Monday, February 20, 2017


If one would examine the topic of God's goodness, one must begin with one of the most quoted passages written by C.S. Lewis.  In his children's book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis introduces the Christ figure Aslan through a discussion between the children and talking beavers.  As the beavers describe Aslan, the lion, both Susan and Lucy ask the same important question.  "Is he -- quite safe?"  "Then he isn't safe?"  Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe?  Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good."

To the average person, this explanation sound like a contradiction.  How can something be good and yet unsafe?  The dictionary defines "safe" as, "not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk."   The same source defines "good" as "possessing or displaying moral virtue."  Here is where the modern conflict arises.  We identify "safe" as a moral virtue.  We like safe things.  We don't want anything that would cause harm.  We don't like risk.  We might engage in behavior that some consider risky, but only in denial of its risks, or denial that those risks could ever affect us.  Whether we engage in dangerous pursuits or not, we imagine ourselves to be safe.  No skydiver ever thinks that they will die on this jump.  No aviator thinks the plane will crash on this flight.  While adrenaline junkies understand the risks and take appropriate precautions, at the end, they think they engage in their dangerous pursuits safely.

Perhaps safety is not the moral virtue we think it to be.  Perhaps goodness requires a bit of risk, a hazard of harm.  In the Middle Ages, the concept of chivalry developed with one common theme, the mighty knight was good when he protected the weak.  Goodness didn't make the knight any less dangerous.  Rather it focused that danger against those who would harm the innocent.

We consider bravery and self-sacrifice as virtues, and they certainly require the presence of danger and harm.  What many miss in the conception of "good" is its linguistic antonym in "evil."  Bravery is good only because it fights against the evil.  The bravery of an evil man who fights against the good is not considered a virtue, but an aggravation of his evil.

Good and evil are at war and have been from nearly the beginning.  Even our narratives bear this truth out.  Every good story has this war at its heart.  The character of the protagonist battles an antagonist at some point.  While many dramatist try to play with the formula, the repeated structure continues because it speaks to our own experience.  We live in a reality where we see the struggle between good and evil.  And we want goodness to win.  We want evil to lose.

Mankind often prefers to ignore this war or redefine its parameters.  The world would prefer not to engage the antithesis that exists.  War is costly, bloody, dangerous, and deadly.  Military conflicts have not alway given the world a concept of one good side against one evil side.  This has cause in the present society a reluctance to engage in military struggles.  It has not stopped wars, for now they are fought with words and protests.  Those most against wars fight on in other ways deluding themselves that by them they are bringing mankind together.

The reason the world is forced to admit this struggle between good and evil still exists is due to the experience of opposition.  We think of good and evil in subjective and relative concepts.  We consider our position "good" and any who oppose us as "evil".  This simplistic view continues to confront us with the reality of the struggle, but often warps our definition of good and evil.  "Good" no longer has an absolute standard, but means what we prefer.  "Good" has lost its moral perfection to moral preference.  "Good" no longer is that is morally right, but what is morally preferable to someone: ourselves or society.

This illusion of the good fails to recognize the objective reality of goodness.  What was good now, was good millennia ago and will be good millennia future.  It cannot be otherwise.  For good to change, it must not have been moral perfection, for perfection cannot change due to the ravages of time.  Perfection lasts, else it is not perfection but merely superior or superlative, better than all the other alternatives.  Goodness and perfection are absolute conditions.  As an absolute condition, its quality remains static.

If the definition of the good remains static, how do we know the good?  The illusion of goodness reminds us that the knowledge of these attributes cannot come from some internal source.  Our opinion does not determine what goodness is.  The evidence of our own logic or experience may mislead us due to the corrupting power of sin.  Goodness must be revealed to us.

What reveals what is good to us?  The Bible reveals that the law of God reveals the good.  Goodness is defined by God as part of His nature.  The summation of the law is to be like God.  The law (goodness) then is not an arbitrary set of rules constructed to meet a capricious deity's preference.  It is the revelation of God's character, the good.  As man was made good (Gen.1:31), as man was made in God's image (Gen.1:26), it was man's destiny and responsibility to be good.  Man failed to live to the level of his nature and ability by the first sin of eating the forbidden fruit.  In doing so, he lost goodness and became evil.

People object to the binary division between good and evil.  They prefer gradations of good, hues of evil.  Goodness is not subjective, relative, or comparative.  It requires moral perfection.  It means moral behavior without one single flaw.  One sin ruins goodness.  One sin translates good to evil.  That sin of eating the forbidden fruits changed the relationship of man to God.  He who was a friend of God and enemy of evil, became a friend of the serpent and an enemy of God.

My former pastor regularly said that the goodness of the Lord was the most frightening aspect of God to man.  The fear comes from the antithesis that man must recognize within himself.  Within himself, and finds evil, not goodness.  The evil in man causes fear.  The almighty and sovereign God is not safe to evil man.  Can you image anything as terrifying as as being an enemy of God?  Remember, goodness must win.  Evil cannot prevail.  Man will perish before the goodness of the almighty God.  He can expect nothing but condemnation.

Unbelieving man claims to prove the unrighteousness of God by arrogant statements like, "If God is good and almighty, how could He allow evil in the world."  By evil, they do not mean the antithesis of goodness.  They mean some idea, practice, event, or person they find unacceptable.  This question ignores an even more troubling question.  If God is good and almighty, why is there any human still living?  Shouldn't we all have perished already?  The answer is, Yes.

God is not safe to sinful humanity for the very fact that He is good.  Men looking on with sinful, outward vision lack the ability to understand His ways or plans.  They willfully ignore the reality they face excusing their sin with redefined concepts of the good.  They must do so lest their conscience condemn their own selves.

As we go into the world, we must understand that the world functions with a completely different set of definitions for the "good" than the Bible reveals.  We cannot use the language of "good" without first defining "goodness."  Even ideas the Bible declares "good", the world redefines to allow sin.  Love is "good."  By this truth, the world justifies its addiction to sexual sin.  But sexual sin is not love, no matter how you feel.  Homosexuality, as one sexual sin among many, the cause celeb of the present day, is not love.  It is not good.

Identity is good.  We affirm this truth, but identity is not self-determined.  It is the whole self, not merely aspects of the self.  Gender does not give identity.  Humanity's identity comes from the Savior.  He who gave us life, by His resurrected life defines life and shows us who we are.

In Christ, we are free, but the murder of the unborn is not freedom.  With many of the concepts we study in this series, we need to take to heart and use the statement of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

We cannot leave the concept of goodness without applying it to the way God deals with His people.  Earlier, I mentioned chivalry and its connection between goodness and danger.  The Lord is our Savior, our Champion, and our king.  The Shorter Catechism puts it well.  "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies."

If goodness is not safeness, if goodness involves danger, then let us consider this as we reflect on this statement.  "God does good to His people."  We often think of that statement in one direction.  We think of the good that God does for us as blessing.  God does good to us when He makes our lives better.  When the promotion comes through, when we get the bonus or raise, when the new baby is born, we pass the test, we win the game, we hear the applause, we graduate, we enjoy the vacation, we remember that God does good to His people.

That view is accurate, but incomplete.  God always does good to His people even in the struggles.  When we are fired, when the loved one dies, when we fail, when we hear boos, when the car breaks down, when the doctor makes that face, we need to remember that these also reflect the goodness of God to us.  God does nothing that does not grow and encourage His people.  God allows nothing into our lives that is not ultimately good.  That does not deny the present evil of those things.  Death, failure, brokenness, sin, sickness, and pain result from sin and reflect the evil in us and in the world.

If we are to live Christian in an unchristian world, we must understand goodness.  We must understand that the standard of the world will not determine what is good.  The character of God is the source of all goodness.  We are called to reveal the good to the world.  We are called to live good.  We are called to accept the events of life as reflective of the goodness of God, even in the most painful events.  Only by this faithfully applying this biblical principle will we be able to live as we ought.

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