“For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.”¹
Our greatest good is all that we really ever care about. Its the only reason we do anything. Its the fundamental reason in everything we do – we believe it will bring us good. Its the main reason we get up for work early in the morning when we would rather sleep. Its the main reason we take out the garbage. It’s the main reason we bend over backwards for difficult people and situations in life – because we believe that, at the end of the day, doing it will bring us more good than not doing it.
Its also the reason we struggle with believing in and trusting God. This, in fact, is the essential definition of sin. The story of Eve and the Serpent in Genesis highlights this fact more than anything else – doubting the true and actual goodness of God is what catapulted humanity into the state in which it finds itself. As soon as there we permitted the potential of finding joy and satisfaction outside the “limitation” of God’s will, we opened for ourselves a universe of potential sources from which we can seek to find true satisfaction.
I put the word “limitation” within quotes for this very reason. This is how we view the idea of God and his purpose. He is an impingement upon our freedom, a hinderance to true fulfillment and liberty. We live in a society which works very hard to keep up the walls between us and even the possibility of the arguments for God to ever even be considered as substantial. Yes that is a mouthful. Even the possibility of God is something we cannot stand. We believe that our truest good is in absolute and complete personal autonomy, and any hinderance to it is seen to be the suffocation of our joy.
What is really interesting is that this God-fear is also prevalent among the religious, perhaps even more so than the secular. The religious person lives under the compulsion of obedience. God’s word is the instruction that he gives, which we must obey if we are to ever receive blessing and goodness in life. It is a transaction. He will not bless unless we obey. The greatest motivator of the religious person is his fear of the loss of the blessing.
This is the fundamental drive of nearly every single religious system. You must obey the obligation of the rules if you are ever to experience true goodness and satisfaction. The rules themselves are quite unpleasant. God himself (or Itself) is not good in the ultimate sense – only a means to good.
As different as the secular and the religious positions may seem, they are motivated by the same conviction. Both see that their greatest good is the work of their hands, that they are the only ones that can be the foundation for their own joy and satisfaction. Both of them, at their heart, deny the goodness of God and his purpose. To the religious, God and his word are an obligation, a kind of necessary evil (although they would never call it that). To the secular, obedience is the ultimate threat to personal autonomy.
The christian gospel message cuts across the both of these. God invented life and every single beauty that it contains. Love, feasting, golden sunsets, laughter – are all his design. Thus God himself is the one and only foundation for the truest good that our hearts are built for. The gospel cuts across the religious mind by stating that we are far worse that we can ever imagine and that forgiveness and acceptance are given by God completely apart of our ability to be good. Our religious works are the greatest hinderance to seeing and accepting God’s goodness because it is only after we see our total emptiness that we realize that our only joy is in God.
It also cuts across the secular claim to true freedom by stating that personal autonomy gives us nothing. We are not our own creators. By stating to ourselves that we alone can be the source of our goodness and satisfaction, we are placing on ourselves a demand on which that we can never deliver. Eventually, our personal autonomy will break under the weight of this load. We are created for a depth of joy and satisfaction that only the Creator himself can fill.
The foundational claim of the gospel is that we need God himself, not merely his gifts. He alone can bear the weight of being our truest and foundational good. Jesus’ story is not about all that we must do to be accepted. It is about all that He has done to make us acceptable. Living in the full satisfaction and joy of that acceptance is indeed this is the heart of true christianity. It is the realization that God’s presence and plan for life are indeed the only good that the universe knows.
But before we can have the gift we must see the lie. We cannot be the foundation of our greatest good. We cannot try to hold something back, thinking that our truest good is found in anyone or anything but him.
- Lewis, C. S. (2009-06-03). Weight of Glory (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (p. 190). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition
- Timothy Keller develops this idea in greatest depth and clarity in his book titled Counterfeit Gods.