It’s sometimes said that one of the greatest wishes you can have for someone is that they should meet at least one really good man or woman during their lives.
It’s one thing to have heard or read about goodness, and quite another to have seen it. This is one of those cases where seeing really is believing. You know nothing about it until you have actually seen it.
We Christians believe in the Gospel – the story of what God did when he put on our flesh and became a man. Everything before this, from thinkers and prophets, had just been hearsay. The world waited for the Word made flesh – living and working on this actual earth and in the sight of those around Him. That at last was convincing enough and has haunted the minds of every generation since.
Jesus wrote no books, and only fragments remain of what must have been His very long sermons. His way of life was proved not by arguing, but by living. That’s what He did.
I think what we want in the Churches today is not more theology. Sometimes, reading theological articles I ask myself whether or not the magic of Christ has slipped between the words and escaped. And the same is true of sermons, as I know only too well. Can you imagine how humiliating it is for me to do my very best and yet feel, at the end of the sermon, that I’ve made the beauty of holiness dull? It’s not always the preacher’s fault. They may have seen the amazing light somewhere, but they can’t bring it home in a net to share.
I imagine that our idea of God is made up from glimpses that we have had of human lives. I don’t mean that those lives were anything like perfect, but we caught a glint of the gold in the mud. That was enough. We can never disbelieve in gold again. Somehow it is there. And somehow it shines.
I have known people who were dead straight. Their eyes were straight, and their lives were straight. I have known others who were merciful – they didn’t add to the burdens of life or spend their time in pointing out my faults, rather they were gentle, forgiving and kind. And there were those who were brave – in an agony they would smile, lighting up the room or ward in which they lay – these unconquered ones did me good, when I wanted so much to do them good. In all of these people I caught a glimpse of that lovely thing that we call goodness.
That’s how, in my life, I’ve learned what goodness is. It’s like one of those composite portraits in which I can still see the individual faces of those who’ve taught me goodness, not by what they said, but by what they were.
Deeds speak louder than words – “What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.” That’s an old saying, but the salty touch in it has preserved it all down the years.
The best legacy that we can leave to our fellow-men, including those whom we love the most, lies not in what we have, but in what we are. By what we are, we make it easier for them to believe in God or harder – sometimes so hard that faith has no chance at all.
Well, we can only do our best and that may not be so bad. But a glimpse or two of unselfishness and sacrifice, of patience and fortitude, of justice and mercy and love will be worth more than we can ever tell to those who know us. May a few of them, as the years carry us all on, remember us for that.