Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Two ways we can say God isn't good

Job 1:22: "In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing."

Job 33:9-12: "You [Job] said, 'I am pure; I am without sin; I am innocent; I have no guilt. God is picking a quarrel with me, and he considers me his enemy. He puts my feet in the stocks and watches my every move.' But you are wrong, and I will show you why. For God is greater than any human being."

There are two ways we can say that God isn't good.

The first way is obvious. We can say the Christian God exists, but that He isn't perfectly good despite what the Bible says. That is, the Bible inaccurately describes God.

The second way of saying that God isn't good can be a lot more subtle. I'll illustrate it using an example.

Suppose that a parent loses their spouse and child in a horrific accident one day. It also happens to be the case that the parents had stopped going to church a few months ago because they had just been too tired to go along, what with everything else that had been happening in their lives (or for some other reason).

Suppose that the surviving parent says 'I completely affirm that God is good. The reason why my spouse and child died is because God decided to punish us for not going to church more often.'

The second way of saying God isn't good can be quite subtle. It happens when someone affirms and sincerely believes that God is good, but when they try to explain suffering in their lives they say something about God that implies He isn't really good.

If we affirm that God is good, then we should not try to explain why God has allowed something to happen in our lives that subtly (or more bluntly) says that God isn't good. Because it just can't be true, and so it will mislead people who believe it. The surviving spouse is right to say that God is perfectly good, but something would be very amiss with God if their terrible tragedy was a punishment for not going to church more often.

Sometimes we can explain why God allowed something in a really great way. Sometimes, after enough time has elapsed, we can look at our life and understand really well why God didn't answer a specific prayer, or frustrated a persistent desire.

But if we can't explain our suffering very well, it's a lot better just to stick to our principles, affirm that God is good, and say 'I don't know why God allowed this to happen', rather than come up with a poor explanation.

There are general truths we can fall back on if we don't know the specific reason why God allowed something to happen. Characters in the Bible that we know God was helping and watching over often went through very long periods where God might have seemed distant and uncaring (like the account of Joseph in Genesis). Plus, humanity's unnatural separation from its Creator ensures some degree of suffering (like a fish out of water). Also, God will honour people's free will, allowing them to do evil to others, or damage their own lives.

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