We are hardwired to search out the good. History proves that. History also proves we seem to have no idea what the “good” might be.
We disagree with one another as to what the good might be. Our self today disagrees with our former self about the identity of the good. We form governments which seek impose a vision of the common good upon us all.
We even war about the good. The Romans were quite certain the good entailed Romans ruling over everyone in the world. Everyone in the world was not always in agreement. The German tribes were certain they should rule the Romans. And so lifetimes were spent brawling over the nature of the good, as each sought to kill the other in the name of the good.
The giants of human thought provided us their insight into the good. Aristotle began his treatise ethics with the observation: “Every art and every investigation, and likewise every practical pursuit or undertaking, seems to aim at some good: hence it has been well said that the Good is That at which all things aim.” (Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Edited by Jeffrey Henderson, Translated by H. Rackham, Revised edition, vol. XIX, Harvard University Press, 1934, p. 3.) All things aim at the good.
He then must spend page upon page seeking to ascertain the good that everything is trying to achieve. One would think that if anyone could solve that problem for everyone at all times, then it would be someone like Aristotle. But not even Aristotle (nor any philosopher since) was able to provide an answer for which everyone could say, “Yes, that is the good.”
We are like children sent out into the world with a compulsion to come home with the good, while having no idea what the good actually is. We must have it, but we can’t identify it.
What a strange thing the “good” must be. We must have it. We can’t identify it, however we try. We cannot live without it. It is a matter of life and death. We will kill to have it, and kill to make others see it our way. It something upon which we cannot agree. The desire is common to all human beings always. The solution is not.
The good is like a Blackhole. A massive, invisible beast which directs the actions of all things about it, and yet itself is never seen.
When we come to Romans 8:38, we just as lost. Perhaps the most common misuse is to tell some who has just lost her job, “all things for good. You’ll get a better job.” But she does not get a better job. Instead, she gets cancer. So she concludes the promise was a lie.
Our trouble comes with that slippery word “good.”
One reason we cannot find the good is that we define the good in a circle. I want the good. What I wants is good. Therefore, whatever I want is good. It is good because I want it.
Such thinking would not have trapped Aristotle. But even Aristotle could not reason his way to “good.” While he could not think about the “good” without knowing something of the desire for the good; he could not find the good.
The reason even Aristotle has failed is that the good is not here. It is not apart of this age, this world. The good is so elusive, because the good is further away from us than even the furthest star. One could travel – if one could live long enough – to the furthest star. But no one could travel to the good.
The good belongs to who and what we are. We were made for a very different place. We were created for Eden’s Garden and direct fellowship with God. We were created in God’s image, to re-present that God in this creation. But we now live in a world under a curse. Augustine famously said we are looking for a happy life in the land of death. The good is not here.
What a sad thing to be a human being, possessed of an unquenched desire for that we can never obtain.
If that is so, then how can Paul promise the good? Because a way to the truest good, the most profound god, the end for which we are created is opened upon here. To use the sloppy tropes of science fiction, a portal to another dimension has been opened.
The good is that we will be made fit for the world to come. The perishable cannot inherit the imperishable. (1 Cor. 15:50) We must be made fit to receive that inheritance. We must be change to reflect and display that image for which we were created. And so, the good is that we would be conformed to the image of the Son of God, of Christ himself. Rom. 8:29
The good is not something from this world or of value in this world. The good is to be made fit and to be put to use for something different.
The good is be given a new identity, to be conformed to the image of our Creator. (Col. 3:10) That let us make man in our own image purpose of Genesis 1:26-17, is being renewed. To be conformed to Christ is our good.
We long for this good, because this good fulfills the reason we are. Stamped upon every human being is the desire for this good, the greatest of all goods: to reflect the image of God.
And if that is so, it is no wonder our life is marked with such trouble. How then can be conformed, if to be conformed is good?