A story attributed to Taoist monks comes to mind:This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "Who knows what is good and what is bad?"
A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "Who knows what is good and what is bad?" said the farmer.
It is certainly true that something that looks terrible one day, can turn out to be a blessing down the road, and vice versa. In Romans Paul is talking about something much deeper, though. He advises us to “hate (abhor) what is evil, hold fast (cleave) to what is good”. How do we do that? As the farmer says, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”
There are certainly some things that are truly evil. Some are easy to identify as evil: abuse (of children, pets, spouses, etc.), murder, stealing, etc. It is the more subtle, gray areas that are harder to put in the good or evil category. Things like ‘did you hear about…’ and ‘who does he think he is…’ and unforgiveness.
Perhaps the discerning of good and evil ties back to the first part of this citation… When we weigh something against the scale of genuine, sincere love, we can start to decide if it is good or evil. In James 3:17, Paul explains that “wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Learning to discern good and evil begins with sincere love. Good brings mercy and bears good fruit. Jesus tells his disciples, “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should last…love one another.” (John 15:16)
When actions are loving, they build up one another and are good. Things that destroy community and relationships are evil. Gossip may not seem to be AS evil as murder or child abuse, but in that it tears the fabric of loving relationship, it is evil. Anger and/or an unforgiving spirit may appear to be evil, esp. if we are just simmering inside about some perceived slight or someone else’s mistake. Jesus takes a different view. In one of the ‘hard sayings’ he tells the crowds, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister* has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister,* and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24)
When I am angry, jealous, gossiping, and being unforgiving, I am breaking the bonds between me and someone else. I am rending the community in small and large ways. That is not the way of God’s love. That is not what we are called to do, nor how we are called to live.
We are chosen by our Lord to bring God’s love to the world. We are to forgive as we are forgiven (70 x 7 and more). We are, as Paul notes in 1 Timothy 1:5, to “love…from a pure heart and a good conscience.” We are God’s hands and feet to the world and that means we are called to choose the good, choose the way of Love and reconciliation instead of our own path of ‘my way or the highway’.
Wow-that’s hard! Lucky we have God to help us! And oh my goodness…I have a lot of work to do! As Laurie Brock notes in her blog DirtySexy Ministry we are not supposed to fix each other, but to walk with one another in our individual and corporate journey of healing. Mother Teresa stated, “Reconciliation begins not first with others but with ourselves: by allowing Jesus to clean us -- to forgive us, to love us.” Even so Lord Jesus, help us each to discern and seek and do what is good.
Let love be genuine (sincere, honest); hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are