Reflection: The Morals of Our Stories
Proverbs 31 says a lot about the virtuous woman.
And today, it has me thinking about virtue, for men and women alike. Moral excellence. Many of us use notions of morality to harm each other, particularly by attaching the heaviest moral weight to habits which spring from trauma. They may be our sins, but more profoundly they reflect the sins committed against us.
Now, we are all responsible for our own behavior. If I’m a habitual liar, I can’t just point to the people who made me this way. If I’m abusive, I can’t just say, take it up with my parents. If I’m caught speeding, I can’t just say, well Toyota sold me the car, and the DMV gave me a license. That’s my foot on the gas.
But if morality concerns, in the words of the Oxford Languages dictionary, “the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character” then we are left with a mandate more compassionate, complex, and compelling.
Morals involve right and wrong behavior.
So kindness is a moral act. Because being friendly is right and good.
Generosity is a moral act. Because giving is right and good.
Gentleness is a moral act. Because grace is right and good.
Love is a moral act. Because love is right and good.
In short, if I look at the fruit of the spirit, I see that many things that we think of as granting us inner peace, form the foundation of outer peace.
If I cultivate the byproducts of grace in my life, I will spread it in the world around me.
This is the basis of virtue. And this is what I see in my wife.
Not just a character that does things for people, but a character that changes things in people.
And to me this make sense.
1 Peter 5: 3-7 describes a path of spiritual maturation:
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[a] his own glory and excellence,[b] 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,[c] and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
In other words, God gives us everything we need to live in ways that honor him. But change is a process. And the growth process requires our participation.
Believing good things should lead to living them.
Living well should lead to learning. We should educate our values. Our understanding should mature.
Educating our values should lead to not violating them in challenging moments.
Abstaining from harm should lead to persevering on the path of freedom.
Perseverance should lead to reverence because it is not by our strength that we endure.
Reverence should lead to brother and sisterhood because we see the image of God in others.
Brother and sisterhood should lead to sacrificial love. We should seek to benefit others at our own expense.
If I permit a spirit of individualism to drive my faith, and morality becomes just my report card on my status with God, it can quickly devolve into my proof that I’m better than you.
But morality, at it’s highest, cannot just elevate me. If it is not a value system that brings value to others, it has not reached its purpose in the world
And this, in an era defined by division, in which we choose heroes equally for their ability to delight us, and torment our enemies, offers an indicting measure of our notions of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
At our worst, we are all too willing to blame others for our failures, while taking credit for our successes, and seeking, in our efforts, primarily to advance ourselves.
Perhaps at our best, we can take responsibility for the harm we’ve done, even if we’ve also done good.
Perhaps we can honor the people who’ve helped us, even if they’ve also hurt us.
Perhaps we can bless the community and culture, even as we seek our own success.
In each season, and in summation, we will all leave fingerprints and footprints behind us.
May they be in places that speak well of us.
May they show that our path and practices made a difference.
May the morals of our stories be ones we would choose to write.
(Photo Credit: Deeana Arts)