A-New-creation-in-ChristWhen God made the world, he spent however long he spent making each part of his wonderful creation, and then he took a good look at it, probably examined it from all angles (omnipresence has its advantages) and then said “That’s good!”And then he did the next bit, taking as long as it took him, with all the care and beauty he could lavish on it, and again said “That’s good!” And so on until it was complete.

I don’t think that the biblical record has any hint of  an OFSTED inspector sitting on a nearby planet (who knows which planet they are on, anyway?) saying good, yes, but it could be outstanding.

No. It was good, and it was complete. It was complete as “good”. This begs the question, then, about goodness. Goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23). We are urged to make every effort to add goodness to our faith, in 2 Peter 1. Somehow, we need to reclaim the word for ourselves and put it to use with the intent that God gave it in both his creation and in that part of our character that, through discipleship and cooperating with the Holy Spirit, reflects the goodness of God.

A friend of mine who has been a conversation partner on these things for some years now, made the comment that “goodness” can be seen somehow as rather dull or empty of meaning. The Greek term, arete, is all about virtue and moral excellence. As Tom Wright has shown in Virtue Reborn, virtue is a contributor to completeness, to what is sometimes translated (possibly misleadingly) perfection. The term is inherited from Aristotle and a specifically Greek way of looking at the virtues: it describes that which procures pre-eminent estimation for a person or thing. It is meant, clearly, to be noticed. In 2 Peter 1, it is through God’s own glory and goodness (arete) that we are called (v3) so that we can reflect that same goodness (arete again) in our daily life (v5). It is something that we add to our faith, and to it, we add knowledge. This may suggest (though the list in v5ff may not be cumulative) that knowledge is to be gained as a result of faith and goodness. Just as an aside, it is always interesting to see exactly where the bible sources knowledge. Here it flows from character, not from acquisition of information, and so suggests that knowledge is more akin to wisdom.

In the Galatians 5 passage, the word for goodness is agathosune, the noun from the most common NT word for good, agathos. It is a moral quality, which being good in its character or constitution, is beneficial in its effect (WE Vine, 1940, p163).  All the references to that which is good in, say, Romans 12, are agathos. It is supremely the word that links character and action, and in Romans 13:4 it is used to describe the effect of government upon the (common) good.

It is obvious, then, even from a short look at it, that goodness derives from God, is acquired by studying and copying him, and is meant both to transform our lives (so that people notice) and impact those around us for their benefit. The difference (or one of them) between the classical Greek understanding of virtue and that of the New Testament writers is that for the Christian community it was part of the life to which they were called in order to show forth the glory of somebody else and not themselves. This is not a particularly attractive battle cry in the modern world. “Be good so you can show how amazing somebody else is!” doesn’t really work as a motivational poster, but it is at the heart of our discipleship – the process of ordering lives, relationships, ecologies and nations so that they reflect the original intent of the creator. It is therefore at the root of education, which I take to be that process that leads young people toward wisdom and effective community through the acquisition of character, understanding and love. That is good.

Not that boring, really.

Outstanding, on the other hand…..

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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

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  1. […] has been substantial and in nearly all aspects, good, work. When I wrote the series of posts on good work, it sparked in me a determination again to see our accomplishments defined not by the “narrow […]

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