On the morning of Memorial Day I was baking cookies. I happened to look out my front window just as a red truck ran over my neighbor's dog. The truck didn't stop and for a split second I thought: maybe it's just a roll of carpet that fell off the truck. But the carpet was twitching.
I dropped everything and ran. Sammy lay dying in the middle of our street, a thick river of blood pouring from his head. He'd vomited internal organs. Still, his sweet little tail was wagging.
Three minutes later, he was gone.
Neighbors spilled out of houses, offering help. We were all crying. Everyone knew Sammy because he often got out and wandered around, making little visits.
We hugged each other and said things like: poor Sammy. But thank God it wasn't one of our children.
Sammy was wrapped in a plastic bag and placed in a big cardboard box. Another neighbor hosed down the street. Slowly, we returned home.
But I couldn't stop thinking about it. Our street is quiet and with very little traffic. How did the truck driver not see Sammy? And what kind of person just drives away?
I was reminded of last month's Saturday Evening Blog Post, and how Father Mathis shared that he believed humans beings were essentially good and they needed Jesus. His reflections have stuck in my head and I keep wondering: could it be true? Are we inherently good?
For me, it's a revolutionary idea. From infancy, it was ingrained into my psyche that I was a bad, horrible, wretched sinner worthy of Hell. The result was that for most of my life, I felt unworthy of love.
At one point I literally confessed my sins like 20x per day because I was so scared of dying an accidental death in a state of unconfessed sin.
It has only been in the last couple of years that I have finally come to believe that God loves me.
I'm also slowly coming to agree with Father Mathis' perspective because I realize that my previous position (we are inherently bad) often resulted in a glaring lack of compassion. In fact, it led me to dehumanizing thoughts and opinions about other people. I was unable to see the good–or the image of God–in them.
In my eyes, people were defined by their sin. If they happened to do good things, I trotted out the verse "all our righteousness is as filthy rags." Good works were a fluke. I don't know how many times I heard the example: well, even Hitler loved his dog.
The point seemed to be that even if we were capable of being good once in awhile, down deep, we were all little Hitlers.
But what if the opposite is true? What if God created us as essentially good, but we have to build and exercise the muscle of good character and virtue through the power of the Holy Spirit? If we don't, we are prone to wander. And wandering becomes sinning and sinning becomes a habitual lifestyle.
I guess what I'm saying is maybe we don't start out as little Hitlers.
Sometimes I think my fundamentalist theology mistook human weakness/sinfulness for inherent human evil. I seemed to think that humans being essentially good meant we didn't need the atoning work of Jesus. It felt dangerously close to diminishing the necessity of the cross.
I thought: yeah, well, if we're all so good then why did Jesus need to die?
Here's what I'm beginning to think now: maybe Jesus needed to die because without Him, we cannot live up to the full measure of the goodness for which we were created. Without Him, the image of God in us is muddled and dirtied by our weakness and sinfulness.
Is this making any sense?
All I know is that coming from a place of essential goodness helps me see the good in others. It helps me give them the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe the driver of that truck really didn't see my neighbor's dog. Or maybe, if he did, he was ashamed and ran away. Maybe what that driver needs is grace. Not condemnation.
Because only through grace is forgiveness possible.
I know that God loves me and I'm even beginning to believe that when He created me, it was good. But I also know that without His grace, I cannot live up to the goodness He meant for me. Without Him, I am wretched.
Maybe that's why grace is so amazing.
'Course, I don't have all the answers, here. I'm just thinkin' about this stuff.
What do you think?
Love Makes Me Feel Like a Good Person