“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.”

So says the Duke of Albany to the treacherous daughter of King Lear, Goneril.  The line has a depth that allows it to stand on its own:  it jumps off the page and hits you in the eyes.  It is, as it were, a clear note in the midst of cacophony.

“Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile.”

The vile heart is not simply that which is blind or oblivious to goodness.  In one sense, it does not “turn away” from God.  It stares him in the face and twists the beauty of the Lord into the grotesque.  There is an active component of the human person at work, something that prevents us from seeing the Good as good.

So Lear to Cordelia, his daughter.  He establishes a contest to see who can flatter him most, which distorts the proper order of affection.  When Cordelia refuses to flatter and speaks the truth and nothing more, Lear disinherits her and reviles her.

This is, then, one of the problems of Lear.  And it is the same problem Jesus highlights in the Gospel:  “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. This is a good reminder, too, of how we shouldn’t be too hasty to get to the “application” questions in our Bible studies. All the application in the world will leave us personally no better off if we’re not firstly challenged and transformed by the Word as we encounter it. God wants to go to the heart of us, and if we do not let Him, we will never learn to hold good what is God’s, or to see what is not.


    1. Stirfry,

      Couldn’t agree with you more. We love application in both our readings and our sermons way. too. much.



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