I recently finished the novel How to Be Good by Nick Hornby (pub. 2002). The story is narrated by Katie Carr, a doctor who lives a comfortable middle-class life. Her main complaint is that she finds her husband, David, bitter and manipulative. It is his habit to sneer at daily conventions that others take for granted. And then David has a mysterious conversion experience. Suddenly, he is kind to a fault, open-minded and generous with their money and belongings. He invites a homeless boy to live with them.
Rather than rejoice at David’s change of heart, Katie finds herself struggling with what it means to be good. For her, David is too good, too compassionate, too idealistic and too generous. As David leans toward self-righteousness, Katie is cynical and defensive of her way of life.
I hold my own notion of “goodness” from my middle-class vantage point. Frankly, I have found a way to be good and comfortable. I understand myself to be good, but I am not willing to bring disorder into my life for goodness’ sake. If I take on hardship, it’s short term.
I talked with someone today who invited someone to live in her home because the person lived in a car and needed some respite to get on her feet. I talked to another person today who is persisting on acting in kindness toward someone who calls her names and belittles her. Is this the way to goodness?
How are we to be good? While Jesus’ command is to love God and love neighbor, how is that done most effectively? What if being good takes us to uncomfortable places.
In the novel, Katie attends a church service in the hopes of finding an answer to her struggle with her husband. It is an empty and distressing experience. Later, the pastor who was leading worship shows up in her doctor’s office. Katie demands guidance from the pastor. The pastor, disheartened, tells Katie that she is leaving the ministry because it doesn’t make any difference to the people she serves.
Perhaps we all struggle with the question of "goodness" at some level. I have been challenged to consider what personal fears and desires may keep me from the good.