word of God to transform us into the image of the Son of God (2 Cor. 3.12-18). This is a gradual but sure and progressive process in all who believe. And it has the effect of producing good works – works in line with the being, will, and ways of God, as revealed in His Word (2 Tim. 3.15-17) – and of thus bringing the goodness of God to light in the land of the living (Ps. 27.13).
That original condition of goodness and uprightness was lost – morally and spiritually – in our first parents’ fall from grace. Measures of goodness remain, because God continues to do good and give good to all people (Matt. 5.44-48; Acts 14.17), and the image of God – including the faintest echoes of goodness – continues within each person in the form of the works of the Law, written on their hearts (Rom. 2.14, 15).
But in a fallen world, works of goodness, and a pervasive atmosphere of goodness, are achieved and sustained only with great difficulty, as our writer notes. The natural tendency of things in the world – including creation itself – is toward a kind of moral entropy, where chaos, disorder, and decay work against natural goodness to lead creation toward corruption and death. Apart from the common grace of God, by which He continues to do good even to those who hate Him, this world would long ago have imploded under the weight of its own inherent corruption.
It is bound in our nature as human beings to want good and to want to do good. But apart from knowing the Lord, we have no hope of accomplishing any lasting good in our lives. And this makes it all the more important that believers in Jesus Christ, who are being restored to His image and likeness, should be zealous for and seek to abound in good works, maintain good works, be ready at all times for good works, and let our good works shine like lights in a dark world (Tit. 2.14; 3.8, 14; Matt. 5.16).
God’s plan for His people is a plan for good, and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope (Jer. 29.11). Let us take up that plan and make it our personal agenda each day, as we work increasingly to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3.18), and in the goodness of His image and likeness.
1. How do people who don’t know the Lord define goodness?
2. Why are good works such an important part of your witness for Christ?
Psalm 45.2, 6, 7 (Manoah: When All Your Mercies, O My God)
You of all men are the fairest, Lord, and Your lips are flush with grace;
Thus God has blessed You evermore before His holy face.
Your throne, O God, is evermore, and upright is Your reign;
Though wicked men Your soul abhor, Your righteousness must gain.
Lord, continue to transform me into Your image, and send me forth each day to…
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Davies, p. 22