Monday, January 25, 2010

Severity of God

My thoughts have been focused for some time on the topic of the goodness of God. Any perusal of my blog will lend itself to seeing this theme coming up again and again. There seems to be a way of thinking both in and outside of Christianity that ascribes ultimate goodness as something that would never, in any way, cause suffering, harm, destruction, or death. While Christians often avoid any seemingly awkward discussion of the severity of God, it is something that is an indispensable attribute of The Most Holy. Consider the following passage.

Romans 11:22 (New American Standard Version)

“Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.

God invites us to partake of His kindness, but that does not mean He is not also severe and that some meet justly with His severity.

God’s goodness and His justness are not at odds. He is one and He is always Himself. He is fully good and fully just at the same time. His omnipotence – His power—is also aligned with His goodness as well as with His holiness, and justness, and all His other attributes. Thus there are things God cannot do. He cannot lie for He is Truth and the Truth cannot also be non-truth. He cannot do something that is not good for that would be contrary to His nature. His mercy and His justness are not at odds, but are perfectly expressed rightly. (See the previous post which is an excerpt from A.W. Tozer for more on this).

Some argue that if He is the standard for good that goodness becomes whatever He wants. This is true because His actions are in line with His nature. There is no wrestling between what He wills and what He does for both are equally and ultimately good. Thus all that He wants is good. A good tree bears good fruit. God is the ultimate good Tree. He always bears good fruit. His actions always line up with His nature.

In light of the conversation at hand, I recall one of my favorite passages from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In The Silver Chair, Jill and Scrubb are whisked off into an adventure in Narnia. Scrubb, otherwise known as Eustace, had been there before, but for Jill this was a new experience.

To set the stage for the passage quoted below, Scrubb and Jill become separated and Jill encounters Aslan for the first time. Jill was very thirsty and saw a stream where she could drink, but next to the stream lay the Great Lion.

“If you're thirsty, you may drink.”

They were the first words she had heard since Scrubb had spoken to her on the edge of the cliff. For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” and of course she remembered what Scrubb had said about animals talking in that other world, and realized that it was the lion speaking. Anyway, she had seen its lips move this time, and the voice was not like a man's. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I'm dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion.

“May I - could I - would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting,

nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

(Passage from The Silver Chair – Chapter 2)

God does not answer to us. We answer to Him. We do not judge Him; He is the good Judge of us. He will not move out of the way for He is The Way. He will truthfully tell us “there is no other stream.” We can drink of His life, or we can die in our thirst. But this life He offers is found no where other than in Himself and He invites us in. But to be on the outside of that goodness, is to live in an alternate non-good state of being that has consequences that are right and just despite their unpleasantness.

Modern culture has embraced the idea that tolerance is the highest virtue. That good cannot allow for suffering or harm. Part of this view is true in the context of a world without sin. Good then would not have suffering, destruction, and death. But this world is not the good world that was first created. It has been altered by sin when we allowed the enemy to have power here. A day is coming where there will be no more tears, no more death, no more suffering. But sin is a reality and it does come with consequences. Evil must be reckoned with. At the heart of almost every story ever told is the battle between good and evil and the triumph of good over evil. But in that triumph comes much cost and those who are on the side of evil do not fair well. God is not a tolerant God; He is very much a good God.

Tolkien eloquently depicts this universal battle when evil enters the peaceful happy village of the Shire through the greed of a Hobbit who took a ring for himself that did not belong to him. Consequences ensued as evil showed up at the doorstep of the shire commencing a great journey for a little Hobbit who inherited the ring and his fellowship to see evil overcome. The costs were great, but good fought back the evil and the evil forces were overcome. Pain and suffering including death happened also to those in service to good, but it was the costs in overcoming the evil that had infiltrated the land.

Good must be understood to not trifle with evil. God does not play around when it comes to evil. We ought not to expect Him to be a Lamb in the face of evil, but a Lion. The fullness of His gentle kind persona is still in the Lion, but He acts in severity when it is good to do so and in mercy and kindness when that is the good response. Even His justice is merciful for He never ceases to be merciful when He is just and never ceases to be just when He is merciful.

When John encounters the glorified Christ, he fell at His feet as though dead because of the Holiness that stood before Him in full unveiled glory. We must not consider God without His Holiness. That word holds little meaning for most. Many a scholar will define “holiness” as the absence of sin, when in reality the Eternal God was Holy before any sin ever existed. Holiness has a mysterious triumphant glory that is greater than we could possibly imagine. God invites us to come and be holy as He is holy. He wants to clothe us in His righteousness, but we cannot tame Him, He will not fit our boxes. He will not be judged by us, but He will give us all that is His if we come and drink. There is no other stream.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A.W. Tozer on the Justness and Goodness of God

“Knowledge of the Holy” By A.W. Tozer (excerpt page 61).

It is sometimes said, “Justice requires God to do this,” referring to some act we know He will perform. This is an error of thinking as well as of speaking, for it postulates a principle of justice outside of God which compels Him to act in a certain way. Of course there is no such principle. If there were it would be superior to God, for only a superior power can compel obedience.

The truth is that there is not and can never be anything outside of f the nature of God which can move Him in the least degree. All God’s reasons come from within His uncreated being. Nothing has entered the being of God from eternity, nothing has been removed, and nothing has been changed.

Justice, when used of God, is a name we give to the way God is, nothing more; and when God acts justly He is not doing so to conform to an independent criterion, but simply acting like Himself in a given situation. As gold is an element in itself and can never change nor compromise but is gold wherever it is found, so God is God, always, only, fully God, and can never be other than He is. Everything in the universe is good to the degree it conforms to the nature of God and evil as it fails to do so. God is His own self-existent principle of moral equity, and when He sentences evil men or rewards the righteous, He simply acts like Himself from within, uninfluenced by anything that is not Himself.

All this seems, but only seems, to destroy the hope of justification for the returning sinner. The Christian philosopher and saint, Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, sought a solution to the apparent contradiction between the justice and the mercy of God. “How dost Thou spare the wicked,” he inquired of God, “if Thou art all just and supremely just?” Then he looked straight at God for the answer, for he knew that it lies in what God is.

Anselm’s findings may be paraphrased this way: God’s being is unitary; it is not composed of a number of parts working harmoniously, but simply one. There is nothing in His justice which forbids the exercise of His mercy. To think of God as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner wholly unworthy of the true God.

God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God is in conflict with another. God’s compassion flows out of His goodness, and goodness without justice is not goodness. God spares us because He is good, but He could not be good if He were not just. When God punishes the wicked, Anselm concludes, it is just because it is consistent with their deserts; and when He spares the wicked it is just because it is compatible with His goodness; so God does what becomes Him as the supremely good God. This is reason seeking to understand, not that it may believe but because it already believes.

A simpler and more familiar solution for the problem of how God can be just and still justify the unjust is found in the Christian doctrine of redemption. It is that, through the work of Christ in atonement, justice is not violated but satisfied when God spares a sinner. Redemptive theology teaches that mercy does not become effective toward a man until justice has done its work. The just penalty for sin was exacted when Christ our Substitute died for us on the cross. However unpleasant this may sound to the ear of the natural man, it has ever been sweet to the ear of faith. Millions have been morally and spiritually transformed by this message, have lived lives of great moral power, and died at last peacefully trusting in it.

Respecting People

The following post is distinct from the conversations at hand, but something that I have been thinking about. I have a view of people that each person is due respect and honor regardless of their behavior or belief system. While I believe in treating a homeless drunkard with the same curtsey and kindness as I would the President, I also see those who are in leadership in a community or nation as people I ought to honor with what I say about them.

There was a day where I said plenty I am now not proud of regarding a particular President from years ago. However, I realized the error of my ways. I thought freedom of speech lent me the moral right to speak disrespectfully of the President since I disagreed so vehemently with the way he ran the country. In my opinion, I was wrong.

I do not share the political worldview of President Obama, but I aim to always speak of him with respect and for the respect to be something not that I just show publicly, but how I internally respond as well. I aim not to be duplicitous in my rendering of honor and respect.

In so doing, there are a variety of leaders in the Church. These leaders are not perfect and make mistakes, some more often than others. I can only think of Billy Graham and Mother Teresa as those who I have seldom if ever heard any complaint. You will find me speaking well of these leaders even if I do not share all their doctrine, or all their ideology, or all their way of doing ministry. I will also speak well of them if they have made a big mistake even if I see that mistake as a real character flaw or sin issue. This does not mean I ignore the issue, if I think something said was wrong, or mistaken, or if I see something they are doing as sin, I won’t say it isn’t when it is. However, I will still speak kindly and respectfully of each person. I don’t wait for someone to earn respect, they have it at the start.

I also try to remember that everyone says something they shouldn’t sometimes and everyone says something that is not popular sometimes or just plain wrong. Anyone, church leader or not, who is in the public eye constantly will inevitably say something that will not be well received. If I had such a public following I am sure to make a mess of things when I’m talking from time to time regardless of whether what I said was true or not true.

Anyone should have freedom to disagree with anything anyone has said, even if the President of the United States said something. We live in America with that freedom. And while we also live with the freedom to mock a person or publicly call someone out for their issues it does not seem to be good character to do so. It would seem to reflect more on the character of the one pointing the finger then the object of the rebuke.

In the same way, I always speak well of my atheists friends. Disagreement regarding matters of truth do not lend themselves to me thinking ill of anyone who doesn’t see things they way I do. I know my readers all ready know this. However, I know this isn’t always the norm coming from a Christian, even though it ought to be the norm. I have seen documentaries by Richard Dawkins that shows even prominent ministers treating him in a less than noble manner. This greatly saddens me. I have, however, also seen him speak very well of how he was treated by other Christian leaders when he has been invited out to churches for debates or other events.

I hope one day to invite him to my city and treat him as I would a President. Not to earn any brownie points with him for Christians, but because it is how he ought to be treated as a guest of mine.

Honestly, I write this post more for Christian readers than I do for my atheists readers. I just felt it needed to be written as it’s been on my mind for a while now.

Square One: Goodness & God

Now that the tests of a worldview have been somewhat agreed upon, I will attempt to address the main topic of the comments in this post. The topic of discussion has revolved around the goodness of God.

My position is that if God exist, He is necessarily good. God being the greatest of all possible entities would necessitate His being the greatest good. Also, God being the greatest, hence the perfect absolute eternal being, would necessitate an unchanging nature for perfection doesn’t get more or less perfect.

Moreover, if goodness exists it needs an ontological form. It necessitates an eternal absolute being to even be a meaningful concept. It must be more than an abstract concept, such as Plato’s forms. The alternative argument is that goodness as such does not exist and all good and evil constructs are culturally determined and do not correspond to any greater concept of “good.” One culture’s assertion of good cannot be any better or worse than another culture by any outside standard that can be appealed to by both cultures. If the competing standards lead to war, the winning nation sets the standard because they have the power to do so, not because there standard is more right, just more powerful.

Now the tendency of those who disagree with the philosophy above is to retort with instances of the Bible God’s actions recorded in the Old Testament as evidence of His not being good. The actions of God brought into the argument are third level (see last post) evidence without regard to the first level philosophy. I would like to see a philosophical – non anecdotal – response to the above philosophical position before bringing the discussion to the third level. In so doing, let us suppose no actions of said God have been recorded and we are only looking at the philosophical.

The question of where “good” is rooted and what “good” means must first be established before judging any practical data as good or evil. The above is both an argument for God’s goodness, and for His existence because whether we start with the existence of a real “goodness” rather then the existence of God my argument shows that this leads to the necessity of an eternal being where that good is rooted. If however, you are a proponent of the view that “good” is culturally determined and does not line up with an idea of “good” itself then it will not lead you to the conclusion of God’s existence. In that event we would have to examine the later view of good in greater depth to see if that lines up with reality and works in the practical level just as we would have to then look and see of God being good measures itself out in the practical. But let us start in level one before illustrating in level three if possible.

Furthermore, some discussion has revolved around this topic in the comments in the first level with discussion of whether a God that can be only good can be all powerful. For would not all powerful necessitate the ability to do something not good. To that I respond that if the greatest state of existence -- perfection -- is goodness than God being fully good and incapable of being less than good, would not be a limitation but an attribute of perfection.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Worldview Development

If there is no agreement on how a truth is measured and added to one’s worldview then there cannot be much progress in talking about particulars of truth. While it is very true that establishment of the existence of God logically precedes the details about who that God may or may not be, I think we need to delve further back to epistemological principals before traversing through the potential truths.

If some commonality is not found at that level then it is like trying to play chess with the game rules for checkers.

In developing a worldview we must remember that it will always be developing, adapting, and evolving to encompass more and more truth as we learn it. There has to be room for revision and removal of inaccurate perspectives as we grow in truth and knowledge. I propose that one needs to measure all things that make up ones worldview by three tests of truth.

First does the thing line up philosophically as true? This is the ethereal, but important level of examining a worldview. Is it logical? Is it true? Is it right? Is it consistent with other known truths? Or are their logical inconsistencies? Are there fundamental philosophical problems with the hypothesis?

Secondly can it be communicated rationally or is it too ethereal and abstract to even be able to express? If the former move on to the third test, if the later there needs to be some work done in the level of the first test. Or possibly if it is reexamined at the first level and found sound, then it may need some work at the second level. If it cannot be illustrated by story or picture or dialog it needs further work to find out why and to determine where the problem lies. Maybe it needs revision, maybe it needs to be abandoned, or maybe you will learn a way to express the thing.

Thirdly, is it practicable? Does it work in the real world? Can it be pulled out of the ethereal, communicated, and implemented as truth? If not then go back to test one, because most likely there is a problem there.

I often hear people think only in the third level even when it violates the first. For example, someone may argue that they have need of food therefore they have a right to the food others have to fulfill their hunger. This way of thinking quickly leads to either stealing or communism as it violates the first level and only reasons in the third level.

One would need to think in level one about whether it is right for one person to take from another person what does not belong to them or if someone has a right to what they did not work to earn. Because if stealing is wrong in the first level it is still wrong in the practical level and the need does not overcome the morality problem. But when we only think according to the third level we give no thought to ethics or truth, but to personal need and survival irrespective of truth and righteousness.

However to respond to a person’s practical need by philosophizing in the first level without a solution in the third can be just as wrong. Often people take a philosophical position and leave the person in need at the mercy of their philosophy with no practical help for them. Something only being pertinent in the first level, but having no value in the third is just as errant as something thought out only in the third with disregard to the first and second level of development.

I started this essay delineating the philosophical need for a worldview and philosophically proposed how one can test a thing before adding or retaining it in their worldview. Next, I illustrated the point with an example using the second level of the test.

Now for the practical it has to work beyond my theorizing and illustrating and can only be tested by practical use of the method for any who agree in the first and second level of thought to take it to the level of practical trial.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Character of God

It seems that one of the prevailing arguments against the goodness of the God of the Bible is the actions of God cited in that very book. To use these actions as evidence against God's nature, one is accepting the testimony of Scripture as a valid source in supporting this argument. Presumably if the Christian God exists then the Bible tells about whom this God is, and as such the testimony of this book is used to invalidate the claim of God's goodness.

In all fairness, one should look at the whole testimony concerning the nature of this God and consider the following.

King David, after sinning against God, was faced with the choice of being punished by the hands of his enemies or by God himself. To which David responded, "let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men" (2 Samuel 24:14). David, a contemporary of the Old Testament, fully knowledgeable about the events of his day and the actions of God said wholeheartedly that he would rather face God's judgment than man's. He believed God to be more merciful than man.

Moses who saw God's actions time and again cried out to God, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here" (Exodus 33:15). He did not want to lead the people anywhere without the Presence of God going with them.

Both David and Moses are contemporaries of the days when God unleashed judgment in the earth by way of calamity or war, and yet both saw the Lord's mercy is great and that His Presence is greatly desirable.

These are only two of the many examples of the men and women who trusted in the Lord and spoke of His goodness and mercy. While Christians often do an injustice by depicting God as a Being who is tolerant of sin and who would never exact judgment upon people due to their sin, it is just as inaccurate for atheists to champion God as a vindictive genocidal maniac. If we are looking at the same Bible we ought to be able to see a God who is holy, good, and just.

C.S. Lewis gives the imagery in The Chronicles of Narnia of a good, but not a tame Lion. God is good and merciful while at the same good and just. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death. It also says that Jesus came to give life to those trapped in this sin; to provide mercy and righteousness to the sinner by offering to become united with us thereby making us clean as He is clean. Jesus took on the wages of sin for us. What greater mercy and love can there be?