(I’m writing on three phrases that are called General Rules in the Methodist movement. These three are known historically as “marks” of a Methodist. My reflections arise from conversations I’ve had recently with folks who are facing challenges attempting to do good.)
No good deed goes unpunished. That axiom is more true than I want to admit. Strangely, doing good is hard. Sometimes we make it hard by putting obstacles in the way.
It’s not just that we trivialize doing good by derisively calling people “do-gooders.” We put obstacles in the path of those who would do good when we fight turf battles over who is supposed to do what, or we disagree on the most appropriate action to take or we get jealous over who gets credit.
Such behaviors can be discouraging, but doing good isn’t for the faint of heart. And it’s not optional if you’re trying to live a life of faith in the Christian tradition.
Consider this: “Whoever does good is from God.” John 3:11.
The writer of Acts says Jesus “went about doing good.” Acts 10:38.
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28.
So it’s not enough to claim that doing good isn’t optional. It’s a commandment! Even when doing good is mocked and the deed is rejected, Jesus said to continue to do good.
This is the polar opposite of the diminishing characterization of do-gooders as weak and naive that I wrote about in the previous post. In fact, doing good in a cynical, abusive world such as ours takes strength, endurance and commitment.
In a society that elevates individualism, it requires putting the good of the larger community ahead of personal agenda. It requires healing those who are broken rather than exploiting the politics of self-interest. It calls for compassion and not judgmentalism. And it calls us to use words that heal and to speak of others with respect rather than to speak words that diminish and divide.
Doing no harm precedes doing good, but doing good is proactive. It’s counter-cultural and courageous, maybe even radical.