God and Goodness I

November 22nd, 2008 § 1 comment

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.)

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§ One Response to God and Goodness I

  • This makes much more sense than our original conversation.

    When I read that blog, I was actually frustrated that someone had such a poor feeling what “good” is.

    To make long explanations short and not repeat what you said, I definitely feel that you will never know “good” until you know “bad,” and that is the way that life goes. So, good start. Keep them coming.

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