God and Goodness II

November 23rd, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

I hope that all my readers will not mind if I begin with the modest assertion that God is the most good (best?) thing (or person) in existence. (Let us call this Premise 1: God is the most good thing in existence.) Thus, if we think truthfully about him, we will think thoughts like “He is good,” or “His goodness is greater than any other.” To think such thoughts is to “think highly” of God.

It’s hard to say what exactly it means to think highly of (or esteem) someone. This is a rather physical/spatial metaphor. Thoughts not being exactly material or spatial, they are never exactly high or low. But regardless of this problem, I believe that my readers intuitively understand what I mean when I say “think highly”. Perhaps another way to put it is that we “think well” of the object of our contemplation (“well” being the adverbial form of “good”).

I hope that we can all agree that we ought to think truthfully. (Let’s call this Premise 2: We ought to think truthfully.) This seems trivially true: to think untruthfully is to be dishonest (at least if we know the truth). Obviously then, we ought to think highly of God, esteem him, praise him, etc.

But he also ought to think such thoughts of himself; not to think highly of himself would not be humility but dishonesty. Were God to say to himself, “I’m not really all that. I’m not the most good being in existence,” he would not demonstrate modesty but dishonesty. This is a terribly faulty idea of God to entertain. Were we to attribute such goodness to ourselves, we would be liars and prideful. God, on the other hand, cannot but think such things of himself.

Let us, then, introduce a third premise. We ought to have affection for good things. Of course, I have trouble supporting this from any logical perspective; it just seems mind-numbingly obvious. Ought we to have affection or disgust for child molestation? (Hint: disgust.) Ought we to have affection or disgust for sacrificial heroism? (Hint: affection.) If you disagree with me on this, then (a) you need to seek counseling and (b) I am unable and unwilling to argue this further with you. (It would be a waste of your, and what is infinitely more valuable, my time. (That’s a movie quote. I’m not actually that pompous. Most of the time.))

An important corollary to this latest premise is that we ought to have more affection for things that are more good (also known as “better”). (As amazing as we all know chocolate is, we should probably love God even more that chololate.)

Let’s conclude with a quick review:
Premise 1: God is the most good thing in existence.
Premise 2: We ought to think truthfully.
Premise 3: We ought to have affection for good things. (And corollary: We ought to have more affection for things that have more goodness.)

Next time: God in the Old Testament—Doing all for “His name’s sake.”

God and Goodness I

November 22nd, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

A good friend asked for my opinion just the other day. “It was perhaps an incautious suggestion to make to a person only too ready to write [an essay] upon the feeblest provocation. But after all, though [the Pirate] has inspired and created this [essay], [s]he need not read it. If [s]he does read it, [s]he will find that in its [paragraphs] I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.” (From Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, Ch. 1)

The Pirate has asked simply what I thought of another blog. I cannot but answer. Feel free to take a moment now and read that post yourself, for, though it is not necessary to understanding the content of this post, it will be relevant to future posts in this series.

My problem isn’t with any of the explicit writings in that post, but the several problematic presuppositions behind the writer’s thinking. It would be difficult (or at least quite boring) for me to enumerate all of the points upon which we significantly differ, so I’ll focus on just one: the goodness of God. My thesis through this series will be that this writer has misunderstood what it means for God to be good. He or she (I’m going to use “he” in the future because I’m lazy like that) has missed how that one fact about God makes God unlike his expectations, and this is actually better than he could have hoped for. But he’s also missed that exactly because of (and not in spite of) God’s goodness, the world isn’t going to be fluffy and happy all of the time. In fact, God’s goodness can be a terrifying and awful thing. (Of course, as the entire series is not yet penned, I reserve the right to change my thesis on a whim at any time with no prior notice.)

On the divine goodness, C.S. Lewis said:

Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.

On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, not the least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.

On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our ‘black’ may be His ‘white’, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say ‘God is good’, while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say ‘God is we know not what’. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) ‘good’ we shall obey, if at all, only through fear—and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend.

The Problem of Pain Ch. 2

Unlike C.S. Lewis, we’re not going to investigate what the divine goodness is, but what it means for us. All the same, we are wise to notice that this is an extraordinarily difficult topic, one in which many have gravely erred. What makes this extremely difficult is just how “other” God is.

As A.W. Tozer tells us:

Forever God stands apart, in light unapproachable. He is as high above the archangel as above a caterpillar, for the gulf that separates the archangel from the caterpillar is but finite, while the gulf between God and the archangel is infinite. The caterpillar and the archangel, though far removed from each other in the scale of created things, are nevertheless one in that they are alike created. They both belong in the category of that-which-is-not-God and are separated from God by infinitude itself.”

The Knowledge of the Holy Ch. 13

But don’t simply heed the words of the great Christian writers. God has spoken; let us listen:

Exodus 15:11 “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”

Let us then begin our voyage through the goodness of God with this one thought about that one little blog that started this whole discussion: the writer of that post failed (and understandably so) to understand what it means for God to be good. In countering his philosophy I claim no special authority. I cannot even claim to have something original to say. My beliefs are rather shamelessly stolen from other thinkers (both past and contemporary), but my one authority is the Bible. I may not always explicitly quote it, and so I expect a reader with questions either to examine the scripture herself, “to see whether these things are true,” or ask me to supply a reference if I did not already. With that said, let us begin. (Or rather, let us wait for David to post the next segment.) (Oh, who am I fooling? No one is waiting.)

Hello world!

November 21st, 2008 § 6 comments § permalink

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