This article is just one in a long series addressing questions posed by agnostic blogger Larry Simons in his article entitled, 31 Questions Christians Can’t Answer. For the rest of series click here. Enjoy!
22. How can God be good when he nearly always turns down the praying party when they need him the most?
23. Why do people pray to God after a tragedy like 9/11 or Katrina when they are praying to the party that caused or allowed it?
Goodness is the hinge on which every answer to every question in this series swings. Whether it’s God’s apparent non-intervention in human tragedy or His possible active and sadistic meddling through the auspices of Satan we’ve said again and again that the overarching question we’re addressing is “Is God good enough to be God?” So let’s begin by asking, “What is good?” Philosophically and theologically the word “good” can be an extremely meaning laden word. It can connote admiration, viability, kindness, competence, or moral virtue. All of these meanings are addressed over the course of this series, and since the purpose of the series is not simply to answer questions but to equip you, the reader, to answer similar questions we have to address each meaning in turn. I’ve said this a lot, but it bears repeating, since the questions being asked are assuming the existence of the God of the Bible, the one believed in by most mainstream Christians today, I will assume that the attributes and character of this God as displayed and elaborated in the Bible will be sufficient when cited to satisfy the question.
Is God good in the sense that His actions line up favorably with an objective set of moral values? In order to answer this question we need to posit an objective set of moral values. Objective moral values must come from somewhere, in order to be objective they must come from an ultimate authority, an authority above whom there is no authority, this is called the moral law giver. When assuming the existence of God you can not put anyone else in the role of moral law giver because God will always be the ultimate authority.
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?” Isaiah 45:9 NIV)
But in questioning the Gods compliance with the moral law you’re questioning the giver of the law, and in destroying one you destroy both? What then is the question?
In almost every case, if not all, a question of God’s kindness is a question of whether or not God did something the questioner wanted Him to do. It’s a matter of preference, and it’s a terrible standard to hold other people to, much less God.
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! No, rather, a sword.” (Matthew 10:30 TLB)
Jesus goes on to say in the rest of the chapter that our love of Him above all others would divide us from those we would otherwise love most, that our greatest enemies would be within our own homes. If God is who the Bible says and we believe He is are we unkind to love Him above our own blood relations? The thing is we believe that sin, which ultimately comes down to acting in opposition to God, has disordered the entire world. So there are two issues at play here, even the most committed, studied, sincere follower of Christ will ere and be unkind even while attempting to serve God with all of his/ her heart and sometimes the right actions of the believer will be against the preferences and sensibilities of those he/ she cares deeply about but who are not believers. God is in the process of reordering the world one person at a time, one heart and mind at a time. Creating order from disorder causes conflict.
We often hold morality and kindness up as high virtues, but in reality they are minimal standards. In other words, the standard can be met while further action is available. Not murdering someone you dislike is moral but not admirable, it’s the least you could do. To actively seek to eliminate your dislike by engaging the person and trying to see them through God’s eyes is admirable. How do you make the case that God is admirable when we’re already having to make the case that he is moral and kind?
“When we were utterly helpless, with no way of escape, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners who had no use for him. Even if we were good, we really wouldn’t expect anyone to die for us, though, of course, that might be barely possible. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6-8 TLB)
The moral thing for God could have included judgement and consignment to everlasting separation from Him. In light of our sinful nature, continued existence is actually kindness. Therefore the minimum standards are met prior to introducing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Admirable is actually too soft a word for what God has done for us.
Does God have the ability to do all that is required to be God, is He “good” enough?
“And God said, “Let there be”… and there was” (Genesis 1:3 NIV)
I’m not staking a claim to belief in creationism but clearly the text indicates that God has the ability to create and manage EVERYTHING.
“And do not think you can say to yourselves,‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9 NIV)
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 NIV)
I think the scriptures speak for themselves.
Can God’s goodness be sustained by reason? Certainly this is not an exhaustive exposition of God’s goodness, but are we given enough in the scriptures to draw inferences when issues arise that cause us to question? We always want to reason from evidence to principle, and from principle to circumstance. For example, we see that God is the Moral Law-giver, that the attributes we are presented with in the scriptures show Him to be competent to the role of God, He has not given us the harshest available judgement in His kindness, and has admirably gone far beyond justice in the person of Jesus Christ (these are principles based on the evidence quoted above), therefore when we’re asked, “how can God be good when He doesn’t answer the majority of prayers offered up to Him?” (circumstance) we can reliably reason that every prayer receives an answer. That the answer is not what the offerer wants is not the same as not having received an answer. Perhaps the prayer was too small, perhaps the prayer was not in the best interest of the person praying. We can’t give specific reasons for the undesirable answer of specific prayers, only God can do that (Isn’t that kind of the point?). We can, with good reason, however, believe that there is a good reason.
What questions do you have that you’ve struggled with or that you think Christians can’t answer? Have an idea for the next series of issues/ questions/ subjects I should address? Comment below and let me know.