What do you want out of your life? Happiness? Meaning/fruitfulness/purpose? Before I continue, let me tell you a bit more about myself: I’m interested and concerned with social-environmental issues. I cut down on plastic and waste and generally don’t consume animal products. This could be seen as my way of ‘doing good’.
Let me problematized the fixation on ‘doing good’ without accounting for my Christian identity: 1) there are good non-Christians and bad Christians, and therefore, 2) what makes my efforts at ‘doing good’, ‘Christian’ (I’ve long thought about what makes a Christian NGO different from a non-religious/Buddhist/etc. organisation)? 3) How can I fit Christianity in my life (i.e. assuming that I believe my identity as a Christian is more important than being good)?
I think it’s (more important) to be Christian than ‘being good’ (haha I’m also kinda cheating because I think that being Christian = striving to be good. All/most faiths teach you to do good things, and how could you call yourself Christian if you do not renounce sin? I use sin rather loosely – even ‘systemic sins’ of our society like you consuming products created by exploitation of people/environment).
Sure, I could be obsessed with making my world a better place, starting organisations and doing activism etc., BUT 1) there are so many contradictions in our efforts, we’re never perfect – problematizing the case of veganism for the environment: you eat more plants (less carbon footprint), but there are so many other aspects of your life which contribute to perhaps even more ‘environmental harm’ than consuming animal products – plastic consumption rather than biodegradable animal materials?)
There are even more problems with ‘doing good’: 2) quoting Ecclesiastes 1, ‘meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’ – I could devote my entire life to ‘doing good’, but I won’t change too much: our world is broken, and I know I cannot make our world a utopia. We’re ineffective: ‘unless the Lord builds the house, the labourers labour in vain’. We need to de-center humanity as agents of change and recognise that there are many forces out there: perhaps I may build many houses for the poor, but a natural disaster can so simply and quickly destroy structures we build. Our efforts at ‘doing good’ will also always be contentious: people will question our motivations, and it relies on the cooperation of those we work with.
And so for me, I hope not to worship the act of ‘doing good’. A fixation on ‘doing good’ can cause anxiety because of the unpredictability of things around us, and we will constantly question our motivations. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t ‘do good’, but rather, uncover the bigger picture of our work. There are many good things we can worship (our family, being a good friend, etc.) – it’s good to be good, but without God, our work will never be perfect.
Additional readings –
1) Can we be good without God? – William Lane Craig https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/can-we-be-good-without-god/
Can we be good without God? At first the answer to this question may seem so obvious that even to pose it arouses indignation. For while those of us who are Christian …
2) Faith and Works – James 2 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2&version=ESV
The Sin of Partiality – My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine …
Post Script –
I think this piece engages with a little bit of (moral) philosophy, about what defines ‘goodness’; is God inherently good, does he define goodness (e.g. if he does something that seems bad to us like killing people, is that still good?) I’m not a philosophy major, but I’m sure that if you are interested, there are many videos/texts out there. IMO when I write about God making our good works perfect rather than merely good, I mean to say that 1) I’ll have (no) anxiety when I question my motives behind doing good, 2) God will do what he will with my work, and I believe that will make it good, 3) my good deeds will (hopefully) come to fruition with God orchestrating the other forces/actors – other people, the environment, etc.