When Good is Not Good

(Note: The following fictional conversation is based on George MacDonald’s sermon “The temptation in the wilderness.” Quotes from the sermon are paraphrased.)

Master MacDonald looked upon his young apprentice expressionless, knowing he mustn’t give any hint to the lad. Silence filled the air while the teacher waited for his student’s response. The tactic had worked before. His student had made quite the progress because the old master would often make statements without explanation. The effect made his protégé work to give thought to the problem. The less the old master led him, the more the lad asked questions. Growing in knowledge, the young student began to put pieces of knowledge together to form an understanding of the wider truth his master wished to impart.

“Master MacDonald, I do not understand. You said all evil comes from good. How can this be?”

“Think now about the temptation of Jesus. Satan offered him the possibility of food when our Lord was most hungry from fasting. All he had to do was turn a stone into bread and his hunger would have disappeared. Is eating not good?”

“Of course, Master, it is good to eat when hungry. Starvation has ill effects.”

“Yet, our Lord refused it. Why?”

Not yet understanding, the student remained quiet.

“Now consider the next temptation. Satan suggested to Jesus that he should ‘cast himself from the precipice’ to prove God, through some grandiose act of Holy power in saving our Lord from the fall, is indeed God. Would it not have been good for God to reveal himself? No, I say. God cannot be God if He needs to prove himself or could be tempted. The thought was good, the yielding to it calamitous. All would be lost in darkness.”

“And of the third?,” the student said.

The Master spoke. “Remember the first was about need; the second to assert the Father; the third to deliver his brethren. All good, are they not? Of the third, Satan wished Jesus to forego God’s will, to take matters into his own hand by ruling the kingdoms of earth. Did He not have the power? Could He not have done great things by conquering tyrants, freeing imprisoned men and weeping widows? Would not the conquered tyrant need redemption, also? But Jesus saw through Satan’s ruse and remained obedient to God’s will.”

Continuing, the Master said, “The will of God should be done. Man should be free, —not merely as he thinks of himself, but man as God thinks of men. And Jesus, obedient to the Father said, ‘Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’”

The young apprentice began to see. He said, “Good, without God, is not good at all. To seek good before seeking God, to forego God’s will, makes man a god in his own image. I see now, through the centuries, men have claimed good as if their own and still do it to this day. God’s will be done is the only good. God’s will is wisdom.”

“Well done,” the Master said.

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