Being Good isn’t good enough

Damned by Despair
Why do people think Christianity is about being good? It isn’t. Being good or bad is not the point. Being loving might be the outcome, but not the starting point.
Recently I saw a play called “Damned by Despair” – a new version by Frank McGuiness of a play written in about 1635. Paulo is a monk living in the desert being very holy. Enrico leads a city gang and is as bad as possible. Paulo is certain God will have to let him into heaven, but the devil, disguised as an angel, tells him to find Enrico because his fate will be the same as Enrico’s. “If Enrico goes to heaven, that’s where you’ll go, if Enrico goes to hell, you likewise.”
Paulo is sure Enrico must go to hell. Therefore, according to the angel, so will Paulo. So what’s the point of being good – he might as well enjoy himself being as bad as he can!
Enrico is condemned to death, but still believes in God. Persuaded by his father, he turns to God and repents. He’s hanged, and goes to heaven. Paulo is too proud to repent. If God is so unjust as not to let him into heaven when he was being good, he’s not going to ask forgiveness for being bad. Paulo is shot, and goes to hell.
What kind of sense does that make of Christianity?!
About the year 400 there was a very nice Scotsman call Pelagius. He went to Rome and became a popular Christian teacher. He taught people that following Jesus was about being good. There was also a man called Augustine. He’d been a bad lad in his youth and realised it wasn’t as simple as that. We are a mess of good and bad. Our motives are always mixed and we can’t make ourselves good – only God can do it. Christians argued about this for decades, but in the end, they decided Augustine was right.
It’s like at Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step has to be admitting we have a problem we can’t sort out on our own – we need help. Trying to do it on our own, doesn’t work.
Sin is not about morality, it’s about the fact that we are broken. Christianity is about realising that only God can mend us, and he does it in Jesus because he wants to, not because we deserve it.
Canon Chris Ivory
King’s Lynn Minster

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