Buy the truth and sell it not. Proverbs 23:23
There is a world of difference between a ‘good guy’ and a ‘good man.’ One will get you drunk, make you laugh, and if lucky, help you move. The other will irritate, humble, and inspire you. I know lots of men who are ‘good guys.’ I can count on a few fingers the ones I consider a ‘good man.’
It seems, however, the two have become almost synonymous. We mix up one with the other or more often lump both together. I am not sure if we do this because we are confused or exhausted. Are we unsure of what is a ‘good man’ anymore, or, as I likely suspect, have we grown tired trying to find him? And we are all searching. Whether it be childish superhero notions or an enduring belief in humanity, there is something in each of us longs for him. Because no matter where you are from, creed, or history, when it comes to the ‘good man,’ we are all looking…and we all are to blame for his apparent extinction.
For reasons I do not understand, I have become drawn to late 19th and early 20th-century British pastors. Men so utterly obscure today it is incredible I discovered them at all. The likes of F.W. Boreham (if you frequent this website I have quoted the master essayist often) and J.G. Greenhough. And while they are preachers who proudly proclaimed the Gospel in their day, they are also men who clearly understood this notion of the ‘good man.’
In a 1907 book, Great Texts of the Old Testament (a quite rare find) J.G. Greenhough writes in a chapter called The Great Market, ‘the highest things are not marketable’ but says they still, ‘have to be bought, not with money, they are above price.’ At first glance this may look like a contradiction, the highest things are not for sale yet must be bought at a high price, but on closer look, things begin to make sense and get us nearer to the heart of the question,
What is the price of a good man?
We live every moment of our lives in this Great Market, buying and selling things of value, both infinite and paltry. It is inescapable. Perhaps an illustration, albeit an embarrassing one, will help explain. Some time back, my daughter and I, both wannabe techies, were in a big box computer outlet with our convenience store coffees. Perusing through the maze of laptops and tablets, I set my 16oz caramel latte down to get a closer look. As I reach over my arm knocks 14oz into the nearest keyboard. If on purpose, I could not have done a more thorough job. It was saturated. I immediately froze.
In a blinding flash, I calculated the cost of this mistake-one my daughter warned me just moments earlier might happen. How would I explain to the Queen why I was coming home with a useless two-thousand dollar caffeine-soaked laptop? There was no line item for ‘Idiot’ on the family budget.
Life felt like it hung in the balance. My daughter stood wondering what I would do next. Without further thought, I bolted straight for the exit while she desperately tried to keep up with my long, almost galloping strides.
Safe in my truck heading for home, she thought the entire episode hilarious; I did not. The shame rose as the adrenaline dropped. It was a complete moral and parental failure. There I stood in the middle of Greenhough’s Great Market and chose to sell the substance of my integrity for the passing shadow of my checkbook. It was a decision that has been no less costly, perhaps more so. Not in dollars and cents, but in the peace and joy.
Yet the whole thing did little to change any perception of me being a ‘good guy.’ I am still asked to go out for beers and those who I share this story just laugh (while uncomfortably shuffling as they consider what they would have done). The Queen and my children do not love me less. While my actions may not tarnish this ‘good guy’ image, can anyone sincerely argue they demonstrate the character of a ‘good man’?
Here is what Greenhough was getting at. There will come the point in every life where being a ‘good man’ will cost something. We seem to be at a time, perhaps more than ever before, where most are unwilling to pay the freight, as I shamefully proved that day. Yes, my bank account remained flush, but what did I sell in exchange? When the cup spilled, the bargaining began. A negotiation that took place only within myself and my principles were the currency. Thankfully, every day is not so expensive. But we often find the most important things of life, the price of truthful lips, an honest heart, and a good conscience is high, and to keep them is far higher.
I do not believe we have confused the ‘good man’ with the ‘good guy,’ we still know that difference. Even as we attempt to individualize truth, believing we each have our own, there remains enough collective sanity to know a ‘good man’ when we see him. Instead, we seem to have settled for an imitation of the real thing. We have lowered our expectations.
That is why we have much of the blame. Perhaps an illustration from literature will help make my point. In George Eliot’s classic, no one in the village of Raveloe expected Silas Marner to ever be anything other than what he ever was, an old hermit with a most endearing quality of keeping to himself. Yet Silas did not need the friendship of neighbors, he had his gold. “So, year after year, Silas Marner had lived in this solitude, his guineas rising in the iron pot, and his life narrowing and hardening itself more and more into a mere pulsation of desire and satisfaction that had no relationship to any other being.”
But little Eppie did not know any of this. Abandoned and alone, whose mother lay lifeless in the snow, Silas was something altogether different, stirring in him what his gold could not. ‘Unlike the gold which needed nothing, and must be worshipped in close-locked solicitude-which was hidden away in daylight…Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires…and made him look for images of that time in the ties and charities that bound together families.”
No one thought or expected a recluse could ever take on the qualities and valor needed to raise a child. How could it that someone so frightening and hard be both mother and father? But Eppie did, and Silas became what she needed him to be – a good man.
We are also to blame because we no longer expect it from men. But why is this? Why have we thrown away the ideal? I believe it is because the price of a good man is not just paid by the man, it costs everyone around him. A price that may be just as high. If that day at the store I had done what a ‘good man’ should, it would have cost the Queen. A ‘good man’ will often frustrate those he comes into contact. His principles and convictions will be non-negotiable. Some will call him ‘foolish, ‘inflexible,’ and ‘close-minded.’ When in reality his beliefs, the foundation of his goodness, will not be traded for convenience, novelty, or others’ acceptance.
A ‘good man’ is intimidating. To be with him is to realize our own imperfections. In him, we see just how far we have to go. But he is at the same time inspiring. A good man clears the way for others to look beyond ourselves and believe they are capable of more than they think. Maybe this is the reason. Perhaps we are not confused or exhausted. Maybe we do not want to find him because of what it will cost us.
The ‘good man’ may be on the edge of extinction, but he has not disappeared yet. He is still there walking the alleys and corridors of the Great Market, going against the wisdom of Wall Street bankers, buying the most enduring and precious things of life-always at the highest cost and greatest sacrifice. Because he understands, as we should,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.
Alfred Lord Tennyson