I have a plan. You might be interested in it too. My plan is basically this: When I use words, which is quite often for me, I want to try harder to say something good. I want to refocus my attention less on the negative, which is so pervasive, less on whatever it is that fuels so much anger and hatred among us. I want to try to think and speak in a new accent of goodness. I want to check myself with the question: Does what I am saying contribute to what is good?

As I start to think about this, for me at least, I have to tap into some pretty deep theological presuppositions. The first is that God created the world out of his essential goodness. He is the source of love, beauty, truth, and yes, good language. We can either accept this premise or not, but that’s the beginning choice I’ve made. That’s a starting point.

But then, if this is true, we live our best lives when we are aligned with this very goodness that lies at the heart of the universe. When we are out of alignment, we find ourselves off kilter, never resting, never satisfied, perhaps combative, divisive, pessimistic. We can be off balance in our work, our marriages, our family life, our churches, the organizations we lead. That’s not good. We need to align ourselves with what is good in order to live a good life.

So how do we go about finding this good? The 12th Chapter of Romans comes to mind. Notice that Paul actually begins this great passage in the last verses of the Chapter 11, where he taps into a rich Jewish tradition of praise hymns:

How deep are the wealth

and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! . . . .

From him and through him and for him all things exist—

to him be glory for ever! Amen.

Chapter 11 ends in doxology, prayer, adoration, worship.

And then Romans 12 takes off from there with a jolt: “Therefore, my friends. . . .” Therefore? Well, yes, because of this majestic God whom we worship, therefore, align yourself with his ways. We will need to commit ourselves to the “renewal” of our minds. If you find hatred and division loose in the world, or in your own heart, don’t “conform” to those patterns, but be “transformed.”

Listen, says Paul, you can actually “discern . . . what is good.”

Paul then lists off so many of the ways we might find goodness in our lives. “Do not think too highly of yourself.” That’s a big one. Tone down all the ego-stuff. Stop being so competitive. Other people have gifts of their own, you know? Actually you should work hard to “esteem others more highly than yourself.” This is how community is born.

Paul then continues with a flurry of ways we can live a life of goodness:

Let hope keep you joyful; in trouble stand firm; persist in prayer; contribute to the needs of God’s people, and practice hospitality. Call down blessings on your persecutors–blessings, not curses. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in agreement with one another. Do not be proud, but be ready to mix with humble people. Do not keep thinking how wise you are. . . . Never pay back evil for evil. . . . If possible, so far as it lies with you, live at peace with all.

Think on these things. Meditate on them. Engage them in prayer. Let them shape you.

But here’s the final instructions for my plan: “Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.” I ask myself: Am I actually participating in, contributing to, all the hatred in my world, even subtly, perhaps in both thought and word? Well, says Paul, you don’t have to let it “conquer you.” You really can “use good to conquer evil.” That’s maybe the biggest encouragement in my plan. I can do this.

God gives us signs of goodness all around. Maybe it’s the beauty in a flower. Maybe it’s the flicker of love in the eye of someone we have loved so long. Maybe it’s curiosity that drives us to learn something new. Maybe it’s a word of gratitude we send to someone who has taught us so much. These are God’s signals that draw us into goodness.

I’ve been praying that I might translate this goodness into the way I treat people, the way I focus of my attention, and yes, the way I speak and write. That’s my plan, anyway. Maybe you’d like to join me.

Painting: Johannes Vermeer, Girl Reading A Letter, 1657