Friday, December 14, 2018

Looking Virtuous or Being Virtuous?

“While virtuous prudence is characterized by ‘purity, straightforwardness, candor, and simplicity of character,’ false prudence relies on the appearance of these as a tactic toward some other end.” (Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well) These are wise words from a wise author. And what Prior says applies to all virtues, whether real or only apparent. Jesus tells us to let our answers be yes or no, that any other answer is from the evil one (Matthew 5:37).

My personal experience is that people who spend a lot of time trying to convince you that they’re honest rather than being honest are probably more concerned with appearances, particularly with how they appear to other people, than they are with authenticity, relationships, or truth. (And nobody is immune from such hypocrisy, it should be said.)

It’s a subtle temptation to think that if we just look like good people, we’ll be good people. We can even fool ourselves into believing it.

But goodness isn’t about how we look and we can’t manufacture it. It must be daily imported, downloaded from God.

Jesus, God in human flesh, reminds us that God alone is good (Luke 18:19). And His goodness is most seen in those who aren’t thinking about being good or trying to appear good (or holy, or moral, or upright, or righteous, or “together"), but in those who think about, confess to, and daily receive life and forgiveness from the God revealed in Jesus.

Moral showiness impresses few and impresses God never. And it never makes us good, however we may appear to others. Only those who allow God to break them open to admit their imperfection are ready to be filled with the love, truth, AND goodness that God gives through Jesus.

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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