Mistaking Good for Great
In an interview with Bono, David Letterman asked when the next U2 record is coming out. Bono responded that the fans expect great music – not just good music or even very good music, but great music – and they are willing to wait until U2 puts together a great album. Referring to this process of creating something great, Bono said, “Very good is the enemy of great; you can mistake it for great.”
I ruminated on that awhile. I think Bono could have meant one of two things.
First, if we do or have something that’s really good, sometimes we’re satisfied with ourselves and don’t push for greatness. Very good becomes good enough. We’re not motivated to reach for greatness because we’re satisfied with far less than greatness.
C.S. Lewis spoke to this peculiar human weakness when he wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased,” (Weight of Glory). A lot of times we mistake very good for great because we just don’t know any better. We don’t realize there is another level we can reach; we mistakenly call our good work and our good things great.
There’s another way to interpret Bono’s statement. He may have meant that sometimes after we’ve done something good, we think we’ve arrived. Pride kicks in, and we think, “Look what I did! There will be no topping that!” And so our excessive pride concerning our very good accomplishment prevents us from pursuing greatness.
Of course, after watching the Bono interview and considering his statement, I didn’t really take the time to apply it to myself. I didn’t ask questions like, “What do I consider very good? What am I mistaking for great? How am I settling for very good?”
God saw I wasn’t getting the message. So He sent it to me a couple of more times. He changed his verbiage, hoping that would do the trick.
He brought the word “best” to my attention and pointed out a lot of times I get so busy with the good or very good things in life that I don’t do the best things.
Unfortunately, a la Lewis, I am satisfied with the very good things. I don’t realize even better things – best things – exist. I mistake my very good things for as-good-as-they-could-possibly-get things – best things – a mindset which prevents me from pursuing the actual best things.
Frustrated, I turned to the Bible. I wanted more from the Lord on this “best” concept.
Isaiah reported, “This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea,'” (Isaiah 48:17-18).
A couple of observations.
1. We don’t automatically recognize what’s best. We have to be taught. There is nothing instinctual that can lead us to what is best. We don’t just know. Not in our hearts, not with our reason. We must be taught.
2. God teaches us. If we don’t consult Him, we can’t expect to be shown the way we should go. He may use people or His Word as mediums, but the knowledge is His alone to impart.
With this information, this is what I conclude:
I don’t know what’s best for me. I don’t know the way I should go. But I know the One who knows. And He is willing to teach and direct me. Am I willing to be taught and directed?
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