But they told me
A man should be faithful
And walk when not able
And fight till the end
But I'm only human
I don’t often listen to Michael Jackson, but those words by him have, over the years and in various places, both haunted and comforted me. They have haunted me, because they express so tersely that innate desire to be good that I have always had, coupled with a basic inadequacy to match it. Yet it comforts me to know that I’m not the only one – that striving and failing to be good is something quite common to humankind.
When I was younger, it was easy to fool people into thinking that I was a good person. You just need to do good deeds, say pleasant words, and leave the unsavoury parts hidden in your mind or in your room. So I volunteered with charities, avoided the usual vices, and even got quite involved in church. In the meantime, the lust and the pride, the pornography and the mockery, could just stay inside.
I had fooled everyone around me. It was not so easy to fool myself, and it was impossible to fool God.
So one afternoon as I was praying on my own (and feeling quite good about myself that I was praying – unlike my “worldly” friends), a question came flashing into my mind:
“Why? Why are you doing all these things? Why are you caring for the poor? Why do you pray?”
Bit by bit, all the layers of properness which I had built around me were coming undone. Even in my noble charity, deep down was a need to show that I was good – or at least, better than other people. And at the centre of my heart, I saw that I was my own god. And all I ever did was to feed my vanities, my sexual desires, and my insecurities.
Among Christians, there is a phrase, dead in sin. In that moment, I felt that that was a spot-on description of my state. I wasn’t just a morally sick person in need of therapy – I was a corpse, as incapable of being genuinely and wholly good as a carcass is incapable of standing and walking.
My wretchedness lasted for about a week. Then, something changed. I stopped trying to find goodness in myself. I owned up to the fact that my heart and mind were rotten. I asked God to give life to one who was “dead in sin”. And he did.
Those words I quoted earlier from MJ are later followed by the lines,
I’m so confused, will you show to me
You’ll be there for me
And care enough to bear me
I don’t know to whom he was singing that song to, but I find myself addressing it to God. And he, in spite of my failed attempts at goodness, has shown that He does care enough to bear me. Since that day, he has painfully but lovingly changed what I do, how I do it, and why I do it. Since that day, I have not been my own god, and nothing could be more liberating. Of course, I’m still a very flawed person. But now, as I aspire toward goodness, it is driven not by a desire to prove myself, nor tainted by attitudes I need fearfully cover up, but motivated simply by a love for the one who loves me completely.