Why do we try to do good? When others do good things they are attractive to us. We like people who do good! When we do good it makes us feel good and confirms our own goodness, and we like to feel as though we are good persons. We wish to imitate You because You gave us an example of a life full of doing good things. We believe, therefore, that God wants us to be good and to do good, and we wish to please Him. We believe we show our love for God by doing good things.
But the more I think about the ways people do good, and the more I think about the ways I myself go about doing good things, the more I realize that in almost everything good anyone does there can be found at least a sliver of something bad – maybe not evil, but imperfect, drossy, or flawed. By nature we are persistently hounded by sin. There is no living a human life without it. Thus, my perception of the good I may do may be tainted by selfish intentions, conditions, and/or expectations. Acts of pure goodness are difficult if not downright impossible even though we should never stop trying. When the desired outcome of an act of goodness is that it makes us feel good, that expected outcome renders it flawed. Sometimes we get angry or upset at a third person whom we perceive as getting in the way of our doing something good for someone else. Sometimes the effort we put in to doing some difficult good thing for another carries what we believe to be added advantages for our own agendas. Sometimes we just want to score “brownie points” with God. There almost always seems to be something hidden in the good we do. Maybe that’s why it can be said with such certainty that “only God is good.”
Thomas Merton has said that the whole notion of “worthiness” is preposterous. When we deal with God we are really dealing with ourselves and we must accept and embrace our total dependence on Him.