God Is Good


Following some hyperlinks, bouncing around the Internet, from time to time I stumble into some atheistic type website. I found another one a few days ago called infidels.org. The article that caught my attention is Why I Am Not A Christian , by Richard Carrier. Normally I don't bother to write in response to these arguments since I'm not primarily concerned with apologetics or evangelism. My goal is to share some ideas and to provide encouragement to others who walk by faith, not by sight. In addition (here's a little bit of advice coming up) if you just respond point by point to what someone else has written, you allow him to direct the argument to the conclusion he wants to reach. You have to "question the question" in order to get anywhere. It's much, much better to just say what you want to say. However, on occasion I find something I can use to help explain Christian doctrine by comparing it to other views.

Boiled down a bit, Carrier's argument is that Christianity is inconsistent in that it does not predict the world we see. First, if God wants us to be good, and has the power to make His will known, then He must insure we all have exactly the same moral ideals. Since that is not the case, Christianity must be false. Second, he claims that any good man with the power to make life good would do so. Since God is claimed to be more powerful than man, yet doesn't force everything to be good, He must not be there. Put another way, because God wants to stop all evil and has the power to stop all evil, but evil still exists, then Christianity is a lie. There are other points in the essay, but those are the two I want to look at.

The arguments of atheists like Carrier are based on a humanistic, materialist and "collective reality" world view. A humanistic world view defines "good" as those things that improve life for man. The ultimate good would be a human paradise on earth. This is also a materialistic premise since it discounts or ignores any transcendent spiritual condition of man and only concerns itself with man's well-being in a physical existence. Finally, he demands a uniform understanding, or what I would call a "collective reality" as the only one that is valid. What is only true for you subjectively, in other words, cannot be valid as a premise of universal truth. However, none of the a priori assumptions that are demanded by that world view allow an accurate representation of Christianity. His understanding of Christianity is colored by his world view to the extent that he actually reverses some key doctrines of Christianity.

Don't be too harsh on atheists like Carrier. Their misunderstanding of Christianity is not that different from what is preached in most pulpits. Christian teachers regularly reduce Christianity down to a universal, humanistic and materialistic philosophy. They sell the Gospel to converts by making it fit the desires of man. There's no point in arguing with atheists like Carrier on those grounds since they are pretty much right given the assumptions they are working from.

But Carrier, along with most Christian teachers, are wrong in their interpretation of Christian doctrines due to a set of false a priori premises. Generally speaking, they won't accept Christianity because God's revelation is completely at odds with the humanistic world view. Remove the premises of that world view and the arguments dissipate quickly. Because they discount the humanist world view, what I have to say here are the things that irritate the atheists the most. Unfortunately, they are also the things that some Christians are embarrassed about, or don't want to talk about out of fear of causing a rejection of Jesus. Too bad. These things need to be said.

God saw all that he had made and it was very good! (Gen 1:31)

If you start from the assumption that "good" means a nice little paradise for man's physical existence, the statement from Genesis chapter one won't make any sense at all. How can this world be "very good" when there is pain and suffering? Some will argue that God made it good but man screwed it up. That's OK as far as it goes, but the non-Christians just say that God should not have let things get screwed up in the first place. If we accept that God is omniscient then we must also accept that the world we exist in was at least allowed by God if not actually intended. So there's no real difference. The world we live in is "good" according to the Bible. How can that be?

We have to alter our understanding of "good" away from a humanistic premise to a theocentric premise if we are to have any hope of understanding why God declared His creation good. We can do that if we define "good" as anything that accomplishes God's will. What the atheists ultimately do is define good independently of God and then apply that definition to God's own actions. The Biblical view is that good cannot be defined apart from God. In terms of logic, the Biblical view is a tautology: good is God's will and God's will is good. Furthermore, God is ontologically superior to man and that is what gives His will superiority over man's desires. To summarize, it doesn't matter whether we think God's actions are good; they are good because they are God's actions.

Given that good is God's will, and God's will is to allow suffering, error and confusion within His creation, there is no contradiction or false prediction in Christian theology. The claim that God is not good because He does or doesn't do something that man would do for man's benefit is mere humanistic tautology. Thus, in terms of metaphysics, it's a "toss up" with neither claim having any clear advantage.

What we can do in Christian theology that the atheists cannot do is provide an explanation why it is beneficial that the world is the way it is. An atheistic world view cannot provide any such explanation other than saying, "That's just the way things are, make the best of it." If we take a broader view of God's will and look more deeply at what the Bible says without humanistic premises, the doctrines of Christianity can provide a consistent explanation. We start with Genesis chapter three.

Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Is it really true that God said, 'You must not eat from any tree of the orchard'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, 'You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.' " The serpent said to the woman, "Surely you will not die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil." (Gen 3:1-5)

The argument in Carrier's essay is essentially the same as that of the serpent in Genesis. God is accused of holding back knowledge from man that would allow man to know in all cases what is good and what is evil. Just as the serpent, the modern atheists claim we should rebel against God (or in their words deny God's existence) and do what will give ourselves the greatest knowledge. Morality is to be determined by man, for the benefit of man, with no need for divine guidance. And so we have a contest. God (and those who believe in God) say one thing while the serpent (and atheists) say the opposite. The Christian world view is that the struggles in this world are due to this contest being played out in human history. God allows the struggle to be played out because He knows He can win the argument and in so doing demonstrate His glory.

But for the contest to be fair God cannot simply rig the game, so to speak. That means that some of mankind must be allowed (even forced if needed) to go through life without any help from God. Others can be given knowledge of moral principles, but no direct help from God. But God can directly and forcibly intervene with another group chosen to be the vessel of His spirit. This last group give up the right to choose one thing over another and instead "walk by faith" in God's direct provision. Put in scientific terms, what we have is a blind study with control and test groups. That's how we know at the end whether or not it was God's spirit working through man and not man's will that accomplished God's purposes for His creation. This forced division of mankind into groups, some of whom are not given knowledge of God, is precisely what Jesus taught in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9). Some will not hear the word of God, others will hear but discard it, and some will hear and change. To claim that it is unfair for God to make these divisions is to once again put man's desires at a level superior to God's desires. Yet, as Jesus said, "whosoever will may come." God will accept any who do things His way. It's just that man acting alone without God's spirit leading will never do it (John 6:44). And that is the whole point of the contest in the first place.

The final evidence that God's claim was true will be shown in the moral improvement in those who become "born again" with the spirit of God. It isn't necessary that the Christian demonstrate moral perfection in this world, only that there is a change caused by some agent other than man's will. As all action proceeds from desire, to improve man's moral actions requires change of desire. Simple knowledge of what is good is not enough; there must also be a change of desire for the good. Christians are to rely solely on the Holy Spirit to change our desires. If our desires change to be aligned with God's desires without any willed effort on our part, we have incontrovertible proof of God's power working within His creation. If the same change fails to appear in others, that change is something that man has not, nor ever can, accomplish through human will power alone. The life of Jesus is our model and the ultimate example of what it means to "die to self" in order to accomplish God's purposes. We were not left alone to figure it all out; God intervened in a dramatic way. Thus, what Christians are required to do is to put aside the self and let God work through us. In so doing we demonstrate God's power over His creation. He can manifest His will even using flawed human vessels and we can trust Him to do so because of the example of Jesus Christ. That is exactly what was taught as Christianity from the very beginning:

For God, who said "Let light shine out of darkness," is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2Co 4:6-7)

Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

Consequently, Christianity is miss-taught when it is conveyed as merely a moral code for man to follow so that man will be acceptable to God and achieve a reward. Man following a moral code to perfection by man's own knowledge and will power does not demonstrate the need for God's guidance. It demonstrates the exact opposite, in fact. Were it possible for man to do that, the words of the serpent would be proved true. To prove God's assertion, it must be demonstrated that man acting according to man-made knowledge results in disaster. Thus, a world of sorrow resulting from man's rebellion against God's desire is what is predicted and what we see.

The humanistic premise must be discarded in order to understand Christianity at all. God did not create this physical existence just so we could have it nice and easy. That attitude turns things around and makes God into man's servant. Thus, to argue that God is not good because this world is not a paradise for man is arguing against something other than the doctrines of Christianity. God created this world to make His own glory manifest. Man was created and put into this world to be the agent of God's will and our peace and security were only guaranteed to the extent that we followed God's plan. Failure to do that leads to corruption of the whole physical world. We cannot observe the "very good" creation any more, but that is not God's fault.

The humanistic premise can never accept this as a viable solution because humanism treats man as more important than God. The self-centered ego of man can never truly accept that evil is caused solely by man. However, if there is no God, who is responsible for the evils of this world? In other words, if he discards God, the atheist must discard his "whipping boy" and place full responsibility for all the evil in the world on man or nature alone. Nature is not the source of governments, technology or religion. Thus, the atheist that declares religion evil is simply shooting himself in the foot. Once God is discarded, man is the only source of mans' institutions and thus man is seen as the one who creates evil. Hence, man is the source of evil in both Christianity and humanism.

Once it is understood and accepted that man is the source of evil, not God, it is absurd to demand that God remove all evil from the world in order for God to be good. God would need to remove all of mankind to accomplish that end. Likewise, to demand that God somehow instantaneously zap mankind into compliance is to argue against the humanistic premise altogether. It demands that God do something that no man would allow another man to do. But, if we state that God is superior to man, then God does have the right to manipulate man's condition as He sees fit without being inconsistent.

Our Christian world view is consistent. We allow that as God is just, if so desired He would have every right to rid His creation of mankind's evil and be good in doing so. That He does not do so is evidence of His mercy. Instead, God went to extraordinary lengths and suffered along with us in order to save those who will submit to His will. The doctrines of Christianity do not teach that God has left us on our own to sink or swim. He steps into the maelstrom with us in order to save what He loves. He has declared that dying to self for the benefit of others is the greatest good, and that is exactly what we say God did. God is good, after all.




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