PART 2: The Goodness Delusion

I’m a bit of a perfectionist which is always very difficult to live with when your far from perfect, so when it comes to art and drawing, writing fiction or blog posts I’m never truly happy with what I’ve done. But with that attitude sometimes I find it difficult to even finish something which I think stunts my growth as a writer or an artist. So, although I’m not fully happy with this post I think I just need to post it and move on. Maybe coming back to it again some other time and fleshing it out some more. I’m happy with the general direction of the post but not necessarily the full breadth and depth of my argument. In any case here you go.

PART 2:

The second question I thought about was what is goodness according to God, and how does it differs from mankind’s understanding of goodness? When we are confronted with God’s understanding of what goodness is we find it un-palatable. You don’t like it, it’s doesn’t sit well with us and we probably would rather dismiss it, I still do sometimes in favour of my own interpretation.

I said in Part 1 that what mankind believes is good is something that meets our standards and thus is worthy of our approval. If that is the case for mankind, if the quality of goodness of and object or person is based on our approval, if the thing is good when it meets our standards, than it should come as no surprise that it is the same with God.

According to God, God was, God is and God always will be the standard of what is good. That to be good a person must act and be as morally and ethically upright as God himself to be good, which we are not capable of.

MATTHEW 19:16-17

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Only God is good and to be good we must keep all the commands which we are incapable of doing.

PSALM 14: 1-3

1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

2The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

God created everything and by his standards it was good. The created thing, the universe, the planet, the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the animals on the land and the humans he made to walk on this planet were good! That means they functioned as he intended. (Gen 1:31)

Romans 8:28 is an interesting verse. It says

28And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

So what is this verse saying? What is good? Becoming morally like him is good and being called according to his purpose. This is not a promise of earthly wealth or health or anything like this but rather it is a statement that those who will be saved by Christ for their faith in him will become conformed, morally conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the son of God, who is God, and will work things out for the good of his purpose.

It’s not about us getting something it’s about us being transformed, renewed to the state that God wanted us to exist in the first place and then being part of his purpose and plan. Unsurprisingly it is clear from this verse that it is an act of God not man in which we can become good, there is just no other way!

The Psalms are full of verses stating the goodness of God, the Bible is full of them as well but here is where we find it un-palatable because sometimes, or many times, we find God doing things we don’t understand in the Bible, things we just don’t think are in fact good.

We’ve established that mankind determines what is good based on what meets their standards of what is good which contradicts God’s understanding of what is good. To solve this problem we could go to Job where God descends on the poor wretched man who is crying out in pain and God says, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?” Saying who are you, oh man, to question your almighty God? What Does God owe you? And in truth that is a sufficient answer in some ways but in others it is not. It is sufficient in that the creation has no right to demand of the sovereign creator an explanation but it is insufficient because it is not the full message of the Bible about God’s goodness. Certainly it acknowledges his majesty which God wants you to know and acknowledge, but God also wants us to truly know and experience his goodness.

So we come to Question number three:

If God is truly good prove it!

Advertisements

PART 1: The Goodness Delusion

This Monday I had the opportunity to teach at my Pastorate, which is a small home church that meets every other week. In this group we are studying the attributes of God in an attempt to learn more about him and in so doing learn more about us and our relationship with him.

This week, after a very interesting discussion last week concerning the will of God, I decided to talk on God’s goodness. In preparing for this lesson I had spent some time pondering several points. I was planning to cover the first two briefly here before going on to cover the third more extensively but just kept on writing on the first point so I split it into three parts instead. So here is part 1.

First, what is goodness according to man? Goodness according to man is what we deem worthy of our approval. If it is a created product it is good if it meets the expected function it was intended for, or the function we expected it to fulfil. A product may be good to the creator because it fulfills the function he expected but be bad to you and me if we expected it to be or do something different. The same thing occurs when it comes to art. The piece of art is good if it meets with my approval despite the original intent of the artist. It is hugely subjective.

The problem is that we maintain this same subjective understanding of what is good and bad when it comes to morals. A person is good so long as they live up to the expectations of their moral code in their own eyes. We dictate a person’s level of goodness based on examining them through our moral code, despite the fact that they, in their opinion, may have a completely different moral code. You might say so what? “To each his own.” How very postmodern. However none of us truly do ethics that way. We all bring our foot down when it comes to men like Hitler or Stalin. We say “They are bad and compared to them I am good.”

The best part about humans, and I mean that in a sarcastic way, is that we fall short of our own moral and ethical codes and thus we are forced to re-write the moral code to suit our own failings. Where do we stop? We don’t! “He’s basically a good boy, he just makes mistakes sometimes.” No He’s basically a horrible rotten sinner just like the rest of us, just like me. Where is our right to dictate the ethics of Hitler and Stalin if we are so week in our ability to set a standard of base ethics for all of humanity?

Just as the rest of humanity, the Church is full of fallen humans called sinners. In the Church, The moral failures consistently lead to a re-interpretation of the scripture to suit the readers understanding of goodness in an attempt, by the interpreter, to ignore the standard of goodness expected by the Bible. If a Church is re-defining the message of the bible to be more palatable for a modern audience they are trying desperately to re-define the standards of goodness in the Bible to meet their own moral or ethical code rather than allowing the morals and ethics of the Bible to change them.

Goodness according to man is subjective, flippant, frivolous, self gratifying and it changes with the wind all in an attempt to delude ourselves into believing that mankind is basically god, sorry did I say god…I meant to say good…

I’ll take “What is your point?” for $500 Alex

I came to a realization that I don’t know how to ask a good question! I mean that’s not fully accurate. If I know the subject well or know that I don’t know something I can usually ask a decent question, but when it comes to asking someone else a good question where I want to draw them to a conclusion I’m out of practice. I have, on occasion come up with some good ones in conversations but that’s a little different.

What I’m faced with in the Church this week is writing some questions to help the congregation go deeper in study during the next series of sermons. In the series we will be covering John, and we are in the midst of developing the booklet that will accompany the study. I’ve been given John 1:14-18…not the easiest verses but also some very profound verses. So yesterday I attacked the task with vigour and tried to develop some really good questions.

What I found was that it is very difficult to develop a good question. Sure I came up with some question but really they were rather weak.

Since yesterday’s failure I’ve been thinking about a better way of doing things and I’ve been running some thoughts through my mind about how to ask a good question and so I’m going to flesh out those ideas here.

1. Develop the main points being taught in the content.

Take the time to understand what the content I’m trying teaching is saying and summarize its main points for my own knowledge. It’s from these main points then that I can develop the questions. This step is when I can look at commentaries and other sources to support or shed some light on my own study of the subject. Here I can also develop questions from the content based on questions I had about the topic.

2. What are you trying to teach from those points?

My goal is to teach the main points therefore I need to have a clear understanding of those key points. I then have to ask myself what points would make the best questions, which one’s will lend themselves to being taught in question format.

3. Who is your target audience and what is their education level on the topic?

I can write questions earlier than this step but now I really need to consider who my hearer is and word the question in a manner that they can understand.  For children it will obviously be different than adults. When dealing with a Church congregation I also have to consider that there are going to be some who went to Bible school, some who have studied the Bible on their own and some who have very little knowledge about the scriptures.

4. Is your question grammatically correct? Will the reader be able to understand what you are asking?

This is probably the hardest part of the process for me. Grammar and spelling are not my best strengths but they are so important when you are trying to ask a good question.

5. Does your question lead the reader to a conclusion?

Does my question lead the reader to the answers I want them to reach? If I ask a question and they are simply left perplexed than I have failed. It needs to challenge them somewhat but a study question needs to lead back to the main points of the content so they learn.

6. Can your question be answered to simply, for example is it only a yes/no question?

A yes no question does no good unless you are testing someone’s knowledge about facts. “Did A cause B? Yes or no.” Better to ask “What are some of the causes that contributed to A causing B?”

7. Does the question only ask their opinion or does it teach them something?

In the case of questions related to Church ministry what I want to accomplish is draw people back to the Bible rather than their own opinion. It is not that a person’s opinion is not important but simply asking someone their opinion when they haven’t studied the topic is like asking me “how do you feel about quantum physics?” ahh its cool I guess..

Conclusion:

Well these are some of my initial thoughts about asking a good question…now I need to get off to actually doing it. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I’ll post them up here later and people can give me some feedback on them.