"Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws." This saying of Plato's, like so many quotes, is something he never said - but it is a very loose paraphrase of thoughts in his "Republic" and "Laws". Despite that, it is a truism as relevant.today as it was 2½ centuries ago. We might think we've advanced - but possibly not as much as we'd like to think.

Most people see still good and bad all around them, without requiring any educational qualifications. While people have different definitions of these things, most people have at least a basic concept - although the more learned among us sometimes bury real issues under a very erudite deluge of words. It can be difficult to be clear about this, which is why we have invented such things as situation ethics. I don't claim to have answers to this, but one thing is very clear to me.

Good can come out of bad circumstances. I don't claim to understand that statement fully - but I know it contains important truth. I'd go further and say that in my life, real good has arisen from every major bad event. This includes the loss of our first daughter, collapse of my first business, stroke and so on.

That doesn't mean I've changed my thinking about the events themselves. They were bad - I make no pretence that they were good. But through each one, changes occurred in me. Those who knew me before I moved to Lower Hutt, and who still know me today, will attest that I'm not the same person I was then. Now it may be the air in Lower Hutt is better than in Wellington, but more likely it is a result of growth. This growth has happened in all sorts of ways - but major growth has followed bad times. Chauncey Gardner (Peter Sellers in "Being There") said this well in discussing the effect of the seasons on a garden.

Some people seem to have avoided hard times. I once heard a singer talk about this, and her music. It seems she went through friends' hard times with them. So there are different ways to grow. I suspect that as an artist, she was more sensitive (some would say far more sensitive) than me. Maybe this only applies to those too thick to learn any other way. But I don't think I'm the only person who learns major lessons like this.

There is another aspect of this that I've come to appreciate more recently. There are things that are clearly good, and others that are clearly bad. But most seem to be neither. Now the "Christian" default is if it's not good, it's bad. Since starting to converse with God, I've realised that not only has my thinking about God been way too small. The implication that everything not specified as good is bad is actually upside down. When God created this world, everything was good. Sure things have been spoiled since then - but basically everything in this world is still good - marred but good.

Getting more specific, God is the creator. He made us in His likeness, so we too are creative - although as an accountant I have to hold that in check. And for those who don't understand the concept of creative accounting, that is another sad joke - or as my children say, dad joke.

The forces of evil are not creative. They lie, twist and distort reality - but they cannot create. Often when they twist something, we end up assuming the whole thing is bad, when in fact it's based upon something good. Even distorted things still contain elements of real value.

A common example is sex. Wonderful and powerful, it has been sadly distorted by so many things it is all too often seen as a commodity, or worse. Another simple example (and this will challenge most Christians) is church as we know it today. If you read Pagan Christianity (Frank Viola) or other like books you can see how far the church has moved from it's roots. The church itself is still the body of Christ - but we've added so much to it - even the word church is misleading.

Conversely there are many things in today's society "decent" Christians don't do. They vary with time and circumstance. For example music and dance have many "rules", depending on culture - from no instruments and no dance to whatever you want. The fact is God created us to be like Him, and a part (just a small part) of that is expressing ourselves, including in song and dance.

There's plenty of bad things all around us - but I am continually amazed by the attitudes of refugees who have lost more than most Kiwis can understand. So look for and appreciate the good in life.