Sunday, May 5, 2013

Not Zen 57: Not Grace Alone

After a meeting, as the members were clearing the chairs, a man named John mentioned that he saw an emergency technician save the life of a child.

"I hesitated to mention it," he admitted. "But I'm starting to feel it was a revelation. I think competence is part of what makes a saint.  The man who saved that little girl's life knew what was needed and he did it well."

"That's nice," said his wife. "But I don't agree about associating competence with sainthood. Trying to save that little girl's life and failing wouldn't have made anyone a bad person."

"But that's less good than succeeding," he thought out loud.

"Is it?" said his wife's best friend. "If competence is part of being good, wouldn't you have to say it's part of being a bad person, too?"

"You mean, if you're less competent, you're a worse person? I think I see what you mean. But even people you'd consider bad need to be competent. Maybe a thief robs a bank and gets away by car. He'd be worse if he was an incompetent driver and crippled someone crossing the street."

"You're carrying the example to extremes."

"I'm just pointing out that people try to do good things most of the time. Everyone resists killing people with their car, even axe murderers usually. You seem to be saying that competence doesn't matter."

"That's right. The saying is 'By grace alone shall ye be saved,' so I think competence doesn't matter to saintliness."

"But if you try to help someone and accidentally kill them instead, isn't that bad?"

"It's bad but it's not the same as murder."

"If someone tries to do good deeds all his life but keeps accidentally killing people, I'd have to say that, on balance, that's a pretty bad person, never mind the good intentions."

His wife and her friend laughed. "If you kept accidentally doing harm, wouldn't you learn to stop?"

"But ..."  He waved his arms. "A good person who does no good deeds? Who learns to deliberately do nothing? How is that a good person?"

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