What it means to be good
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Published in the December, 2019 issue of the Christian Science Journal
Copyright Christian Science Publishing Society, Boston.
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Do you remember a moment, maybe in your childhood, when you felt really good because of something good you had done? Maybe an adult told you how good you were, or maybe you felt an intrinsic sense of goodness about something you said or did.
I remember the first time I experienced this feeling. My first-grade teacher told me I had made a good choice to follow directions when it had been tempting not to. She handed me a piece of candy and thanked me for being good and obedient. I felt absolutely elated and didn’t stop smiling the whole week! It wasn’t really about being rewarded with the candy or by another person; the knowledge that I was good gave me this unexplainable feeling. Whether she knew it or not, that teacher was showing me something about my true identity as God’s “very good” creation. After that, even if I slipped up, I felt motivated to express this sense of goodness every day.
Now, I’m not referring to the goodness that was or is personal to me or anyone else. Jesus rebuked that thought of personal goodness. When a certain ruler referred to him as “Good Master,” he replied, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." And in Isaiah, referring to His servants, God says, “Their righteousness is of me." So the goodness I’m talking about is God’s own goodness reflected in His entire creation.
This means we can feel the fullness of our God-reflected goodness every single day! The first chapter of Genesis records six times that God made an aspect of creation to be “good,” and then records the whole of it as “very good.” The number seven in the Bible symbolizes completeness. So the use of the word “good” or “very good” seven times in Genesis 1 may certainly be taken to mean that everything and everyone is completely good. Not only that, but all of God’s children are made in His very image and likeness. Seeing this spiritual goodness in ourselves and others brings joy to our lives. Mary Baker Eddy gives us this definition of good in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “God; Spirit; omnipotence; omniscience; omnipresence; omni-action." When thought embraces God, good, we start to see the good all around us and in ourselves.
I looked more deeply at this a few years ago when we were training our first puppy. I was always gentle and soft with her, but in training her, it felt as though I was correcting her every two seconds. She was still learning the ropes of living indoors, and she even had moments of aggression and bit me a couple of times. I knew she wanted to get it right, and I didn’t like the way I felt while pointing out the imperfections. I had been praying about how to see more good, and one day an interesting idea came up while I was reading a dog-training book. The book said that the improved, most evolved training practice was all about “positive reinforcement”—in other words, getting away from scolding bad behavior, and focusing on and highlighting the good.
Translating this into spiritual terms—from the basis of God, Spirit, as the creator, rather than thinking about it from the standpoint of material thought processes—I felt it made a lot of sense. Every time our puppy did something right, I could see her obedience as evidence of God’s goodness and I could genuinely make a big deal out of it. Instead of trying to get her to be materially perfect, I could see her true nature as spiritually perfect and already good. It wasn’t about a short-term extrinsic motivation by a reward. Nor was it about letting erroneous actions slide. Holding to our puppy’s spiritual goodness in prayer brought out her intrinsic, God-motivated and God-governed goodness. It was all about seeing who she already was as God’s spiritual expression right here and now.
Acting on this prayer transformed our experience with the puppy. She began to express her true nature as gentle and sweet. Today, it’s unthinkable that she’d be aggressive, even if someone removed a bone from her mouth. Although we still work with her on little things, I was grateful when a friend made the comment that this dog “really loves to do good.”
This is a modest example, but it teaches a greater lesson that is transferable to anything we face in our experience. It shows that looking first to God as good in prayer enlightens one’s experience. Each of us can see more of our own and others’ God-reflected goodness and be free from pointing out flaws—in thought and in speech. If behavior ever does need to be corrected, one can do it from the standpoint of seeing the goodness that already is. One can remind the individual of his or her divine goodness with love, not self-righteousness, encouraging rather than trying to fix or change the individual. When our view of ourselves or others falls short, we can lean on God to discover His consistent and permanent goodness reflected by His creation, right where human shortcomings seem to be.
Referring to the spiritual identity of each one of us, Mary Baker Eddy writes in Science and Health, “Man’s genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true.”
Instead of trying to use human will to correct error, we can ask God to show us our goodness. No matter if we are praying for ourselves or someone else, about an ailment or a relationship issue, healing comes more readily when we go straight to Truth, and let that Truth correct the error. These ideas are especially helpful in our relationships. When we see the spiritual goodness in others, we find that God’s image and likeness cannot criticize, blame, judge erroneously, or put down others.
It’s also important to guard our own thoughts against personal blame or criticizing. To do this, it’s helpful to remember that the only thing that criticizes or blames is a supposed mind apart from God—what St. Paul called the carnal mind—not man’s true nature as an expression of Mind, God.
Mentally separating what’s erroneous or untrue from person is greatly helpful. Our true identity is completely good, thinking good, productive, and true thoughts about ourselves and others. When we have a handle on our goodness in God, that blesses those around us.
Maybe you’ve heard the expression, “When you point your finger at someone else, there are three more fingers pointing back at you.” Seeing this statement spiritually, it isn’t about taking personal blame or feeling guilty. But, the fingers pointing back at us allude to the importance of taking accountability for our thoughts and experience. If trouble presents itself to us, no matter what it is, it’s our own consciousness that must be addressed in prayer. To use the example of my dog, the situation wasn’t really her problem. I needed to align my thoughts with how God saw the situation. We can each take accountability for our own thoughts, and take a mental stand to see ourselves and others as “very good” and loving good. Bringing out the good in others may even inspire others to see the good around them, too.
Love of good keeps us spiritually lighthearted and quick to encourage others in gratitude for the goodness expressed. We also might find a better sense of God’s love for us, as we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. This breaks old patterns of mortal thought, and we become more aligned with what God, immortal Mind, sees and knows.
I’ve found that knowing our goodness can have a healing effect in any situation. Some years ago, I struggled for weeks with a serious throat condition. Thinking my to-do items were too important to take time for prayer, I put prayer off for weeks. It became impossible to eat or drink without extreme discomfort. I needed to focus and pray, so I admitted myself to a Christian Science nursing facility, where I was lovingly cared for.
That day, I asked God to show me my innate goodness. I was reminded of a story of a farmer in a strawberry field that was told to me back in Sunday School. The farmer’s friend asked, “How do you know all of the different weeds, and which to remove?” The farmer answered that he didn’t need to know about the weeds; he just needed to know what the strawberry plants looked like. In other words, the only thing he needed to know was the good. I was also inspired by Mary Baker Eddy’s statement in Science and Health, “It is easier to desire Truth than to rid one’s self of error.” The context of that sentence makes it clear that we do need to correct and forsake error through earnest striving. But in that moment it came to me that desiring Truth was an easy way to go straight to the Truth that corrects and heals.
In prayer I held spiritually to my goodness in God. That evening I ate a large meal and realized I was free from all symptoms and what had appeared to be physical damage.
How does this apply to praying for the world, when many people seem to be anything but good? I’ve found that the problem is never really “out there.” Rather, it is in consciousness, and can be corrected there. Again, using the example of my dog, even though the picture presented was a dog with bad behaviors, it was me that was accepting a sense of discord in my experience, and it was my dream of discord that I could wake up from because it had no basis in Truth—in God’s “very good” creation.
With world issues, this doesn’t mean we disregard the news naively and ignorantly. We can take what we hear and address it in prayer, acknowledging the power and presence of God, good, everywhere and in everyone. We can fill our thought with acknowledging the total goodness of God, so that no news or situation has the ability to shake our sense of good as infinite.
This prayer isn’t about sitting back and doing nothing. Rather, our prayer uplifts the entire situation. We can see the way it truly is—spiritually perfect. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, “No evidence before the material senses can close my eyes to the scientific proof that God, good, is supreme.”
Seeing God as infinite, all, means seeing good as infinite, expressed everywhere. If it feels like a challenge to see ourselves as perfect in God, we can ask God to reveal to us the infinite goodness that already is. Science and Health explains, “The habitual struggle to be always good is unceasing prayer." In our unceasing prayer that is not only thought but lived, we see that as God’s creation we are all “very good.” And this spiritual seeing does have a healing effect.