A few days ago we went to a performance of Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale”, which is a retelling of Faust, or most any other story about the devil and human gullibility. Like other versions, the tale ends with a question: Has the soldier learned anything? The closing dialogue suggests he hasn’t, and that the audience probably hasn’t either. In the midst of it all, the script overtly offers two options, everything or nothing. To have everything one wants is to have nothing. To be without anything is to have everything. Left unsaid, but lying in plain sight, are other options: What is good? What is enough? What is good enough? Why is it so easy to entice humans to believe more than enough is better? Do they ever learn?
They’re not new questions. The Hebrew scripture’s book of Ecclesiastes explores lessons learned by a wealthy person who discovered that wealth, by itself, is vanity, a chasing after the wind, worth nothing. Not that it’s a bad thing. It opens doors enabling access to goods and experiences that can bring a certain amount of pleasure. But the pleasure is fleeting, of no lasting value, unless anchored in healthy loving relationships, comfort in the work of moral responsibility to others, walking daily with God. To be wealthy is not a sin, nor is it a virtue. It cannot bring worthwhile value to life. However, it can easily seduce one down the path toward nothingness of the soul. Why are we so gullible? Why can’t we be satisfied with good enough?
What is good enough? The idea has been around for a long time. From psychologists, to engineers, to song writers, what is good enough has been explored in the public arena. To be good enough is to recognize that human frailty, fallenness if you will, stands between us and perfection, not in some things but in everything. Few things are perfect, but they have to be good enough. What’s is good enough to send astronauts to the moon and back is different from what is good enough to build a cabin in the woods, or to run a company, or to be a parent, teacher, student, or anything in creation. Good enough is a high standard, but it’s not perfection. Gullible as we are, we don’t buy that. Gullible as we are, we buy another story.
In contemporary culture, good enough is the same as not good enough, surrender to not trying hard enough, not doing one’s best, the lazy person’s excuse. Who says so? Advertising and cultural myths for starters. Anything less than a perfect 10 is not good enough. Anything less than a gold medal is not good enough. Anything less than a green jacket is not good enough. Anything less than a 4.0 is not good enough. Did you do your best finds no adequate answer in good enough. Want to keep your job? Be better than good enough. It won’t be easy because you are not pretty or handsome enough, you don’t own a good enough car, you don’t drink good enough whiskey, you don’t own good enough clothes, you’re not in good enough shape. You’re not good enough for the mythical world of perfection.
What.does this have to do with a soldier, the devil, and unlimited wealth? Everything, because we are as gullible as the soldier in our idolization of perfection, what we envy about what others have, our discontent, even contempt, for not being good enough or having enough, and our dismissive judgement of others for being more not good enough than us. The devil may not be around to tempt us with unlimited success, but advertisers do, as do Power Ball and Lotto day dreams, and pop culture myths about perfect families living in perfect houses, taking perfect vacations. Good grief, with the perfect deodorant you could be skipping along the perfect beach against a perfect sunset with the perfect sex object of your dreams. But no, your deodorant is not good enough, and neither are you. None of us measures up, and in our gullibility too many of us, not being satisfied with good enough, become unhappily comfortable with being not good enough, overly judgmental of others for being even less good enough, and lusting in our day dreaming hearts about what it would be like to have it all, which would finally be good enough. The devil wins.
The great geniuses of the world, every one of them, have told their stories of failure after failure before success came their way. A few days ago I read a short essay by a recent college graduate whose 4.0 GPA was sunk by a B, and the freedom it gave her to know that she did not have to be perfect to be good enough. Passionate lovers celebrating fifty or sixty years of marriage, long ago gave up perfection, learning to love all that was good enough in their marriage, and it was very good. To be good enough is to recognize that in all things there is room for improvement, the next step being better than it was before, with even better yet to come. Perfection? The choice is not everything or nothing. If that’s the choice, the devil wins.
What’s the right choice? To be good enough, working diligently to become more good enough tomorrow than we were today. To rejoice in God’s creation, taking seriously our obligations as its stewards. To be kind to ourselves and respect the dignity of every human being. To rejoice in what we have. To remember that God so loves the world that he came to live and die as one of us that we might have eternal life, not after we had attained perfect faith, but while we were yet unbelieving sinners. If we’re good enough for God, we’re good enough.