The True and Good
by: John Stonestreet, December 10, 2018
So many of our recent shared national events have reminded us of the sin and evil in our world. This past week, we were reminded of things both true and good.
I was both surprised and moved by the sheer number of personal letters and stories and memories shared about President George H. W. Bush. One in particular, shared by Alliance Defending Freedom CEO Mike Farris, stuck with me as I watched the ceremonies and remembrances of our 41st President.
“I was in a meeting with top Christian leaders while we interviewed then-Governor [George W.] Bush as he was running for the GOP nomination. This group clearly preferred President Reagan’s policies over those of George H. W. Bush. Governor Bush’s answers were very much in the mold of Reagan.”
Farris continued, “We all saw the clear distinction between the two Bushes in terms of their policy views. One questioner asked the Governor to say it out loud, that he was more aligned with Reagan than his own father.
The Governor was emphatic: ‘I will never dishonor my father.’”
So many of the recent cultural events we’ve experienced together as Americans, from pop culture to politics to violence, are reminders of how far humanity has fallen since Eden. G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the Fall of man is the most verifiable of all Christian doctrines. But the Fall isn’t the full account of how we are described in the biblical account of reality.
Last week, as the nation mourned the death of President Bush, we were reminded of some of the immutable goods that are part of our shared humanity as image bearers of the God who made us. After all, according to the Genesis account, when God created us He pronounced what He had made as “very good.”
For example, we were reminded that life is best lived in service to causes greater than ourselves. We were reminded of the personal and cultural strength forged uniquely within families, and how this strength spreads beyond the family and our individual lives to bring good to the larger world. We were reminded that the beauty of life-long married fidelity and love includes, but also transcends, mere sexual desire. We were reminded that character is both forged and revealed in times of crisis, and that those with strong character see struggle and suffering as not something to be avoided at all costs, but to be faced with faith, courage, and resolve.
President George H. W. Bush was by no means perfect as a person or as a president, but that’s not the point. The point, one I hope we don’t miss, is that there are eternal, transcendent truths about humanity that are worthy of our consideration and allegiance.
Theologians point to an idea called “common grace,” which means that there are truths about life and the world, as created by God, that are still available to humanity even in our fallen state. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul describes how fallen humans work hard to suppress those truths. Some cultures, and certainly some people, are better at suppressing than others. As a culture, we’ve gotten quite good at it.
In our late-modern, secular society, culture-wide common graces seem harder to find. And yet, last week, we witnessed that even a society committed to worshiping self, deconstructing the family, redefining marriage, prioritizing personal desire above all else, and avoiding hardship and suffering through self-medication and perpetual distraction, still can see things worthy of honor. We were pointed to what Christian philosopher J. Budziszewski calls those things “we can’t not know.”
Let me be clear. In no way am I referring to the simplistic and opportunistic talking points used so often last week by media pundits. Virtue signaling is not the same thing as virtue. What I mean is that those truly good things recognized by so many in the life and legacy of George H. W. Bush reveal profound truths about who we are as human beings, and ultimately, about the One who made human beings.
Too often, in our cultural moment, these truths are soundly suppressed in our time, and denounced as backwards and oppressive. The virtues are called vices.
I’m thankful that at least this past week, the common graces proved just too obvious to ignore.