AND THE LACK THEREOF*

*we put the "mmm" in communism

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This is the personal blog of Tim. Here, Tim writes on anything he has enough inspiration to finish a post on. That usually ends up being matters of science, pop culture, technology, religion, and philosophy.

This blog is around nine years old, which is over a third of Tim's current age. Back in 2003, it was called "Of Tim: Tim's life - or lack thereof", and it was as bad as you might expect the blog of a freshman in high school to be. Tim hopes that his writing is a little better, these days.

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These are two forum posts I made recently as an attempt to answer the question "Is God good?".

March 23:

Before we can answer the question at hand, there must be some definition of terms, as it were. Particularly, God, and goodness.

Who is God?

These might seem obvious or repulsive, but these are the assumptions that allow us to begin to answer this question:

- God exists. If God does not exist, then he is nothing but a psycho-social phenomonon. A figment of history's imagination cannot be good.
- God is the creator of the universe. What point would there be in investigating, questioning, or worshipping a god that was not responsible for the world he presides over? Within this assumption, there are hidden two more points - particularly, God's omniscience and omnipotence. If God is the sole creator, then he knows his creation perfectly, and has perfect control over it. I should insert a note that I see absolutely no reason why God couldn't have crafted the world within its own mechanisms - those being the Big Bang and Evolution.
- God is knowable. This is what Agnosticism and Deism deny, as well as to a lesser extent, Islam - that God avails himself in certain ways to enable his creation to have relationship with him. He must be knowable, if there is to be an answer to who he is. Otherwise, we're just making guesses and assumptions.

The catch is that God's existence and his knowability, in and of themselves, say absolutely nothing about his character. But before we talk about God's goodness, we have to define goodness, as well.

What is goodness?

The trouble with defining a term like goodness is the presence of its polarity, evil. Humanity has the consistent problem of mixing the two up, whether purposefully for personal gain, or accidentally via the human tendency towards imperfection and mistakes. If we say a human is good, we do not mean that he/she is incapable of evil, but that on the whole, they seem to prefer goodness. If God is good, it has to be in a higher sense, because of God's aforementioned nature.

In order for goodness to have any meaning, it must be more than a cultural/sociological concept. That is to say, goodness must be absolute, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, culture, and so on. I should backdrop this by noting that this is not an attempt to give meaning to morality - I believe that meaning is self-evident and intrinsic for all human beings. How that is expressed and altered varies between people-groups, but the absolutes never change.

I can't really imagine defining goodness without invoking the other two transcendentals - truth and beauty. The three are inexorably linked to each other - where one appears, the other two are also present, whether apparent or not. That which is true and beautiful, is most definitively good. Now, the whole of human history has been spent waxing and waning over trying to pin down what truth, beauty, and goodness really are, and dare I say that nobody's made a whole lot of definitive progress. That doesn't mean that it's useless to try to find out, but I think that the problem lies in separating them out. They belong together, they thrive together, they enhance one another, they define one another.

What, then, is God's relationship to goodness?

Christianity's answer to this question is that he is perfectly good - incapable of evil, and therefore the penultimate embodiment of goodness. The same can be said of beauty and truth, I believe. But there's problems that immediately come to mind, just by looking out the window and seeing the world that God has created. This world is not perfectly good, and a perfectly good creator would not make an imperfect creation. This, quite distinctly, is the problem of evil, or of suffering (since that is evil's most direct result).

Yet still, alongside Christianity's answer is the claim of exclusivity. That is, that our souls are immortal (persisting beyond death), and that we will be judged for our choices and actions (or lack thereof) upon earth by God. The most universally popular conception of the consequences therein is heaven and hell. Heaven being the reward, hell being the punishment. But therein lies many problems:

- Why would a good god demand the loyalty of his creations, under threat of eternal damnation?
- Why would a good god demand loyalty but never reveal himself to so many of his creations?
- Why would a good god create people just to damn a shitload of them to hell?

And all the while, God has created a world chock full of suffering and pain, an imperfect world, created by a supposedly perfect creator.

Even if you acknowledge the existence of God, why would you want to worship a god like this?

I have my answer, but I'd like to hear other thoughts first.

Today:

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other." - John Calvin

God's goodness demands that he be knowable - if his goodness cannot be seen, then what use is it? Morality is a concept of movement, of action. That which does not move cannot be moral. That which has no will, cannot be moral. Indeed, morality can be applied only to creatures of choice. If God is good, that means he is choosing, he is acting, and he is acting out that goodness in an active way. If he is good, then that goodness can be known.

Where is that goodness?

My greatest vexation at this juncture is that the objectivity of goodness versus the subjectivity of experience. No person experiences everything in the same way, nor are the experiences we face exactly similar. This is, in essence, the problem of epistemology. Knowledge is not equal, nor is our understanding of that knowledge. Many philosophers have spent their whole lives seeking to find the solution to what knowledge really is, and Plato probably got about as far as anyone else might have hoped. His theory of "Justified True Beliefs" is what tends to dominate current thought, most visible in the realm of hard sciences.

Modern society has more or less reduced knowledge to facts - only that which can be proven and observed. Yet that does not match our reality. Very little of what we do in our daily life has much of anything to do with this kind of knowledge. We do not love our parents (insert loving relationship of your choice here) because of any knowledge we have gathered, and we do not know they love us. These are not objectively provable aspects of our reality, but that does not make them any less real. That knowledge is, in the end, is up to us.

The verb I'm hinting at here is faith. No, I am not saying that the answer to the question of "Is God good" is "If you have faith in him". That's a foolish and self-righteous answer with no reasonable justification. One rather famous Christian paraplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada, has shared letters from other Christians telling her that "If her faith was strong enough, she could walk again". Please do not interpret me in that way. What I mean here is more in line with something St. Augustine once wrote: Crede, ut intelligas - I believe, in order that I may understand.

Hebrews 11:1 - 1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
James 2:14-19 - 14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.


Faith is not a rebellion against rationality. It is not the enemy of thought, nor the denial of experience. It's not sticking my fingers in my ears and humming a mantra. It's an action. It's a response. It is, I believe, the supreme way of understanding our world. When faced with the goodness of the world, I can only understand that goodness through faith. Goodness, Beauty and Truth lose all meaning without faith. They become nothing but shells of a concept, a mystical feeling that comes and goes. The more faith I hold, the more I experience these things within my life. No, it is not because God is rewarding me for being a good little boy - it's because they were already there. It doesn't make the presence of evil, corruption and falseness disappear, either - those are forces greater than myself, and to think I could stop them is foolish.

Goodness is not something we can find from an armchair. It will not jump out at us from the television, nor will it consume is as we play video games. If you wish to see the goodness of the world, then you must first believe it is there to be experienced.

As for heaven and hell?

If there is Goodness, there is Justice. In a world where evil exists, that evil must be brought to justice, if goodness is real. Unfortunately, I believe there to be a large amount of misinterpretation as to how this justice will be played out. I do not believe in a heaven of such mystical proportions, of streets made of gold. I do not believe in a hell of fire and flames; in fact, with the exception of Revelation (a book rife with bizarre metaphor and symbolism, fitting given the similar nature of Genesis), the Bible makes very little allusion to such a place. Jesus does indeed say the life comes only through him - and I cannot disagree. The only afterlife that makes sense to me is an afterlife with God. If, indeed, the problem with our reality is separation from God and disobedience towards him, the solution is union and obedience. If that is the reward, then the punishment could only be complete separation from God. Annihilation, oblivion, nothingness. If God is good, and he is just, then the punishment for failing to follow him will be just.

I cannot know the answers for what life lies beyond this one, or who will be where. Simply put, that doesn't matter. If God is good, and he does indeed love us, then I need not worry about the eternal fate of those who might never have heard of Jesus. Any implication otherwise - that God is most certainly damning billions to hell - is nothing but a self-righteous and pompous claim made to spawn guilt and fear. Yet, I do believe that our actions have eternal meaning, that what we do matters both in this life, and the next. Evil cannot happily coincide with good.

Faith in God's goodness resolves the anxiety of, well, his goodness. If he is good, then he will be good, and that is the truth of the matter. I can only understand myself. My fate is my responsibility, not anyone else's.

And the problem of pain?

I will be blunt and honest: I don't know. I don't understand how a good God could allow a father to rape his daughter in a cellar for 24 years. I don't understand how a good God could allow 15,000 people to die at the hands of a cyclone. I really do not understand why God would allow his creation to cause such incredible levels of malevolence against one another. I cannot see the reasoning behind it, I cannot understand it. It just doesn't make sense to me.

However, I am faced with terrific accuracy with which the Bible explains the problems of this world, and where they started. I cannot escape the truth of Jesus' message, nor can I ignore the power of that truth in my life and the lives of others. Faith does not make pain go away, and I despair over those that seem to believe it could. Faith is a response to truth. It is not a means by which we improve our lives, but a reaction to both the good and the bad of life.

Is God good?

I believe he is. I don't believe it every day - my faith is as imperfect as I am, and it truly is a constant struggle. Fortunately, God's goodness does not depend upon my faith. Rediscovering my faith is something I do quite often, and it usually does not take long before I'm faced with something awesome and terrible to behold, a truth which demands my response.
posted by MC Froehlich at
"And the problem of pain? I will be blunt and honest: I don't know."

I think you have raised interesting questions. I think you are correct to believe that God is good, and I can understand how faith can be a struggle.

When I was first learning about the Bible and determining what I would believe, I first tried to find out if the Bible was God's word, that is, was it inspired by God or only the opinions of men. I was able to prove to my satisfaction through the evidence of fulfilled prophecy that God did indeed inspire the Bible. I explain how I went through this in the first chapter of my book. But once I did that, I was still faced with the question of whether or not God is good, or to put it another way, does He always tell the truth.

I had proved objectively that the Bible is God speaking. And I knew from my reading that God describes Himself as being good, righteous, merciful, and truthful. But the question for was, is He?

That part I knew I could not prove the same way I proved that the Bible was inspired by God. I finally made a decision to believe God and I made a commitment that I would base the decisions in my life from that time forward on that belief, that the Bible is true and that God is good and can be trusted and cannot lie. To me, that is the essential part of faith - believing what God says.

As far as your question about why God allows suffering, this has been and continues to be a stumbling block for many. But from my reading of the Bible, I think the answer is that God is allowing mankind as a whole and every individual learn some painful lessons that will pay off to the good in eternity to come. The human race is cut off from God as a whole, except for the few that God calls at this time. During this period of time from Adam till now, God is allowing man to write the lesson in painful human history of what the consequences of disobedience to God's law are. But there will follow a period of time when Christ will rule the earth and enforce the way of peace, and there will be happiness on the earth as never before. During this time, atrocities like rape and murder will not be allowed to occur. And after this, mankind can compare the fruits of going his own way during this age, leading to death and suffering, with the fruits of God's rule and obedience to God, leading to happiness and peace.

For all those who have lived and died prior to this time, there will come a general resurrection (as described in the book of Ezekiel) when all who have every lived will be resurrected and have a chance to be saved. At that time, all those who have been sick can be healed, and those who have suffered atrocities can be healed mentally and emotionally. Families will be reunited. The Jews who were murdered in the Nazi gas chambers will be raised up with their children who were killed with them.

This is all about learning lessons.

The payoff will come for those who are willing to acknowledge that God's ways are right and will repent and turn to God and follow His law of love. Those that make that choice will have the opportunity to become sons of God and live forever, immortal, in the Kingdom of God, and will participate in harmony and teamwork in whatever creative projects in the universe God has in mind for us. Those who reject that opportunity will be destroyed, put out of their misery, and will cease to exist. They will not be around to bring misery to themselves and others.

God is preparing the human race for eternity, and the suffering of this age, even the atrocities, is part of the way that God is teaching us lessons. And as Paul said, who himself was well acquainted with suffering (as was Christ by the way), the sufferings of this age cannot be compared with the glory that will be revealed in the Kingdom of God.

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