Doing Good Wisely

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There is no doubt God expects us to do good deeds, acts of grace, and to serve others. However, as we do good deeds for others, we need to remember to be mature Christians who try to understand the implications and inadequacies of our good deeds so that we try to do our good deeds wisely, thoroughly and intelligently.
There is a line by the poet, Thomas Hardy, which notes a mother who wounded where she would have healed. That is what we need to think about. Unfortunately, in doing good, thoughtless but kind people may rush in where angels fear to tread. As we show concern for others, we need to remember to try to be “thinking” Christians as opposed to shallow “immediate impulse gratifiers” who act entirely on impulse and do not have a handle on the ramification of things.
An example is parts of Africa today. Through missionaries, foreign aid and good charitable organizations like “Save The Children” the mortality rate has been lowered. Then over time the population explodes.
Since there are more mouths to feed, more cattle are placed on the pastures. Too many cattle overgrazing on the limited acreage of pasture burn out the grass. The grass turns from green to brown. Cattle starve. The herds shrink. A decreasing food supply serving an increasing population causes famine.
Generally the natives do not understand what is going on. They are merely doing what comes naturally in adding more cattle to their pastures when the population is greater. The natives should not be expected to be practical moral thinkers weighing sizes and consequences. That is now beyond many of them. But as the population explodes, the area implodes.
It would seem evident nature is trying to re-establish a better balance though famine for people, cows and pasture. We can understand this and sympathize with nature. But we do not have to accept nature’s simplistic and literal a solution. It is too narrow and uncreative a solution. We can’t let people starve as nature can. This is morally unacceptable.
The answer rather lies in increasing the scope of our sympathies to include the entire problem. We have to think in terms of increased food supplies through fertilizers and industrial technology. We have to think in terms of acceptable birth control. (This does not imply American style abortion mills for the stylish brutalized by selfishness.)
Also alternative foods must be considered. This is a touchy subject abroad. For example in recent years there was famine in India. The bureaucrats of the government of India, out of touch as bureaucracies nearly always are, became confused and sent rice to the wheat eating areas and wheat to the rice eating areas.
Many in the areas actually starved to death rather than eat strange foods. Wheat eaters starved to with plenty of rice available. Rice eaters did likewise. Food habits are very rigid there. An important Indian peasant confided in me his ultimate horror: that his son marry a woman of strange food habits. He did not want a rice- eating grandchild. This sounds strange to us of course but we must people where they are, not where we might snobbishly prefer they be.
In the African situation beef is probably neither the best source of protein nor the most efficient livestock to stock the pastures. But the natives are used to cattle and cattle they will have. Perhaps over time changes can be made.
Doing good is not simply following a sympathetic impulse and expecting things to work out. I knew an older lady in the Middle East who threw money out of her taxi to the children who beg by the roadside. She did not understand the taxi driver yelling at her not to do so. Soon begging children entirely covered the taxi. The taxi looked like a beehive and swarms were still coming.
But there is nothing wrong with sympathetic impulses. They bond us. I recall how Pope Pius XII had a baby held out for him to hold. He saw the baby was blind. He took the baby and held it. As he held it, he and the mother were seen weeping together. This sight of the mother of the blind child and the religious official weeping together over the child’s blindness united everyone there. Onlookers felt a great wave of trust, sympathy and common understanding rising up out of the people. It was a great trust building moment.
Trust building is the great duty of all religions: to establish faith in God and each other. It is trust that must be the foundation of cooperation and civilization. Very often sympathy, moral credibility and united feeling create a bonding of trust so that things can be done.
Our governments think they build trust by making and signing papers called treaties. Do not fall into that legalistic trap. I suspect that it is part of the self-delusive political nonsense with which governments generally occupy themselves. How can a regime half the voters mistrust at home create trust by signing a widely unread document with a foreign regime nobody or very few really care about? That is not our problem to discuss today, but I am sure you see the point. If you are to contract, it must be a contract of the soul. Fantasies on paper serve little.
Yet I may tell you truly that sympathy, real concern and shared understanding are the real ties that bind all hearts in love. The world needs them. These tools are available to every person. They are fine things, but when used the practical applications must be carried far enough to include the whole scope and depth of the problem. Do not just tease the problem and walk off.
In saying that real problems must be solved and they are not easy to solve, you must remember this may scare people off from doing anything. They will follow the prompting of original sin to do nothing at all rather than make the effort of thinking.
Of course that is the greatest sin of all: to see something and not respond because it costs you mental or social effort. That mental or social effort is what you give to God. It may be hard by yourself but that is why we need others and we join churches: to get help and organize in doing good that we may do good more wisely.
We always learn through praying together and doing together even if the things we learn may not be always exactly what we wanted to learn. I must be honest there. You may learn how difficult people can be to work with like the old man who does not want a rice- eating grandchild. But this helps us to grow spiritually as we cope. It gives us the deep satisfaction of doing something for God. It also enables us to look a suffering world of others in the face as a partner. We show ourselves then to be more than some spiritual lounge lizard devoted only to self-indulgence and selfish exploitation in our stay on earth.
Being able to do good wisely, learning how to do good wisely or being able to join others in doing good wisely and so create mutual trust is a great gift to God .It is also a great benefit to civilization. It may be the next step in spiritual growth that you need. If so, have faith and take it. If you pray steadily about it, God will sooner or later give you the courage that you need to move one rung higher on the ladder of grace, the ladder of spiritual growth, that leads us nearer and closer to God.


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.


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