“Trust in the Lord and do good. . .” Psalm 37
If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me- some of its virus mingled with my blood.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I don’t know that anyone in Concord, Massachusetts, in the mid-19th century would have thought of Thoreau as a warm and loving neighbor. His best work, I suppose, was done in a secluded single-room cabin he built with his own hands, set in the middle of a woods, beside a little lake called
no human being in sight.
Of course, Thoreau wouldn’t have called his cabin secluded either. To hear him speak of it, you might believe he was living downtown or just off a highway. The point of the Walden experiment, or so it seems to me, was to get away from people—do-gooders and non-do-gooders alike—and see if the natural world couldn’t teach him something worth learning. He called it a grand success, and school kids have been assigned various sections of Walden ever since, even though, if you ask me, the book seems, oddly enough, appallingly anti-American.
The historical record suggests that, in Concord, no one liked him much—maybe just a few; and if the paragraph at the top of the page is any witness, it’s not difficult to guess why. Even if he sounds curmudgeonly, most of us would have to admit that at some points in life, smarmy sweetness chokes just as surely as rat poison.
For years, a man I know visited hospitals every weekend, just dropping by on patients, whether or not he knew them. It was his habit to pray, too, asking the Lord’s favored blessing upon each and every one of the infirmed. Hospital visitation was his ministry. To some, his visits were a joy; to others, they were a pain in the posterior.
He was “doing good,” and at least part of the motivation that brought him to all the hospitals in the region, week after week, was his personal history of suffering—years of abuse and horror in a Nazi concentration camp. Knowing that story of his life somehow excuses his excesses, I think, don’t you?
It’s impossible to fight with the injunction in this verse—“trust in the Lord and do good.” It is our calling to love, to aid, to offer helping hands, to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s a commandment “like unto” the first—to love God above all.
Thoreau may have been irritating to his Concord neighbors, but he is his own kind of do-gooder, really. Whether nor not we like it, Walden makes us think twice about where we put our treasures, what kinds of barns. For the veracity of his argument, we have to thank him—even those school kids stumbling through the long sentences.
There are myriad ways of doing good. Our “calling,” someone once said, can be defined as the place where our passion meets God’s need. There’s a bottom line here, and it goes like this: it’s our job to love, as we are, forever.
Thanks be to Him.