God and Goodness


#1

Is God good because He does good things, or are things good because God does them?

One of our members, ‘oxymoron’, has recently expressed very insistently that God is not good because He does good things, but things are good because God does them. That no matter what God does or might do, it is good because of the fact that God is the one who is doing it. I’ve wanted to engage this idea, but I’ve been a little too busy, so I thought I’d start a topic for it, and see if anyone will talk about it.

Discuss! :sunglasses:

Sonia


Blog: "why calvinism is more heretical than universalism"
#2

Both:

God is the source of good. we know what good is, because it’s on our conscience. we rebel against that good, and we do evil.

God, as the source of good, acts in a good way.

also, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil allowed us to see and judge which is which. therefore we can see that God’s acts are good, when we have the information required.

also, it’s interesting that God takes credit for evil a couple times in the OT. but we can see that this means wrath and cleansing, and justice being done. and we can also see in light of the Cross that it isn’t the last word, therefore we can see that God works through justice for good as well.
Jesus spelled out God’s ethics of forgiveness and grace…God’s true plan.

just a few thoughts on it


#3

Hi Sonia,

I’ll agree with Oxy, but my guess is that we’ll disagree on how to apply this in understanding God or in judging the plausibility of other theological claims (say, claims that seem to implicate God in doing evil).

If God does the things he does ‘because they’re good’ then one could argue that there’s a standard of “goodness” outside of God which measures God and to which God conforms. And I think that’s something we ought not to suppose is the case (i.e., we shouldn’t think of God’s choices as conforming to a standard of goodness outside God himself).

So for the above reason I’ll agree with Oxy (and I think that’s the traditional view).

But there’s a danger in the saying the competing claim, that what God does is good just because it’s GOD who’s doing it. In a sense it’s true. We can trust that whatever GOD does, by virtue of being the God he is, it is good. But SOME will take this as an opportunity to justify actions THEY believe are rightly attributed to God, like unconditionally determining all that happens in the world, evil included, or to argue a divine right to arbitrary choice/determination. So predetermining all the evil our world has known IS perfectly good just because it’s GOD who did the determining of it. SOME might say, “You can’t judge determinism on the grounds that attributing all the world’s evil to God’s unconditional decree makes God evil since it’s GOD who is doing the determining.” If you smell something fishy going on here, you have good instincts.

What I would want to say is that God IS that standard. If it’s the case that God does good things ‘because they’re good’ then instead of locating that objective standard of goodness to which his actions conform outside of God, why not just make GOD that standard? And that’s what I do. This way I avoid conforming God to a standard of goodness outside himself AND avoid making God capricious or arbitrary. God doesn’t conform to some standard of goodness outside himself, but this doesn’t mean there is no ‘standard’ or that God is just as likely to condemn the righteous and justify the unrepentant as he is otherwise. See what I mean?

So for me, to say “What God does is good because God does it” means we can always conclude the goodness of acts RIGHTLY identified as God’s as being good for the simple reason that God IS goodness. Only goodness flows from him. God IS his own standard. This would be scary and make God arbitrary IF God was not dispositionally self-determined always to pursue the most aesthetically pleasing, existence-promoting, and person-building course of action possible. But what “what God does is good because God does it” does NOT mean, to my thinking, is that we can insulate a claim like ‘theological determinism’ from the criticism that it’s not true since God is not evil and can do not evil on the basis that it’s not evil God is doing precisely because it’s GOD who is doing it. That won’t fly. Indeed, something’s being evil is persuasive argument for concluding that God is NOT the one doing it.

Tom


#4

Hi Sonia
I think the choice is a false one. Neither tells the whole truth. God is Love and God is good not only in the sense that He does good things but that He is goodness itself.

Oxy wants the latter because it gives him the opportunity to label things that are clearly not good, to be good, just because his theology demands that the god of his making does them.
Oxy wants god to be able to determine what is, and what is not, good. That is like suggesting that God can determine what His very essence or nature is. Can God choose to be ‘not God’? Because that is what is being proposed.

I don’t go for that. Calvinism worships a capricious god and that is not good because it is not the God of scripture.


#5

Good Question!

And I like how Tom demonstrates how easily that kind of thinking can be manipulated to ones own purposes…

Couple scenarios/issues…

  1. I’m wondering if, now that sin has been loosed upon us, we have not fallen into a realm where choices involve not “good” choices, but simply ones which are “less bad”. It’s not as if God always has a choice between the good and the bad choice of action. (I think that’s one of the predicaments of sin that will disappear eventually…)

For example: the killing of Egypt’s first born.
I’m pretty comfortable in asserting that killing all first born males is a bad thing on the face of it. Given no other information I can say that was definitely not good.
Except that I’m not compelled to judge that event in a closed system; for it may be that given the complexity of human affairs and God’s interventions and workings to achieve His purposes, this may in fact have been better, in the long view, than not killing them! Now obviously I don’t expect an agnostic to accept that for one second, for I’ve come to that conclusion only after years of pondering the ways of God.
Bad stuff does happen! – but my confidence rests, ultimately, in the goodness of God which means that even in and through what we easily should be able to call “bad”, God was still many many steps ahead of us and will eventually work it out to His glory. (That’s why I’m an adherent of UR!!!)

So yes, I can and will say that killing all the first born was bad. But I will also say that it was the best option God had and that, given His inherent goodness, He can be trusted to make that kind of decision…

  1. To insist that something is good just because God did it can lead inevitably to a sloth of the mind which does not honor God it seems to me. By that I mean I don’t think God intends for us to take things “just” on the authority of His word. (Though I admit there may be times to do that…)

For example, I’ve loved the story of the Risen Lord on the way to Emmaus. These disciples are worried, wondering, and nearly broken. And after what He’d just been through, it seems an easy step for the risen Lord to just blurt out His identity and expect them to accept His authority. But no, He slowly and gently builds in these men, based on what they already know and have experienced, a conviction and an understanding that will be far more effective in the long run than mere “because God said it” claims. God here demonstrates a deep respect for the men’s need and ability to understand the deeper layers of meaning.

I’m suggesting that merely saying something is good because God did it risks missing all those delicious layers…

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#6

I’m not sure I agree Tom. A standard of “good”, which might be external, could not be known to us and would be impossible to measure. The standard could only be what is known to us. So if God has created the universe (of which is all that we know) and in this universe are good things as opposed to bad things, then in that respect God can only do things which are possibly good. In other words, raping a woman is not evil because God does not do it, it’s because the universe we live in does not allow for it by his design. So the Universe reflects him - He does things because they are good because the good things reflect his good nature which is the way he designed the universe. It could be no other way because there is not other way except God. So it’s NEVER POSSIBLE for rape to be good. Christians often want it to be in order to justify their defective views of God doing evil. Instead they should question their view of God.

So I think I’m endorsing Pilgrims line of thought as well.


#7

What do you think Sonia?

Tom


#8

i’m with you on this, mate…


#9

Good post, Pilgrim. That’s how I see it too. If election doesn’t depend on merit or anything else that’s to do with us, then it’s nothing but a lottery.

It’s a funny thing. People say something’s good because God does it, but they never stop to ask, “Which God?” Is burning babies good because Moloch does it?

The moment a God-candidate does evil, he’s disqualified. I cross him off the list.


#10

Auggy: I’m not sure I agree Tom. A standard of “good”, which might be external, could not be known to us and would be impossible to measure. The standard could only be what is known to us. So if God has created the universe (of which is all that we know) and in this universe are good things as opposed to bad things, then in that respect God can only do things which are possibly good. In other words, raping a woman is not evil because God does not do it, it’s because the universe we live in does not allow for it by his design. So the Universe reflects him - He does things because they are good because the good things reflect his good nature which is the way he designed the universe. It could be no other way because there is not other way except God. So it’s NEVER POSSIBLE for rape to be good. Christians often want it to be in order to justify their defective views of God doing evil. Instead they should question their view of God. So I think I’m endorsing Pilgrims line of thought as well.

Tom: There’s no disagreement between Pilgrim and me on this. As I understand him, Pilgrim and I are basically saying the same thing. Both ways of putting it (whether “God does what is good because it’s good” or “What God does is good just because God does it”) can be taken differently and misapplied.

I keep reading your paragraph here and wondering where you come down on the question Sofia posed. I’m not following your comments too well. Do you think that what “defines” something as good or evil is a standard of goodness external to God to wihch God himself conforms?

Tom


#11

Tom,
After re-reading my own post I think I only restated the question. I don’t think I did come down anywhere on the on the OP. I felt like I was but after thinking about it, I’ve basically begged the question.

Ok, God created the universe good.

I was thinking, the universe must have good properties (since God created it good) and and there is nothing that can exist where evil in one universe is good in another (such as rape). However, I would have to prove that the “good” which it is is external to God or not. So I offered nothing to further the discussion. Sorry.


#12

Hi Tom,

That was a great answer. I had begun to reply to Oxymoron on this issue on another thread, but then realized it was more complicated than just the words. Because actually I agree that things are good because God does them, only the reason I agree with that statement is because I believe that God is entirely good. It is because of His goodness that I can trust that all the things He does are good.

I disagree with Oxy’s view, because I perceive him to be saying that given the set of all possible actions, any of those would be called “good” if God did it.

I think I disagree with this part, Tom, because I don’t have a problem with the idea of an objective standard of goodness outside of God. We recognize goodness when we see it (assuming we have enough wisdom). We know a good fruit from a rotten fruit. We know a hurtful action from a loving one. We call God “good” because we recognize that He is.

Sonia


#13

Sonia: I disagree with Oxy’s view, because I perceive him to be saying that given the set of all possible actions, any of those would be called “good” if God did it.

Tom: Exactly. Said in another way, there’s no possible act one can’t wrongly conceive of God’s doing it on the basis of its being evil. This ends up being self-defeating actually, for if an act only ‘becomes’ good because God does it, and we say that God does no evil, then ‘evil’ essentially becomes a non-entity, for it gets reduced simply to ‘that which God has not done’. But if an act of God only becomes good by virtue of God’s having done it, then any conceivable act may be done by God. God’s choices to do or not to do this or that aren’t ‘informed’ as it were by any qualitative property in the act considered. Acts ‘considered’ are qualitatively nothing to God. They only ‘become’ so by virtue of having God actualizing them. Personally I think this is disastrous.

I italicized the first part so that I can say that I don’t see what the non-italicized part has to do with demonstrating or explaining the italicized part. I agree we are able to distinguish good from evil, healthy fruit from rotten fruit, hurtful from loving, etc. How does this relate to the question of whether or not the goodness of God’s actions is itself derived from its conformity to some non-divine standard external to God?

When we talk about an “objective standard of goodness outside God” we mean to say that God makes the choices he does in order to conform himself to some non-divine reality (viz., this standard of goodness). But what sort of reality could we have in mind? It would have to be some concrete reality other than God and which exists eternally alongside God and which God is always careful to obey or conform to. Hence, we end up having God obey a non-God reality! That’s what it would mean to say that God does the things he does ‘because they’re good’. Their being good would then derive not from God but from this non-God reality that serves as the standard to which God conforms. In the end, God would be good because he always conforms himself to this non-God standard of absolute goodness.

Are you sure you’re OK with there being a reality other than God which is co-eternal with God and to which God chooses to conform himself? If you are OK with it, then I’d very much like to ask just what sort of eternal non-God reality this standard is. Wouldn’t this reality be greater than God since God conforms himself to it? And then we could ask OF IT the same question we’re asking now of God, namely: Are the things this standard defines as ‘good’ good because the standard defines them as such OR does this standard define them as such because they’re good? And on and on we go…

It has to stop somewhere with some concrete reality which just is its own standard of goodness and which does not conform to anything outside itself. And if we must end the infinite regress this way, why not end it with God? Why suppose there to be some reality which is not God and which God obeys? Is it not much better to end our search for objective standards of goodness with God himself?

Tom


#14

Tom,
I’m going to have to think about what you’ve written for awhile before I’ll be able to answer that. I think I get what you’re saying, but I’m not quite sure I know what I’m talking about. :confused:

Sonia


#15

Just ask this: When God does good, is he doing so out of obedience to something or someone outside himself?

Tom