In 2007, Dallin H. Oaks delivered a message during General Conference which he titled “Good, Better, Best”. It’s a great message discussing the importance of asking ourselves if what we are up to is really the best thing for us to be doing. He posits that, “We should begin by recognizing the reality that just because something is good is not a sufficient reason for doing it.” And he introduces this sliding scale of good, better, best as a way to help Saints take a look at what they are choosing to spend their time on and make adjustments.
One thing that stood out to me is that a significant portion of the talk seems to be a set up for the eventual change from three hour church to two hour church. He reminds us that “the home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place” as was taught by the First Presidency in 1999. I really appreciate the counsel to be sure we aren’t casual in our discipleship, family life, and church service, to prepare the Saints for further instruction.
Recently I’ve been hearing this idea of “good, better, best” more often than normal, but it’s taken a bit of an interesting turn. Instead of a method of personal reflection and growth, it is being used to pass judgment on the choices of others. The phrase has begun to rub the wrong way as it’s converted from introspection to criticism, because we just aren’t in a place to make good, better, best judgments regarding the decisions of others. Only God can see our paths clearly enough to inspire us to choose “the good part” as Luke and Jacob describe it (Luke 10:42, 2 Nephi 2:30).
I was about to reject the “good, better, best” phrase entirely based on the not-so-good fruits I’ve seen it produce in recent months, but I decided instead to take it to the temple and see if I could get more clarification from the Lord. I took the entire day to drive down to Los Angeles yesterday with a friend and we did initiatories, an endowment, and sealings. Never before had the word “good” stood out to me as much as it did while we were there. I lost count of how often “good” was used to describe the world, everything in it, and even our choices. Like, the whole point of all of this is to be able to recognize that which is good. Because God is good.
As I sat in the Celestial Room, I turned to the scriptures and looked up “good” in the topical guide in the Bible and the index at the back of the Triple Combination. There is so much there. I highly recommend looking it up and spending some time with the word “good” as it has been used in scripture. It is very clear that good things are very special to God. It’s as if the distinctions and comparisons between various good things aren’t really that important.
When we judge others based on what has been revealed to us as good, better, and best for our own lives, we are missing an opportunity to declare goodness in the world. After all, isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ the “good news”? Maybe it really is just that simple. Good and evil. It’s either godly or it isn’t.
We can over-complicate our discipleship if we seek to place everything into a hierarchy of best, better, good, bad, worse, and worst. We begin to only value the best things as we have deemed them with our finite understanding, and diminish the value of the good things. God saw that all things which he had made were good (Moses 2:10). So let not your good be evil spoken of (Romans 14:16). It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing (Galatians 4:18). Ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men (1 Thessalonians 5:15). Prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth! For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good (2 Nephi 28:16, 20).
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Phillipians 4:8). We know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 5:2). And how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good (Mosiah 12:21). All things which are good cometh of Christ (Moroni 7:24).
Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12). Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28). Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall (Doctrine and Covenants 50:44).
I could really go on forever. Like I said, you should check out the topical guide and index, or even just search for the word “good” in your scriptures app or in the Citation Index. I definitely understand the sentiment of the “good, better, best” message, but perhaps in many of our applications it is looking beyond the mark a bit. Good things are definitely good, without any need to compare them to better or best things.
If you can stand where you are on your path and determine that there is something better than the good you are doing, or the Lord reveals to you that there is something better for you to do in this moment than the good thing you are currently doing, then that thing becomes your new “good”. Refusing to choose that new good part is not good for you, and it is therefore no longer “good” for you. There is only forward and backward. If you aren’t reaching forward for new good things then you are sliding backwards into old things that once were good for your journey but are now behind you.
You can use the words good, better, best if you like, but be careful because most certainly those determinations are only for yourself. For one student’s course of study it might be best to take Philosophy 101 while for another student it might be best to take Humanities 101. Both fill the same requirement, and both lead to progression in their program and eventual exaltation to being declared a Graduate. All classes are good for our learning when taken in the proper season. And God can help us know what is good.
“Good” is not only sufficient, it is more than sufficient. When applied to ourselves it gives us opportunity to repent and see how our lives are matching up with the divinity we possess. When applied to judging things of the world it gives us power to recognize good fruit and encourage the goodness in others on their personal covenant paths.
Our Savior is the Good Shepherd. He sees our godliness and goodness and will help us see it in ourselves and others. As we choose the good part we will progress towards exaltation and experience the beauty of our travels here on Earth. We will also be following the admonition of Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith to seek after anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy. Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works (and you’ll see theirs), and glorify your Father who is in heaven (3 Nephi 12:16).