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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

God Is Good

The most common thorn in the side of Christianity for skeptics is the existence of evil. How can there be evil if God is good? There are a variety of answers and a variety of positions and a variety of approaches, but skeptics still hold it as their "trump card." "Aha!" they exclaim, "Proof that there is no god."

One of the approaches offered that is mostly discarded out of hand by the skeptic is equally disliked among a lot of believers. The argument is that God is good. That's it. End of argument. We're done. The argument is that God is good and whatever God does is good by definition. He is not held to a higher standard of "good" or some greater justice. Whatever He does defines good. The fact that there is evil, then, would be defined as a good thing because God has allowed it.

Not too many people like that at all. The last time I saw it thrown out (in both senses -- thrown out the door and thrown out as a challenge) was actually from a believer. "God must conform to some sense of good that we can understand or He isn't good." From a skeptic, that's odd, since they deny the concept of absolute good, but from a believer it's just disturbing. Frankly, from neither side do I understand the denial.

Here's the thing. Assuming there is an Ultimate Being, we would necessarily have to assume that this being is ... ultimate. He is above "good" as we know it. Further, He is above us. These two are the significant facts. It seems to me that these two significant facts prove the position. First, if this Being is Ultimate, then it is simply impossible that there can be anything higher ... or He's not Ultimate. This being would be the starting point of everything, including right and wrong. It simply has to be.

The second significant fact -- that He is above us -- brings us what I call "the Order of Being" condition. The easiest way to explain this condition is to look at normal life. Assume a parent and a small child. If you were to ask the small child if the parent was good, what would they say? It is not unreasonable to guess that the small child might conclude that the parent is bad. "I have to go to bed at 8 every night, but they get to stay up as late as they want. If I try that, I'm being bad. I can't drive a car and if I did I'd be in big trouble, but they do it all the time." You get the idea. What a parent can do morally is not defined by what the child can do. The parent can do things that the child is not allowed to do. We all know that. A parent is a different order of being. Imagine taking that idea a step further. What if you asked an ant if humans were good? "Oh, they're horribly immoral. They kill us whenever they feel like it. We work all the time but they only work 5 days a week at most. And look at their method of government! They almost invariably follow a male leader with often an elected government. Everyone knows that the only right government is a single queen. How bad can they get?" But we know that different orders of beings follow different rules. A "good dog" is not the equivalent of a "good man." But here we are. We are creatures, standing with a hand on our hips, and a finger wagging in the air telling the Creator, "If you don't conform to what we think is good, you're not good. Bad God! Bad, bad, God!"

The argument that God defines good is typically dismissed out of hand, often by both sides. They see it as too simple. I see it is unavoidably logical. If there is a God, an Ultimate Creator, He has to define good and He would not conform to our simplified measure of "good." Why would we think otherwise? Sounds like arrogance to me ...

4 comments: said...

I think you are on target in saying that God is good, and that He defines the standard of what is good.

We can have our opinions and viewpoints, and they differ between ourselves. Two people do not necessarily agree on what is good, so it is natural that people will not agree with God on this issue. Yet God does teach men what is good, and we can learn, if we are willing to believe and trust what God tells us.

As I explain in my book, part of the lesson of faith is learning to believe not only that God exists, but believing what God says.

Many people do not understand why God allows suffering, but I believe God is using the tool of suffering to teach the human race painful lessons that will pay off in benefits for all eternity.

Stan said...

C.S. Lewis referred to pain as "God's megaphone." We don't always understand it and we rarely appreciate it, but suffering has its good purpose.

stuart elliott said...

Hey just some thoughts on how there is evil if God is omni- benevolent. First two things have to be pointed out I think. If God is God there cannot be a moral code to which he subscribes to or has to adhere to, second God does not define what good and evil is in the sense that he abitrarally appoints what is good and what is evil. In other words God did not say thou shalt not commit murder because he looked at a higher moral standard to see if it was right or wrong, but God could not have said either that murder was ok. What is good and right then is a reflection of God's character, we know that telling the truth is good because it reflects God's character and we are commanded to live according to God's character. The ultimate standard for good and bad right and wrong then is God and his character, anything that is not in line with God's character is bad or evil because it is a rejection of the only standard of goodness. St. Augustin grappled with this very question and he developed some interesting thoughts and realizations. 1) God created all things;2) evil is a thing;3) therefore, God created evil, if the premises are true than the conclusion is inescapable and devastating to Christianity. Augustine realized that this argument depends on the second premise being true, that evil is a thing, so he needed to define the nature of evil by asking what it is. Augustine took a different approach to find the source of evil; if evil was not a thing than it did not have a creation, therefore the second premise of the argument needed to be refined. Augustine also asked if there was any evidence that a good God existed; if so than it would not be possible for evil to be created by God; therefore, evil’s origin must be found somewhere else. This approach led to a different pair of syllogisms that still made it possible for God and evil to exist. First: 1) all things that God created are good; 2) evil is not good; 3) therefore, evil was not created by God. Second: 1) God created everything; 2) God did not created evil; 3) therefore, evil is not a thing. The conclusions of these arguments are based on the truthfulness of the premises. Augustine did believe that God existed as creator and He was a good God which meant the original premise that evil was a thing was false and therefore the conclusion was false. For Augustine evil was not a thing created but the abscence of good, like darkness is the absence of light or cold is the absence of heat. I think Augustine set some of the groundwork for pressupositional thought on this subject as well. A pressupositionalist might ask if there is no God than what exactly is the problem of evil? Without the existence of God evil has no meaning and condeming one thing over the other becomes arbitrary and meaningless, evil becomes relative to the values chosen by individuals, cultures or societies. So to say God cannot exist if evil exists is contradictory, because evil would not exist if there was no God, calling anything evil without pressuposing the standards of God would not make any sense.

Stan said...

Yes, God defines "good" by His nature. I remember how jarred I was the first time I heard, "What is justice? It's whatever God does." I thought, "No! That's not right!" and then I realized, "Yes! That's the only possibility." (And evil is not a thing.)