Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Deep Question of the Day

What is the relationship between God and Good? Does God's character define "goodness" (and thus, by definition everything He does is "good") or does Good exist separate from God and thus He can be measured against it?

I have been thinking about this for a long time, and am interested in Mod-Blogger's opinions. Yes, you can tell I was a Philosophy Major in college. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it has real impact on how we judge our own morals and those of others.


quizwedge said...

After some brief research, I have some random thoughts that seem to point to a conclusion, but even at the end I find problems with it so feel free to blast away. Hopefully it'll be useful as a springboard for someone else.

1. Nahum 1:7 (Young's Literal Translation) "Good [is] Jehovah for a strong place in a day of distress. And He knoweth those trusting in Him." - Any Hebrew scholars out there know what for of "is" is used? Is it the "is" meaning exact equivalent or the "is" like "quizwedge is a human being."

2. The Rich Young Ruler - Jesus responds in Luke 18:19 that "no one [is] good, except One -- God" (again Young's Literal Translation).

3. Philosophically I have been taught that evil is the absence of God. That is, God does not cause evil and did not create evil, but rather it is the absence of him... which is important in answering the question, "If God is a loving God, how can their be evil in the world."

4. Are there different levels of good? Given 2 and 3 above, I'd have to argue that there actually aren't. It is man that has created the perception that some "good" is better than other "good".

5. Assumption: evil is, by definition, the absence of good.

6. If there are not different levels of good, only God is good and anything not good is evil then anything not God is evil. We all, but for God's justification, would be declared evil.

This would lend itself to logical substitution showing that God = good.

Of course, angels aren't justified and by the mere fact that they are in the presence of God, I would think that they can't be evil... but no one is good but God and there aren't different levels of good so.... ?


Sean said...

I tend to lean toward good being a description of God's character rather than simply being part of who God is. It seems that the description that God is good is based upon the assumption that there is an objective measure for what good is rather than the idea that good is flexible as to however God happens to be acting. I'll clean up my thoughts later and have a better explanation when I have more time to think clearly.

Nomad said...


If I follow your logic properly, it goes something like this...

1 + 2 + 3 - 2 x 3 = Blue Fish

...mostly kidding. :-)

Near as I can tell, you also are going back and forth.

Here is the problem with saying God is, by definition, good. It becomes nonsensical to praise Him for being good. It would be like praising capitalization for turning mark into a proper name.

Here is the problem with saying Good exists outside of God. If we judge God by "Good" then Good is higher than God. But we claim God is creator of all things and the first mover. And no effect can be greater than its cause.

Anyway, it is nice to not be the only one wrestling with this.

quizwedge said...

"1 + 2 + 3 - 2 x 3 = Blue Fish" just about. In my defense though, I did say they were random thoughts.

How about this? Good is an independent standard. Sin is in the physical world, so the creation in the physical world can't be perfectly good. God, however, is perfectly good. Because he never changes, he will never be not perfectly good. Thus, there is still reason to praise Him for being good, but good is not greater than God. Not perfect, but perhaps closer?

Sean said...

Good is inanimate, it's a descriptive term. Much like when we say that God is omnipotent it's descriptive of what God is and not a statement of equality. In the same way when we say that God is good it is because God has those characteristics that we use to qualify goodness. In the same way many people call God evil because they see God as not measuring up to the characteristics that qualify for good and rather has those characteristics that qualify for evil. In the end good is what we make it to be - there is not a universal good. It is by its very nature a subjective term and thus God's character can't be the defining principle for goodness since God's character is not subjective, but rather objective.

shadowmom1 said...

I praise God for being The Truth, therefore trustworthy. I praise Him for all His attributes and just being who He is. I can certainly praise Him for being good, even if good is part of who He is and not a description of a standard outside of himself.
I agree that if we see good as a standard against which God is measured that it makes good higher than Him.

"Nick" said...

I would say that in dealing with this, start with the Bible. What does the Bible say regarding God's character, and how does it say it? What does the Bible say about praising God? There are a lot of misconceptions out there about how and why we praise God, although I don't know if this would come under any of those.

The Bible uses a lot of descriptions for God. I think the most used is just or righteous, but merciful, loving, gracious, great, powerful, slow to anger, jealous, awesome... you get the idea.

I think those all end up in your description of good.

I think sometimes praising God for his "goodness" is a copout from having to figure out why... "Lord, you are good... you are good... you are good to me." How? I can sing the same thing about Nomad at times (when he has fixed my Mac for instance). Better to sing "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me".

Or maybe I'm missing the point.

Anyway,my point is, I'd start with the Bible to let me know more information on the how and why of who God is and how we related to Him.

Nomad said...


Here is the rub. There are two reasons to praise God for His goodness:
1. He is Good (excellent, merciful, slow-to-anger, rich in love, etc.)
2. He is good to me.

#2 is what we typically do, being selfish humans. "I praise you because I have an iPhone/good wife/children/house/etc." But #1 is more meaningful in that it is independent of the circumstances. It is the difference between praising your wife because she washed the dishes, and because she is beautiful or kind or gentle. One is praising an act, and one is praising their virtues.

But it makes no sense to praise someone for a characteristic which is definitional. i.e. You don't praise a ruler because it is 12 inches (or 30 centimeters) long, but you may praise it for being made of gold. Likewise, you don't praise your wife for being female or human, but for the qualities which are not presumed (i.e. intelligence, morality, consideration, etc.)

If God is good because by definition good is measured by God, then it makes no sense to praise Him for that. It is essentially a tautology. But if Good is something against which we measure God, something OUTSIDE of God, then it makes sense to praise Him for being that because He has a choice NOT to be.

My own thoughts are that Good is separate from God in the same way that the Son is separate from the Father in the Trinity. Good is a concept which has its own existence, but the existence came about as a reflection of God's own nature. Did God create Good, then? Not exactly. And Good is not the same as God. God could even choose NOT to be good. But likewise, without God, Good would not exist. It is the difference between a painting and a photograph. The painting is a conscious creation of an image at a point in time. The photograph is a frozen reflection of that same image, but without a conscious element. (Ignoring the photographer, of course, and lenses and the mechanics, etc.) The photograph is not created by the image, but would not have existence without the original image. Which, come to think of it, may imply praising God for being Good is as much praising Him for being faithful and unchanging. Saying that God is definitionally Good would make Good more of a mirror, which could change as God did. Obviously, the thought is incomplete.

But I figured I should at least reveal my own thoughts at this point in the discussion.

Going back to the Bible is useful as a revelation of who God is (assuming you are from a Judeo-Christo-Islamic background that accepts the Bible as authoritative) but frankly it does not answer the question from my reading. Because the Bible is not intended to be a philosophical tome, but a history and practical guide for living.

shadowmom1 said...

God is good all the time, even when he causes or allows things we do not consider good. For example, He was good when He took my husband "home" at an early age. He was good when He gave that husband to me in the first place.

"Nick" said...


1."God is good, and his love endures forever" - Ps. 100:5
2. "No one is good, except God alone" - multiple references, but Mk. 10:18
3. "And God saw what he had made, and it was very good" - Gen. 1:31

So... God is good, alone and He created everything, including the concept of good, which He then used to describe His creation.

I think good is defined by God. He IS good, just like He IS love.

We are only good when we conform to His nature and will. Yes, technically that means that goodness can change if God changes, but He doesn't, so goodness doesn't change.

So regarding praising His goodness... in many ways I think we are praising Him for who He is, the same way I praise my wife for her beauty, which she had nothing to do with.

I think your comment near the end, regarding praising God for His goodness being like praising Him for His unchanging-ness, or basically praising Him for His nature, is probably right. I think we also praise Him for being God, which kind of falls under the same problem.

I get where you are coming from. I think it probably has been something Christian's have wrestled with in the past, and probably written quite a bit about, so I'd suggest seeing if you can find any books on God's nature and goodness. I think I will...

"Nick" said...

Which is to say... I think that we all have been saying much the same things, going back and forth.

Sigh, and I spent how much time thinking about this? I think some version of everything I said was said before and, and then the opposite was posited.

I still think "good" is a description of God's nature at least, and is tied to Him somehow. He is the definition, but somehow the definition of God is "goodness" as well (God is good, goodness is God).

But I don't know how we praise Him for it properly. Maybe because He understands and we don't, and that is what makes Him God?

And now it is late... I must go. Stimulating conversation, we should do this in person sometime.

"Nick" said...

Oh, couple thoughts this morning...

Why do we praise God at all? Is it for His benefit? He knows all about what we praise him for. Is it for our benefit, so that we remember why we love and trust Him? Is it for the benefit of others?

What is goodness, and how do we find out what is good? It seems like most humans have some idea of right and wrong, good and evil, but how do we know? Is it like the humanists say, just an outgrowth of what is best for us as a species or as an individual? Altruism seems to deny that (for instance the soldier who just got the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade, that wasn't in his best interest, but it was good).

Do we find out what is good from others as we grow up? How did they find out? What about things that aren't good that could be argued to be in our best interest as a society or individual (nuclear war or something)?

The point being, I think this is a huge concept. I think ultimately the source of good is in God somehow, He is the unchanging one who created the universe, which includes concepts and things we think about. He is so great and powerful I think we forget sometimes that without Him, "nothing was made that has been made".

Another thought along the book line... see if you can find the books by Roger Scruton. I heard him speak, and he was right up your alley. He was talking about the New Atheism and how to counter it, and he had some insights into "goodness" that related. He's written like 30 books, so there must be something on this subject.

Anonymous said...

This whole idea that Homo sapiens sapiens have cooked up about god/s is, well, rather goofy.