When Right is Bad and Wrong is Good

rightwrong_0Constantly constipated. When I did what was “right” and played “by the book” I was rigid, inflexible, easily irritated, determined to “fix up sinners,” and rather condescending toward others (who are not like me!). Basically, I was constantly constipated. This lasted for about a quarter of a century from 1980 when I became a Christian to the mid 2000s. Then I began doing things “wrong” and began “breaking all the rules.” But very strangely and surprisingly, when I did what was “wrong,” I became happy, far more welcoming of others, and most of all my soul and spirit feels free, like an eagle soaring in the sky (Isa 40:31).

I am enjoying reading Richard Rohr’s book Everything Belongs. His point is as the title says: Everything—both sin and righteousness, bad and good, wrong and right—belongs. But this is generally not how we think.

We think the former (sin, bad, wrong) does not belong in the scheme of God. So we thrash those bad aspects in ourselves–usually by not talking about it, or being blind to it, or by pretending that we are not that bad. We also thrash those bad aspects in others often by denouncing them for being bad, as though there is no bad in ourselves.

Here’s a “bad is wrong” mindset from a recent UBF report that says, “Asia is like a spiritual wasteland and is full of idol worshipers…” Doesn’t the one who wrote the report not realize that the church can also easily become a spiritual wasteland of Pharisees and be full of those who worship their own church rather than be loving and embracing toward idol worshipers, as Jesus was? Interestingly, Jesus’ most piercing and stinging rebuke was not to the prostitute (who did “wrong”) but to the Bible experts and Bible teachers (who did “right”)!

This story illustrates Rohr’s point and the theme of Everything Belongs:

Alcoholics tell me, “It was the worst possible thing. I ruined my marriage and lost my job and hurt my kids. It doesn’t make a bit of sense, but it is the greatest thing that ever happened to me — that I was a drunk.” An old drunk says alcoholism was the greatest gift God ever gave him… Logically that doesn’t make any sense, but theo-logically it does. What a shame that he lost his marriage and hurt his kids. He wishes he could undo it. But because of that experience, his heart was finally broken open. Now he can go back to his wife and children with compassion and freedom. Isn’t that better than so-called “doing it right” and becoming more rigid, self-righteous, and ignorant with each passing year? I admit it is a great mystery and a profound paradox.


A lot of people have done it “all right.” But when you look at them you say to yourself, “If that’s salvation, I don’t know that I want to be saved.” If those are the people in heaven, I don’t want to go there! Is that what heaven is going to be like? A bunch of superior people who tell you when you’re wrong all the time? Is that the life Jesus promised? That can’t be it.


On the other side, you meet these little souls who have been eaten up and spit out by life. Yet their eyes shine.

Finally no longer constipated. A personal story that comes to mind is when I clearly did “wrong” by losing $1,000,000 to a con-man in 2005. I badly traumatized my entire family, especially my wife. But strangely it was also one of the greatest things that happened to me. I became “unconstipated.” I discovered in a new, fresh and real way what I already knew: God has always loved me and continues to love me (Jer 31:3)! Since then our marriage has never been better and my wife and I have never been happier, I think…

Does it make sense that “right is bad and wrong is good”? Do you have a “right is bad and wrong is good” story?


  1. I really need to get into Rohr’s books! Thanks for the quotes.

    “Does it make sense that “right is bad and wrong is good”?”

    What you present here makes sense, yes. I would not make this into an absolute however. Normally the right is the good. What you are uncovering here, in my mind, is what I call the intersection of morality and righteousness. (I am seeking a better word for “righteousness” but that word works for now).

    When we focus only on morality (the right and wrong) we are prone to miss many things and harm many people, including ourselves. We need to consider morality alongside righteousness (the good and bad) of something or someone or some group.

    Sometimes “right” is bad. For example, it is right (moral) to attend a weekly church service. But for some, for certain times in their life, attending a church service can be bad for them.

    One thing that really disturbed me at the end of my ubf time was how strongly the leaders emphasized “right is always good”. In other words, they kept insisting that every negative thought or action is bad and to be condemned, while every positive thought or action is good and always to be celebrated. This simply is not the case.

    Jesus knew this well. His gospel is founded on understanding these things. Love and grace are the keys to unlocking these truths. How can your righteousness surpass that of the Pharisees? How could bible study be a bad thing?

    Do you have a “right is bad and wrong is good” story? – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/01/20/when-right-is-bad-and-wrong-is-good/#sthash.LuC9FFvv.dpuf

  2. forestsfailyou

    I don’t agree with this guy at all. Just because God can use our mistakes, it doesn’t make them suddenly ok. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Comes to mind. Joesph’s brothers tried (and believed they had) sold him into slavery. That’s a sin that isn’t changed by the fact that God used that situation to save a lot of people. Another classic example is Judas. Jesus needed to die to redeem humanity, but Judas’ action is still a sin. Jesus even says in John 17 that “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”, but then says in the next chapter “(And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)”.

    Sin separates us from God, and it is grace that despite this we have a relationship with him. But I don’t think sin belongs.

  3. forestsfailyou

    Do you have a “right is bad and wrong is good” story? – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/01/20/when-right-is-bad-and-wrong-is-good/#sthash.LuC9FFvv.dpuf

    For me it is my relationships with girls. Many Christians teach that it is bad to date and be intimate with people before marriage. And for my part I regret that daily. But on the other hand it taught me that society has inflated the idea of intimacy and dating and relationships in general. That has caused young Christian men to put super high expectations of women (like I did once upon a time ago). But for my part I know from my experiences that this is an inflated view. So God used that and I thank him, but I wish I didn’t have to learn that way.

    • Forests, your engagement seems to me to be a perfect example of “wrong is good”. In the context of the ministry you belong to, ubf, going about an engagement like you did is very very wrong. Not too long ago you would have been severely trained. You might have been given training to walk 5 miles barefoot or asked to submit a detailed account of every minute of your day, with required checkups daily at 5:00 am with your ubf shepherd.

      So by doing what was wrong (and you knew it was wrong), you discovered goodness.

      So yes I agree with your caution above–we need to stop redefining words. Good is good. Bad is bad. Righteousness cannot be redefined, and Christianity does not have the monopoly on righteousness. But when we talk about morality, the right/wrong of something, and whether something is a sin or not, we ought to pay attention to what Rohr is saying. There is no longer a sacred/secular divide when we come to the cross. God sends rain on the righteous (good) and the unrighteous (bad).

      Perhaps I am to much of a simpleton, but I am understanding these things far more clearly than I ever did in the past when I only considered right/wrong behavior. In my mind, the gospel Jesus preached frees us from a righteousness bound by the entrapment of morality and enables us to form a new morality based on love.

      My goodness no longer depends on making the right moral choices; my goodness is now dependent upon the love of God. Showing this love toward others/enemies/etc is the primary message Jesus brought to us. From the start, Luke 4, Jesus’ message was one of liberation and grace that surpasses the morality-based righteousness the teachers of the law had enforced.

      So then Jesus was not an antinomian but he could eat and drink with prostitutes. Jesus was not preaching licentiousness but he could make wine for dozens of people to get drunk and be happy.

  4. We have a great article in the queue that I will publish later this week. If we are stuck in a righteousness rooted in morality, our conversations with Muslims will go rather badly. To engage in civil, effective conversation across faiths, we really must move to a righteousness rooted in love.

    We see the good and the bad poorly when we only try to define right and wrong. We see the good and the bad much better when we surrender to grace and accept love. This is the only way I was able to navigate the last four years.

  5. bekamartin

    This is so very true!!! I need to read this book! I tried so hard to be nice and good and please everyone. I became the “worst” Christian because I kept failing at these very goals I had set for myself. The turning point for me came when I fell in “love” with a Bible student (he didn’t feel this way for me) and had to confront my sin against God, against my husband, and against the Bible student. I had failed so terribly that all I could do was to surrender to God’s righteousness and be forgiven by God. This is when my real Christianity started, and I became free of my sinsickness.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Beka. You are indeed a truly blessed and free person, basking in the transcendent glory, grace and generosity of our God!

  6. Beka, your honesty,humility, bravery and freedom is a refreshing and powerful testimony to the power of God’s grace! Thank you for sharing this.

  7. This past Sunday, Oprah interviewed Fr. Richard Rohr. It is quite illuminating and inspiring: http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/The-Telltale-Sign-You-Arent-Being-Your-True-Self-Video

  8. Sounds like a great read

    “Here’s a “bad is wrong” mindset from a recent UBF report that says, “Asia is like a spiritual wasteland and is full of idol worshipers…” Doesn’t the one who wrote the report not realize that the church can also easily become a spiritual wasteland of Pharisees and be full of those who worship their own church rather than be loving and embracing toward idol worshipers, as Jesus was?”

    In a recent message (written at the headquarters and repeated by a leader in another chapter) we heard the Honorable Dr. S. L.’s phrasing, “Sheep are helpless and stupid and without a shepherd, they will die.” Excuse me, it’s actually a paraphrase.

    Anyhow, for a ministry that calls Bible teachers (or any leader, if you’re lucky!) a “shepherd” and any Bible student (or anyone who comes, if you’re lucky!) a “sheep,” this is a really careless statement.

    Especially since Jesus’ “shepherd” heart was for people who were more or less regarded as stupid and cursed by the religious establishment. Man, who wants to even come close to walking that fine line?!

    Paul said, I celebrate my weakness and rejoice in it, because there God reveals his power and glory.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing about this book. I’ve been pondering some of the things you mentioned regarding it recently, myself!

    • My own story, well, I ran my own life down the tubes, long before i came to UBF. I know well the deep grace and treasures that Jesus has to offer, because he covered me and bought me.

      Maybe this faith is what many leaders are lacking? Not only in UBF but in others as well? When I married (famously, infamously?) by faith, leaders in my ministry were more worried about the details than I was. I discovered a lot about the nature of the ministry I didn’t know.

      Yet at the same time, I became insensitive to the pressure others felt and, though they were my friends, I reasoned myself into looking the other way.

      Now, my marriage by faith, really was, by faith. I really did give it to God, not man. So in spite of all the bad and good of it, I realize that God has indeed been with me in it all. Might not have all been there, but God is “working it”.

      Now, standing up for what is right and saying, “No.” Obviously, unhealthy leaders treat this negatively. I can’t help but feel that there is a great lack of faith to think that a person “below” you in the church could draw a line, or boundary, and completely forget that god might be training “you” through them, as god sent them, though you want them to follow you, since God sent you to them?

      anyhow, sorry for the double post, I look forward to reading this book “soon.”