Do you believe that you have no good apart from God? Yesterday morning when I was reading Psalm 16:2 (ESV), I wasn’t sure I believed that.
“I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’”
This verse caught me off guard. So much so that I could barely make it to the end, where the Psalmist beautifully rejoices in the Lord’s protection and presence (which is really worth reading if you make it to the end of this blog and somehow feel like reading more). I pondered my definition of “good” and the degree to which it related to the Lord. I wondered if this meant everything in my life that I did not see as directly connected to the Lord was by nature evil. This hurt and confused me to think my friendships with non-believers, or the non-Christian books I had read, or even my favorite Ben Rector songs were “no good” because they were apart from God. I ended my quiet time still unsure the meaning of verse 2, so I wrote in Sharpie on my wrist “no good” as a reminder to pray throughout the day that God would reveal to me His truth on the matter. Later in the day, a friend mentioned she wanted to share an excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, so I stopped by her room to read it. Honestly, I was checking something off my list. Little did I know the Lord had an answer waiting there for me. Two quotes from Lewis’ work struck me as surprisingly related to my question of whether any goodness existed apart from God.
**“If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.”
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers.”**
I was awestruck. The “good” I perceived to be outside of the Lord was not truly separate from Him, but rather a symbol of His ultimate goodness, a taste of the unending satisfaction believers have waiting for them in eternity. So, good news friends! Ben Rector is not the enemy after all! His creative composition and lovely lyrics are beautiful, they are good. They are just not the ultimate good. Ben’s music (and many other enjoyable things of my life that are not defined as “christian”) are perhaps a glimpse of that ultimate good. They are a reminder of the deeper longing in my soul for the beauty, unconditional love, and holiness of a selfless savior.
I could live with that answer. I was satisfied, rather elated, by the kindness of the Lord to reveal an answer to me that quickly and directly. But my good, good Father wasn’t quite done teaching me about goodness yet. (I would like to note that He is likely not done now either, but I was too excited to not write this down. If any other life-changing realizations regarding this topic present themselves, I promise to share.) I returned to my quiet time this morning, in which I read Psalm 17. Verses 13-15 (ESV) grabbed my attention.
“Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
from men by your hand, O Lord,
from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and they leave their abundance to their infants.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”
I found myself saddened by the thought of someone whose portion was in this world, because I knew from the day before that even the best things in this life are only a taste of what is in store for those who put their trust in the Lord. The commentary for verse 15 from the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges tied all my thoughts together beautifully.
“With the low desires of worldly men the Psalmist contrasts his own spiritual aspirations. He does not complain of their prosperity; it does not present itself to him as a trial of patience and a moral enigma… [t]heir blessings are not for an instant to be compared with his… [w]orldly men are satisfied if they see themselves reflected in their sons: nothing less than the sight of the form of God will satisfy the Psalmist.”
The things of this world are not “no good.” However, they are not even close to worthy of comparison with God’s goodness. We must not, then, allow our desire to see God’s goodness in this world become a desire for the symbol through which we see that goodness. The symbol (the beauty C.S. Lewis refers to seeing in books or music, the concept, the person, the experience, etc.) CANNOT bear the full weight of our longing and will shatter beneath it. We must look through these symbols, rather than at them; through them to the God who created beauty and is goodness. He alone is the true desire of our soul. A final quote from C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory affirms this pursuit of holiness and ultimate satisfaction.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us…”
Therefore, I choose better. I choose infinite joy. I refuse to be solely satisfied with even the best things of this world. If God has truly set eternity in my heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), why would I even try to find fulfillment in temporary things? I want to be like the Psalmist who is satisfied by nothing less than the likeness of his Creator.
So, the next time you listen to a beautiful song or read an inspiring book, enjoy it. But when it doesn’t fulfill you, know it’s not supposed to. You’re designed to long for a much greater fulfillment. Instead of looking at the song, try looking through it, and imagine the infinitely more beautiful and perfect melody awaiting us in the true “good” on the other side.