Why is saving someone from a burning building considered a ‘good’ act?

Mayor Cory Booker | A Good Man

He saw the child crying for help.

The house from which the child was calling was being engulfed by flames. The house belonged to his neighbor; the child was his neighbor’s daughter. Instinctively the man ran into the home to save the woman. His security team tried to stop his mad rush into what seemed certain death. But for Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, there was no other choice.

Growing up, his parents had taught him to sacrifice himself for the good of others. Mr. Booker sustained minor injuries but was immediately hailed as a hero for doing good.

What is ‘good’? How do I know what ‘good’ is? Can ‘good’ be something ‘good’ for one person but not ‘good’ for another? And where does ‘good’ come from? Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times this summer, asked what has dulled America’s sense of what is good.

For guidance, Dowd turned to James Davidson Hunter, professor at Notre Dame, who said

“Most Americans continue to think of their lives in moral terms; they want to live good lives,” said Hunter. “But people are more uncertain about what the nature of the good is.”

So let’s put ‘good’ to the test. Answer these questions in your own mind as I ask them. Is it ‘good’ to give money to panhandlers on a street corner? Is it ‘good’ to support a local charity with money which helps the panhandler on the street corner? Is it ‘good’ for taxpayer dollars to give money to the panhandler on the street corner through welfare programs? What makes any of our contributions to the panhandler ‘good’?

How do we know what ‘good’ is?

Cory Booker, who saved a woman from certain death in a house fire, did what was ‘good’ based on teaching he received from his parents. Booker’s choice was founded upon something ‘good’ which had been ingrained in his character. Booker’s parents taught him that there was something called ‘right’ and something called ‘wrong’; the first was ‘good’ the second was not.

Professor Hunter says that development of internal character does not exist so much today.

“Now we experience morality more as a choice that we can always change as circumstances call for it. We tend to personalize our ideals. And what you end up with is a nation of ethical free agents.”

In a nation of ethical free agents, how do we know what Cory Booker did was ‘good’?

Someone, somewhere has to say what ‘good’ is.

Good’ has to have a source, otherwise, what may be ‘good’ for me may not be so ‘good’ for you.

Perhaps in the history of the word, there is a reason why ‘good’ and ‘God’ are almost spelled the same.

Mark praises all the heroes who do ‘good’, an attribute implanted within humans, who are made in the image of God. Dr. Mark Eckel is V. P. of Academic Affairs and Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis.  This essay will air on Moody Radio in September, 2012.


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