“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30 RSV). What Jesus would have us do as his disciples is easy; the burden which he imposes is light, because what he expects of us is what is natural and good. If we are properly attuned to ourselves, to who and what we are by nature, and not what we have become through sin, we will naturally do what we should do, and so we will find what Jesus wans from us is easy indeed. The problem is, we do not act according to our nature, but according to the way we view and understand ourselves through the lens of sin, which is why there is a kind of burden put upon us, for we must fight against the habits and inclinations which we have developed which takes us contrary to our natural inherent goodness.
Even though we often have mixed intentions behind our actions, some which are good, and some which are not so good, we should not be dissuaded from doing the good, when it is proper and just to act, nor should we discount the good which we do, even if what we achieve is not perfectly good. Whatever good which we do which is touched by and infected by sin, in some fashion or another, still is good, at least in relation to the good which we did. St. Paul affirmed this in the way he said that all that we have been done will be put to the test; all the good which we have done, insofar as it is good, will be preserved by God, while all the defilement attached to it will be cleansed away as if consumed by fire:
Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:12-15 RSV).
The good which we do, because it is good, points us to God, who is the source of every good (cf. Jas. 1:17). And so, the more we embrace the good for its own sake, the more we will open up to the source and foundation of every good, that is God, we find ourselves receiving the grace which we need to seek after and follow greater and greater goods with less and less defilement attached to such good. But even if we do something good, but have the wrong motives or intentions involved with what we do, the good which we do will still be of benefit to us and will be a source and foundation for which God can meet us where we are at and find ourselves motivated through it to do that which is good for the right reasons. This is why Amma Sarah tells us that even if we have some bad reasons for doing some good, we should still pursue the good, for by pursuing the good, we will likely become attentive to the good and move away from such bad intentions: “She [Amma Sarah] also said, ‘It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.’”
Charity covers a multitude of sins (cf. 1 Ptr. 4:8). Giving alms to others, even if we initially do so in order to make ourselves look good to others, opens us up to the good contained in charity itself. That is, there is some real good done in almsgiving, and that good will influence those who give alms (even if slightly). The more we give, the more we open ourselves up to charity. The more we give, the more good we do. The more good we do, the more good will be able to remain with us once we have undergone God’s purifying fire. Giving alms, even if it is initially done out of legalistic obligation and a desire to appear holy and just to others, has a way of transforming us. The more we give, the more opportunity we have to engage those people to whom we give alms. The more we engage them, the more we will see them, not as objects upon whom we give our wealth, but as persons whom we grow to know and love. The more we grow to love them, the more we grow to love God, in whose image they have been made. Eventually, if we let such charity grow in our hearts, we will be naturally moved to give to others, according to what we have to give, and we will do so for no other reason than out of love. Then, we will find, as Amma Sarah explained, all the good which we have done is pleasing to God, for God is pleased with love.
We tend to consider what we do to be either good or purely evil. Nothing which we do will be done without some good intended with it, however good or distorted that good has become through our intentions. Thus, though many actions are indeed evil, and without much good involved with them, nothing is purely evil, without some element of the good in them. This is not to say there is nothing which we can claim as being evil, for clearly there is. When we discern the evil, we will find that what we reject is the way evil has corrupted and defiled the good; the greater amount of the good which is corrupted and defiled, the greater the evil, and so the greater the problem which must be addressed. Evil only acts as a parasite on some good which it inhabits and takes over, which means, there remains some element of the good behind which the evil thrives. Good remains even in the midst of the defilement of sin. Thus, human nature remains good even when it is defiled by original and actual sin, though we sometimes call it bad in view of its defiled appearance. The good which is there, the good which remains, will be revealed when God’s purifying love comes to it; then, as Paul indicated, it will be saved while all that was not good will be consumed by the fire and be revealed as being nothing in and of itself.
Whatever good which remains, after the purifying love of God comes to it and cleanses it from all the evil which infected it, will be taken up by God and confirmed in grace, so that whatever harm evil has done to that good will be overcome and healed. God not only will cleanse the world from the defilement of sin, God will lift it up and perfect it, so that not only all that remains will be the good which remains after the world is tried and tested, but all that good will be lifted and become as God intended it to be. Sin will have no lasting victory over the good. Thus, with grace, all things are made new. Then, we will find, this is only the beginning; for with grace, things will not just return to as they were before sin, but rather, they will be lifted and made better, for God not only desires to affirm the good but to have all that good participate in and experience the divine life. This is why the saints say God is an all-deifying God, for in the end, not only will all things be good, all that good will find itself in God and God in it, so that God will indeed be all in all.
 Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 230 [Amma Sarah Saying 7]
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