Alfred E. Neumann, the famous face of Mad Magazine for many decades, popularized this slogan. While he wasn’t referring to the question of salvation, this saying does seem to describe the way many people view that question today. Yes, there may be a God, they will concede. But “I’m not worried,” they say. “I’m a good person, after all, and God will judge me accordingly.”
In my last post, I considered one of the ways to address this modern mindset, by making the point that expecting God to grade on a curve may not be a smart bet. This time, I’d like to explore a different approach, by examining what people mean when they say they are good and why a God they never bothered to get to know should care.
We can be “good” at things that do not involve others. For instance, we can be good at building sandcastles or doing crossword puzzles. But usually, when we say we are good at something, we mean that our performance is meeting or surpassing expectations. While we might not be aware of it, we are sneaking in a standard against which we judge what we have done. For instance, if we’re talking about sports, we mean we possess the skill set, discipline and experience necessary to play effectively and to win. If we’re dealing with academics, we mean that we are sufficiently bright, hardworking and knowledgeable to demonstrate our mastery of the subject on the test or in the class we have taken. If we’re thinking about the work environment, we mean that we know what is expected in our role and we have the skills, experience and dedication to accomplish our goals.
What do these things have in common? In addition to a standard, they all involve relationship, or in other words, a standard setter. We measure the good based on what performance is expected of us by someone who is in charge, who is setting the standard, and who in the end will measure the performance. Whether the ref, the teacher or the boss, if we really want to stand out as good, we’d be well advised to find out what the particular judge thinks qualifies as good. And, the more powerful the judge, the more important it is to understand the standard and to get it right. After all, it’s more important for the employee or the prison inmate to understand what good means, than the person who is trying to finish a crossword puzzle.
Now the only way we can know for sure what qualifies as good is to get to know the one who is setting the standard. The modern secularist isn’t bothering to do this. He doesn’t know anything about the One who in the end will judge his performance, the One who is going to say whether all these so-called good works amounted to anything of value. More importantly, he doesn’t seem to care. Yet he thinks he will approach this judge in the end and ask for a reward for the things he has done. Perhaps he is picturing a sort of cosmic subway station: he keeps putting “good deed” coins in until finally the gate swings open allowing him entry.
As Christians, we know that our good works don’t earn us admission. But the secularist isn’t thinking that way. When he tells you he is good, he means he expects God to see this as well. You should remind him that by his own standard, he may be in a bit more trouble than he thinks. The coins he is depositing are from a different realm, and they don’t work with the guardian of the gate. It’s actually the wrong currency.
Think of it this way: can I ask the teacher of a different class to give me an A based on the good work I am doing in my class? Can I ask your employer to pay me for the good work I am doing for my employer? Should I expect my friend to give my son an allowance for the chores he performs at my home? If you weren’t doing the work for someone you knew, the way you knew he wanted it, why would you expect a reward?
Or flip it around. If I commit a crime that warrants punishment, can I tell the judge that he needs to ignore my crime by pointing to all the good things I was also doing? If by doing “good” I mean that I have been following the law, would he not already expect that, and want instead to focus on how I violated the law, and not how I kept it?
Why then should the secularist who knows nothing about God, and cares even less, expect God to recognize any of his works as good? More importantly, why should he feel so confident that God will be inclined to ignore the many transgressions of His law?
Posted by Al Serrato