The Pathological Pursuit of Goodness


Yesterday I preached on the parable of the prodigal – with emphasis on the elder son on the story. This morning I read Psalm 1. The two passages provide an intriguing intersection of ideas. Psalm 1 celebrates the Law of the Lord. It is a source of life and hope. Such a life of righteousness is a place of abundance. Yet the elder son who did everything commanded stands on the outside of the celebration of redemption.

It seems that there is such a thing as the pathological pursuit of goodness. But we have all seen moments when the pursuit of the “lawful thing” or the “right thing” becomes a problem. The pursuit of justice leaves behind forgiveness and restoration. The pursuit of following correct procedures leaves by the person in need. The elder son so pursued obedience and being good (I need to please my Dad) that he missed out on developing the heart of love that lived in his father. He so pursued being good that he resented the joy of the father at the prodigal’s return. It was a sickness of the soul that was leading to death. It is so hard to talk about because every moment is filled with a desire to be good.

There are many aspects to the work of an elder. We have the church order to follow, policies to develop and implement so that everything can be done “decently and in good order”. We address issues and try along the way to uphold the “biblical view” on various matters in a society that often could not care less. All good and necessary matters requiring attention. But sometimes the pursuit of law makes us act more like the elder son who has lost the heart of love and the joy of redemption.

And so the tension. Of course we want to be biblical. And at times we are very concerned about our reformed witness. But are our eyes so directed by the love of the father that we can see the prodigal coming a long way off? Are our hearts racing to embrace or would we prefer to set up a committee to judge whether the prodigal has shown adequate repentance?

The intersection of psalm 1 and Luke 15 can make for interesting conversation at the elder’s meeting.

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Neil, Your one of the first pastors I've heard actually preach on this hidden lesson in that story . I've thought that was the bigger message of that story It speaks  to our tendency to judge and to try and earn our salvation by doing it right.  Thanks