I read daily from Charles Ringma’s devotional Seize the Day with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The reading today was from Ethics,
“He must from the outset discard as irrelevant the two questions. . . ‘How can I be good?’ and ‘How can I do good?’ and instead of these he must ask the utterly and totally different question, ‘What is the will of God?'”
Ringma writes that “the concern with the question: “how can I be good?” is that there is the danger that we will become preoccupied with trying to quantify our own spirituality.”
Last night at my twelve step meeting I shared my story with a relative newcomer about my own early expectations for the program. I thought that I had an ethical dilemma and that so long as I got it straightened out in my mind, then my behavior would change. I had no problem with God, he was the Good Guy and I was the bad one. I came to get cleaned up and then I figured my family and church and the world would accept me. After years of thinking this way, I told this new friend, one slip and fall after another proved to me that all the self awareness and self knowledge and belief in the good in the world had no power to save me. I was still as turned into myself looking for answers as ever. One devastating meeting after another I finally came to realize that I possessed nothing in myself that could save me. I needed what others at these meetings had found. A true spiritual connection with God through connecting with each other.
I used to play this game where I asked “How can I do the right thing so that people will like me?” Then I played another one that asked “How can I do the right thing so that I won’t feel so lousy about myself.” Then I started another that said, “How do I get the monkey off my back?” Then one day I finally said, “My life is truly a wreck and I need help to start over. I’m powerless over this addiction.” Sometimes the question “How can I do good?” Is not really a seeking after the good but rather a seeking for self justification. A developed conscience can actually be a conscience that justifies itself on all sides and remains as evil as the person with no conscience at all.
What I really need in my life is a faith in God that works. That is a lot more work than just looking to do what appears right. But it is the only truly liberating life at all. I think this is what Jesus meant by “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.(John 8:32)” He didn’t mean, “You will develop a certain conscientious way of presenting yourself that will get you anything you want.” He meant that His words were the true ones and that following Him by his Spirit is the way of liberation. The only way to live by Jesus’ words is to believe in Him, the only way of belief is through obedience. The only way of obedience is by the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God effects us through our connection with others on the way. I need help to do the Will of God. I need more honesty, openness, and willingness.