When is “Good” Good and “Bad” Bad?
He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil come to him who searches for it. Prov. 11:27
We get what we focus our attention upon. This seems a no-brainer, still, God places something this obvious in His Word. He knows how quickly we forget. This verse is cut and dried, matter of fact; but often God’s Word runs deeper than what appears on the surface. Digging into the Word is a treasure hunt yielding valuable lessons.
Consider the difference between good and evil (bad). Strong’s Concordance defines good as: being pleasant or agreeable, excellent, rich or valuable in estimation, happy, glad, prosperous, kind, benign and ethical. Evil, on the other hand, is: bad, disagreeable, unpleasant, sad, unhappy, vicious in nature, wicked (ethically), thinking badly of people and thinking of doing bad deeds. The biblical definitions of these words show the breadth of meaning each encompasses, and the vast disparity between them. Indulge me for a few minutes as I veer off course. I assure you this rabbit trail is leading somewhere.
Through casual usage in everyday language, we have trivialized good and bad. For example, if I remarked “The food was good”, was I really saying the meal was well prepared and enjoyable? As a stand alone written statement the reader could safely conclude that I was pleased with the fare. If I expressed this verbally, understanding what I really meant required more than simply hearing my spoken words. My tone of voice, my facial expressions and my body language were strong indicators that reflected my true feelings. What I said, coupled with the non-verbal cues, conveyed exactly what I meant.
When I was younger it was popular to use the word “bad” to describe something excellent, enjoyable, pleasant, etc. It was typical to see a really nice car and refer to it as a “bad machine”. Someone unacquainted with slang could conclude that my comment was critical, not complimentary, even though the exact opposite was the truth.
Evil has a more sinister connotation. We tend not to throw this word around lightly. Evil contains the ingredient of intentionality. A person can commit an act that is considered “bad”, however, it may be an honest mistake, an error in judgment or stupidity. When one commits evil, it is pre-meditated, purposeful and not accidental.
Allow me now to tie the common practice of using good and bad in opposing context with my first point; the definitions of good and evil. Romans states, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil”. The converse, to not allow what you consider evil to be spoken of as good, I believe, is valid also. We are not to promote sinful, wrong behavior and ideas when popular belief says they are acceptable. We are also to vigorously speak up for and defend what is right and good, even when the court of public opinion disagrees. In this verse I find another layer of truth hidden beneath the surface; the warning to not use these words out of their proper context.
You may ask, “What is the big deal? What difference does it make?” When we use the words, good and bad, to define something opposite of it’s meaning, their true value is diminished. The defining line between them becomes blurred. Without a clear understanding of each word, we may find our pursuit of something produces unexpected results. This may seem far fetched, please bear with me. God says what He means and means what He says. He is accurate, precise, concise and literal. He’d like us to follow His example. Suppose I go to Him in prayer and ask for a “really, cool, bad machine” i.e. a car? How should He answer my prayer? I would be very upset if He gave me a malfunctioning refrigerator. It would be “cool” because it is not keeping food cold, which makes it “bad” and it is a machine. It would fit my request to a “T”. Would God really give me a broken down fridge instead of a car? Of course not! He knows what I need before I do. God is not the author of confusion. When He speaks His words are accurate because they have creative power. He pronounces His desired end result and that is what He gets. He wants us to use our words in like manner. Speaking words in ways contradictory to their meanings creates misunderstandings. God does not operate in an environment of ambiguity and neither should we. When we carefully choose and speak words that define what we want, we release power for those things to manifest. This puts us inside the arena where God operates.
Second, the words seek and search, while similar, have subtle differences in meaning. To seek is to look earnestly or diligently for something. Search means “trample” or literally “beat a path to”. When I am “searching”, get out of my way or get run over. I am on a mission! Search also means to go to God or an idol for the purpose of receiving an ocular (visual) answer; in other words, “when all else fail, pray.” There is a fuel behind search that propels desperate people to use any extreme to achieve the desired end result.
Third, according to Proverbs 11:27, when we “beat a path” to evil, evil comes to meet us. Evil will accommodate anyone who intends to do wrong. What about those who seek after good? Scripture say they will also find what they are look for. In addition, Psalm 23:6 assure us, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all (emphasis mine) the days of my life.” The word “follow” in Hebrew is a hunting term. God is hunting us down to bless us. This happens continually, not just on our good days.