The Good, the good, and the Christian
On the Christian calendar, Lent is that time of year specifically set aside for Christians to focus their attention on their relationship with God over a period of 40 days as they prepare to enter Easter and remember Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. It is meant to symbolize the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness after His baptism at the beginning of His ministry. Lent affords the Christian an intentional time of year to spend in prayer, service, and fasting so that the Christian may re-order their life around what is truly important and regain perspective by putting first things first. The Oxford Don, C.S. Lewis had something to say about this ordering of goods and loves:
“[B]y valuing too highly a real but subordinate good, we…come near to losing that good itself. The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.…Every preference of a small good to a great, or a partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good.…You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
I believe Lewis is right. I’ve been a Christian for a few decades now, but it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I started thinking of sin in different terms than how I had always been taught.
If God is the Ultimate Good one can pursue, then I have begun to view sin as any exchange of a subordinate good for the Ultimate Good. While pursuits of subordinate goods are not, in and of themselves, bad, they become bad when I seek them as the ultimate source of goodness itself. When I confuse a lesser good with the Ultimate Good, then I have made a grave error. Lesser goods are worthwhile to have and hold, but not to the exclusion of its source, the Ultimate Good.
While I understand that not every Christian participates in observing Lent for a variety of reasons, I view Lent as a time to reflect on the ordering of the good things in my life and ask myself, have I tried to turn lesser, subordinate goods into an Ultimate Good? If so, then I need to reorient my life and thinking towards those things and put them back in their proper place so I can restore perspective and relationship, both with God and with those around me. By giving up the lesser goods for a time, it gives me the space to focus on the Ultimate Good from Whom all the lesser goods flow.