First, Do No Harm

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The other day, reading John Wesley’s three rules for living, the first of which is “Do no harm,” I understood the many difficulties in achieving it. Simple on its surface, the more I thought about it, the more I realized the ways I could go wrong, not just intentionally, but unintentionally. Harm is a spectrum of shades and hues often splaying its reach beneath our awareness, not just above. Then, in conversation, this difficult reality found fruition when I misspoke. My immediate regret placed me in the company of a long lineage of heels. Of course, I felt bad and knew I had breached this rule.

The next day, an old problem forgotten found its way to my conscious. This one is a truth of a more eternal and direct nature. No matter my will—my intent or best effort, my deeds or self-image, my desire to do the right thing—I am not good. Nothing I do, the company I keep, going to church, reading my daily devotion, even forgetting self, will change this fact. Two important means of grace and repentance came alongside my regret. Grace reminded me of my nature, and in seeking forgiveness, repentance pressed me toward seeking Christ, who in truth said, “Why do you call me good? Only my Father in heaven is good.”

And isn’t truth the mirror that reveals our falseness, our belief we are good? Because the world demands from me in some form my best attempt at answering the unknowable, I fall prey to the idea I should. My best experience, my best intuition, my most perceptive reasoning cannot make me a righteous man.

To say something is God’s will distances itself altogether as something different when I say, “I must do God’s will.” God’s will is His own. But to know either, we must first seek Him. Herein, we find good. Accepting Christ, following Him earnestly, receiving the Holy Spirit, God’s will becomes righteousness and goodness in us. It does not belong to us. We cannot find it naturally within us. Only in Him do we find it. In finding it are we able to do that which He desires.

And to do God’s will, once understood and entered into, compels me first to do no harm. It is not an easy task. My idea of good may, unknown to me, do harm. How can this be? When the slip of the tongue reveals my nature, when my will to good is more about me and my ideal than my good’s recipient, when my cause is greater than the good I intend, even greater than Christ, am I doing harm. How do I serve the only good if I do not first seek Him who is good against whom I know I am not? Only when I know I am not good can I begin to serve the only good, God the Father.

I have failed in this. I will fail again. He will forgive. I will forgive. I will continue to seek Him.

Do no harm.

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