The German poet-philosopher, Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), became the spokesman for Germany's intellectuals whose religion focused on human goodness.
Goodness, for Lessing, was the unconditional acceptance of all human expressions of love. The true believer, according to Lessing, is the person whose heart is filled with tolerance for people of all faiths, be they Jews, Christians, or Muslims. Faith is the pursuit of virtue without any expectation of reward. Truth, he said, cannot be formulated, it can only be lived. Lessing was quote as saying, "If God had truth in his right hand and the search for truth in his left, I would choose the left."
Who of us would not be quick to express our disagreement with Lessing? But wait, what if there is perhaps more of Lessing in us than we might realize?
I belong to the segment of humanity who has known seasons when the flame of faith burns dimly. And I try then to live a bit more virtuously, hoping to feel better about myself and even be restored to God's favor.
This, I believe, is a very human response to failure...
In fact, I think it was a bit on the mind of the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism (Ursinus and Olivianus). When they talked about the ideals of good works, they become almost a bit strident: "Why can't the good we do make us right with God...?" (qu 62). And in the next question: "How can you say that the good we do doesn't earn us anything?" Yes, that could be me talking...
It's here that the Catechism (again) turns to the Scriptures. Even our best works are not perfect. Our hope lies in grace. This is why Christ came and it is what the Bible echoes.
Do my experiences actually confirm that? Though I treasure the moments of excellence in my life, I also know that they don't prevail all the time. I need forgiveness, over and over. I need to live by grace. I am thankful for Christianity. I wonder how Lessing came to size up his religion of human goodness when he came to the last season of his life.