The third of the transcendentals that we have been looking at is the Way of Goodness. When someone performs an act of goodness, it has a transformative power and as such can lead even a hardened criminal to a conversion. The living God becomes evident in that act especially when it is unmerited and fully discloses the Divine generosity at the heart of all creation.
For the goodness of God is not deserved in any sense. God created the world out of nothing not because of any necessity. God did not need humanity nor the vast expanse of the universe which is a pale reflection of the greatness of God.
The redemption itself was not affected because God was constrained to do it. As to the extent of the means of expiation on the Cross, one can merely say that it was an enormous act of generosity for God to endure the Incarnation and the Death on the Cross for so feeble and faithless a creature as we all are, even the best of us. But He endured it anyway.
Going back to the creation, over and over in Genesis, while cataloguing the created works of God, Scripture utters the restrained judgement that it was good. When it reaches, in fact, the creation of Adam and Eve, Revelation describes this as ‘very good’. ‘Goodness’ is such a bland word. We use it so often that it ceases to convey the power that it signifies. It means that it is in a right order with existence and that it can bring us to God Himself since He is the origin and the sustainer of ‘goodness’.
There is a goodness that is just part of the existence of something. For instance, when we behold a rose in full bloom, we can admire the deepness of its color, the texture of its petals, the fragrance of its being. After we engage our senses with this rose that is beautiful and truthful in its right order, we can judge that it is indeed good. This is a kind of ‘deductive’ good that has its own power.
But sometimes something is revealed as good in a surprising way. A clear example of this is found in Victor Hugo’s novel ‘Les Misérables’. This was conveyed even more powerfully in the musical version ‘Les Miz’. This is the story of Jean Valjean who was arrested and thrown into prison for stealing bread so that he would not starve. He escapes from prison and ends up being sheltered by a kind and understanding Bishop. During the night in the Bishop’s house, he decides to steal some silverware in the Bishop’s dining room. He then escapes from the Bishop’s house with a sack filled with silver objects. But unfortunately, he is stopped on the road by the police and they looked into his sack. They see the silver and make a judgement that it is stolen! From the insignia on the vessels, they realize who it belongs to and they bring him back to the Bishop’s house. They wake the bishop up and he comes and sizes up the situation immediately. He realizes that Jean will have to return to prison and stay there even longer than before. So, the Bishop decides to perform an act of mercy, and act of goodness: He falsely claims that he had given Jean the silver. He even says that Jean forgot to take another vessel that he then puts into the sack!
Jean is freed and, moreover, has the silver to be able to make a new start in life.
This has a transformative effect on him. Like through Baptism, he finds his new self and begins to live not just a new life but a new form of existence centered in God and consisting in helping others. And even though the police still pursue him in his new identity, he still dedicates himself to helping others to begin again and rise from the ashes of their previous life into something God centered and Christ like.
Just as in the Way of Beauty and the Way of Truth, the Way of Goodness can bring the person to a real experience of God without all the cultural, social and ecclesial preconditions that often limit the access of the individual to the Holy and the Divine.
How else would God be merciful to the vast majority of human creatures who have never heard of Christ or are beset in situations where access to the Gospel is limited? It is only logical to assume that God does not write off the majority of persons in this world. God’s love and solicitude, His desire to lead to fullness of love and life, can be found through these transcendentals that often, in spite of the limitations of the individual, can prepare them to accept the Gospel when proclaimed.