Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Does God's Goodness Matter?


In my first post of this blog I argued that God, as presented in the Bible, is not good due to his many evil actions. I have not heard any good arguments countering this. But an important question is: why does it matter if he is or isn't good?

The reason it is important is that if Christianity is true, then at the very least its claims must be interally consistent. Truth cannot contradict itself, but falsehood can and often does. Now a chief claim of Christianity on which it recommends itself to the world is that God is good and he loves people. Evangelists proclaim his goodness to the heathen telling them to seek his forgiveness. When Christians meet together they worship and praise God for his goodness. But how can this be? Haven't they read the Bible which clearly witnesses many of God's evil actions? Aren't they concerned about this major inconsistency? Is truth of no value?

11 comments:

  1. Daniel,
    I like your approach. Too often discussions like this are long on "faith" and emotionality (that is, whatever I believe) and short on logic and definition. While you're asking this question, could I ask one more: What is "good"? Is it subjective or objective? Then, does the Bible really say that God is good?
    Okay, it actually does. The other two questions you need to answer, please. We haven't yet established whether or not we are going to accept the Bible as being true, but let's leave that question aside for a while and just tell me what the Bible means when it says that God is good. It can either mean that God is defined by what "good" is or that "good" is defined by what "God" is. (again, existence aside) So that's why I think the real question is, what is "good"? Does the Bible use it to mean the same thing that you do? If it does, then clearly, the Bible is inconsistent and untrustworthy.

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  2. Jennypo,

    Indeed it is necessary to settle what one means by good first. I believe I did that in my original post Is God Good?. Clearly we cannot say that God defines good, as we don't have independent knowledge of God's nature. If God defined good, then there would be no way to compare different religions; each would have its own God and its own good. We would have to throw aside any internal sense of good and bad and simply obey all messages that claim to come from God.

    It seems pretty clear to me that we need to use our reasoned sense of what is good and bad to judge all claims about people and God.

    Daniel

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  3. Daniel,

    What you are saying is true, but I wonder if the application you are making follows. In making judgements about God and the Bible, you definitely have to use your own definition of "good" based on your sense of reason, which may vary from mine but in most cases should share a general pattern. However, it does not logically follow that the Bible is inconsistent with itself based on inconsistencies between its definition of good and your definition of good. I do like your question, but if you pursue support for your own opinion with greater eagerness than truth or reason, you will fall into the same trap as many of your opponents. If the Bible, which clearly doesn't recognize an array of religions as even potentially valid, presents a universe in which God is a priori and all else follows, calling God "good", then to prove an inconsistency you need to point out where the Bible (not your own view) defines or uses the term "good" to describe something that is antithetical to what is "God". After all, a mother may call homework "good", while her teenage daughter may call it a curse - the mother is only inconsistent if homework can be demonstrated to bear traits that the mother herself agrees are not good. Please don't take this as a criticism, I only mean to take your thinking a step further on.

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  4. Jennypo,

    Well, how about this inconsistency: In both the OT and NT we're told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Presumeably that is part of what it means to be good. Jesus illustrates that principle with the story of the good samaritan. Surely that implies, at the very least, not killing our neighbor, his wife and sons, raping his daughters and plundering his possesions? And yet those are the very things God commands the Hebrews to do to their neighbors, the Canaanites. Now if it is evil to do this, it is similarly evil to command someone else to do it.

    I know that in the past in seeking to justify God I have rationalized these actions, but I think if we are honest in facing the hideousness of the ethnic cleansing ordered by God in the OT in light of the self-sacrificial love that is sometimes extolled in the Bible, we can't help but question God's goodness.

    Daniel

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  5. Daniel,
    From the Bible's perspective, is it ever good to hurt someone? Who is your neighbour? Is it ever right for a nation to do what it is wrong for an individual to do? I have no trouble understanding that God is not good by your estimation of good. I just think that perhaps you are presuming too much based on a rather simplistic definition which grandly assumes that the end never justifies the means, and that "good' means the same thing for and to everyone. I have no doubt that it is clear to you, and your argument apparently satisfies you, but it hasn't presented me with any clear inconsistency in the Biblical handling of goodness and God. You appear to be content to paint with broad strokes, using inductive reasoning to support your beliefs. This is fine if you want to argue that we all see what we want to see and everybody should just make up their own minds, but if you are appealing to reason as something outside your own mind and mine, somewhere that we can deal with information on an objective level, I am unconvinced that you have done that in this case.
    I find your answers and arguments as unconvincing as those of your opponents, but you do raise some interesting questions, in any case. For that, I thank you!

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  6. Jennypo,

    You're right that that argument uses very broad strokes and does not address all the issues. I meant this post to be simply a follow-up on my first post Is God Good?. Even that only scratches the surface of the issue. Nevertheless I think it makes valid points that Christians need to think carefully about. Perhaps I should ask: what evidence would suffice to convince you that God isn't as loving as good as he is presented by the church?

    Daniel

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  7. Daniel,

    Are we talking about the church or the Bible? God as presented by the church is far less loving than the God of the Bible, and great deal less intelligent. I'd be willing to bet I have even less respect for THAT God than you do! However, he is simple, and people like simple things because it saves us the trouble of puzzling over whys and hows...like the fact that a supposedly simple God created an incredibly complicated universe! The God of the Bible is complicated. His motives aren't quickly identified or easily judged. But then, if they were, what kind of a God would he be?
    The evidence I would require to believe such a God less loving would be a statement by him to that effect, since the God of the Bible is a truthful God. The Bible says it is impossible for him to lie. That, in itself, could be a lie, but such a lie could only lead to inconsistency. The evidence I would require to believe that the God of the Bible is an untruthful God is an inconsistency in his revelation of himself. If the Bible's God were inconsistent, I could believe him to be untruthful. If I could believe him to be untruthful, than I could believe him to be less loving than the Bible presents him.

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  8. Jennypo,

    You say "The evidence I would require to believe such a God less loving would be a statement by him to that effect." Perhaps that is a bit much. If someone told you he was loving and good, but then acted in an unloving and evil way, you might not trust his judgement right? Didn't even Jesus say that people will be judged by their fruits? In any case isn't it better to judge people by their actions than what they say, as the former is more reliable? In the same way, we can do this with the God of the Bible. And I think if you do that you'll find God is not very good.

    Daniel

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  9. Daniel,
    I guess you are right. That statement was a bit shortsighted of me. At this point in the game it would be a stretch for my understanding of the world to undergo a complete paradigm shift based solely on the intellectual perception of an inconsistency. It would require an action on God's part to convince me that he is not loving and good. Probably it would require a series of actions, since I have already experienced both his goodness and the folly of trying to make judgements about his actions too soon. If God were as easily judged as you seem to think he ought to be, then your conclusion that he is no God I could 100% agree with. I am not talking about a God who is the same as you and me only lives longer, can do magic, and has a higher position. I am talking about a God who is not merely positionally higher than us, but one who in his essence is higher, greater, wiser - a God who cannot be judged by us because while we can know him, we can't completely understand him. I lived in another country for a while, one whose culture was very different from mine. When I arrived I saw things that were clearly wrong, from my point of view. After some time, I realised that the things I saw came out of different motivations than they do in my culture, and that there were different meanings attached to them. Originally, I had judged something I didn't understand. This was arrogance on my part.
    Let me point out one difference between our perspectives: you see yourself as a truth seeker, while I see myself as one who has found the truth, or better, one whom the truth has imposed itself on. Whether we are right or wrong, these basic assumptions demand a different approach. If I saw myself as a truth seeker as you do, I would be forced to consider and reconsider basic hypotheses. I assume that you do feel it possible that truth is knowable, or I am sure the analytical spirit you demonstrate would have already convinced you to give up the truth. If and when you do arrive at a knowledge of truth, you will have to deal with it differently than you do your search. The approach you are taking (questioning the foundations of all beliefs) is healthy, wise, and appropriate for the searching stage. Once truth is found, however, it is necessary to test it under different conditions.
    I know and love my dad. We've lived together for a long time, and I have come to know and respect him. In fact, my experience of his person and his love has been such that if I were to be presented with what appeared to be evidence of his not being what I know him to be, I couldn't accept it. At this point, it would require a lengthy and sustained series of actions without explanation to convince me that he is other than what I know him to be. If, on the other hand, I were presented with evidence that my new co-worker is other than I have assumed, I would be a fool to persist in my beliefs about him. Because I know God, I can trust him. Because you don't know him, you are right in insisting that you have no right to trust him.
    Keep on.

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  10. Jennypo,

    I wonder how anyone can say he or she knows God? To say one knows someone is to claim that one knows he/she acts in certain ways and not in other ways. With other humans we have a good idea of basic limits on their actions and through observation we can constrain this further and say we know him. With God we don't know limits on his actions, and a whole life's sampling of his actions is miniscule compared to the possibilities, so those experiences are insufficient to constrain him enough to say one knows him. For example, just because God may have been loving and kind to you does not mean he is that way in general or to other people. So I don't see how one can argue God is good from one's personal experience.

    On the topic of judging other cultures, there are many areas that are irrelvant to human survival and happiness and the cultures are just different there. But there are aspects that do impinge on human life greatly, and it is possible to objectively judge cultures on these. For example, how cultures treat women; are women respected, valued, given freedoms and opportunities etc.? How cultures do on this measure is an objective way to compare them, and certain cultures can be faulted for subjugating women. In the same way how God treats women is an objective measure of the goodness or evil of the actions. If we can't judge his actions to be evil, then neither can we judge any of them to be good. And so there is no point singing his praises.

    Daniel

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  11. Hi again, Daniel. Interestingly, you have name the exact problem I judged in the other culture I lived in - what I saw to be subjugation of women. I believe the gains won by the feminist movement in western culture to be among the few improvements we have made the past century. It was for this reason that I was shocked and dismayed to find the role of women as it appeared in another culture so different from what I believed it ought to be. It was difficult to adjust my thinking, which was based on amero-centric definitions of how "subjugation" appears. Historically, one of the ways in which western women have been discriminated against is in having their roles prescribed, limited. Those roles have been accorded a low value, while the roles of men (surprisingly, in some aspects no less limited - witness the persecution against gay men in our culture in the past century!) have more generally been given a high value. So, in witnessing women taking on "low value" roles in this culture, I assumed I was also seeing a form of discrimination. Actually, those roles are very highly valued in the other culture. Where women are limited in that country has very little to do with their being women, and a lot to do with the priorities of the culture.
    My sister, who was living at the same time in another, ver different culture, witnessed women in that culture taking on roles that are, to the western mind, liberated ones. However, the meaning behind those roles was just the opposite in the culture she was living in.
    You will notice I didn't say, as you have implied, that we cannot judge who God is. I did say that God is not EASILY judged. In the cultural analogy, I was trying to point out the arrogance of judging too soon, before we understand. I will support what you say about God's treatment of women being a good measure of who he is. Alas, I think what you really mean is the organised church's treatment of women, which is no measure of God but only of the church!
    It is unclear to me why you believe it possible to know the limits of human actions, but not the limits of God's. Aren't we all limited by who and what we are? It seems to me that God is much more limited by what he is, since the Bible says that he never changes, but we obviously do! Also, it is acceptable for a human to do what is out of character, but who could accept that in God? What is it that we are able to observe in a lifetime of knowing a human that we cannot observe in a lifetime of knowing God?
    I believe that truth is knowable, which I still assume you agree with. If it is knowable, and I say that I know, why is it you say that I can't know God? Are you saying that God CANNOT be truth, or that the truth is, after all, not knowable? If you are saying either one, you are wasting a big chunk of your time and mental energy thinking about them! Daniel, if you are the kind of person who is more interested in pointing out other people's wrong thinking than investigating anything of your own, then I am greatly disappointed.
    Have you ever read the Bible? Outside of church, with no minister to tell you what it means? If you're interested, I think you might find it both challenging and interesting. I'm not suggesting you run out and get baptised, but if you haven't read it already (or you haven't read it since you became a "seeker"), it might give you a different perspective even if you think it all hogwash. I have been able to read books on Buddhism as well as parts of the Bhagavad Gita without being brainwashed by them, and you don't seem to be in any danger of swallowing anything whole, so I don't imagine it would compromise your struggle to think independently.
    Onward!

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