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Divine Goodness and Resting in God

Let’s begin by considering Scripture’s claims about God’s moral character. Why think that God is perfectly morally good, or omnibenevolent? Consider some of my favorite passages, passages from which I take great comfort. First, there is Psalm 27:13-14:

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.

Notice the connection between our ability to rest and trust in God and his goodness. God is good, and his goodness matters to me, and so I can wait on God to provide in times of need. Second, consider Psalm 34:8, where David writes,

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Here the claim is that we can experience the goodness of God, and that in doing so we are blessed, or happy. Again, God’s goodness is a good thing, and it matters to me!

Scripture affirms at least four things about divine goodness. First, that God is good (Deut.32:4, Ps. 25:8, James 1:17). Second, that all of God’s actions are good (Ps. 33:5, Zeph. 3:5). Third, and more personally, all God’s actions towards me—and you—are good (Ps. 34:8, 145:9). And finally, if God’s character were morally deficient, and if God’s actions were morally evil, God would not be worthy of worship or praise.

What does it mean to say God is omnibenevolent?

It has been argued by Thomas Morris in his book The Idea of God that the goodness of God entails the following:[1]

(1) God is wholly good.

(2) God is essentially good.

To say that God is wholly good means that there is no defect of blemish in God or his actions. He is completely good. That is, God never (in fact) does anything wrong and his character is perfect (without flaw). Importantly, this means that God does not do evil.

To say that God is essentially good goes further, holding that goodness is so firmly entrenched in God that he is utterly incapable of evil. He is essentially or necessary good. God’s nature includes goodness. But then, God not only does not do evil, he cannot do evil. God can only do morally good actions.

 How should we understand the idea that God is perfectly morally good?

There are three basic views on how to understand God’s moral goodness, and these views map the three main options in the field of ethics.[2]

On the first, model, called the consequentialist model, moral perfection is understood as God always doing the best thing he can do.

On the second model, called the duty model, God’s moral perfect is understood in terms of God’s fulfilling all of his duties. The duty model is attractive because it avoids the maximization problem.

On this third model, called the virtue model, God’s moral goodness consists in his exemplifying all the moral virtues or perhaps, as Laura Garcia suggests, in exemplifying perfect love.[3] This model is attractive because it grounds the moral life in God’s agency, not just in his actions.

What is the chief objection to the idea that God is perfectly morally good or omnibenevolent?

The chief objection to the idea that God is wholly good is called the problem of evil. The basic idea is that the amount, distribution, intensity, and horror of evil and suffering is inconsistent with the goodness of God.

The most plausible theistic replies to the problem of evil all involve, in one way or another, the idea that humans are significantly free (you see free will factoring into, for example, the free will theodicy, the soul-making theodicy, the natural law theodicy, the cosmic conflict theodicy, the greater-good theodicy, and more). The basic idea is that it is a great good to be self-determiners of our choices, actions, character and lives. This great good involves us possessing significant moral freedom. Importantly, because we possess such freedom, we are able to enter into relationships with others, including relationship with God. These are great goods, things of great value, that result because of our freedom. But, this freedom also brings with it the ability or power to do wrong, to misuse our freedom and when we do that, evil and suffering results.

This is not the entire story. But many think that the reality and great value of free will goes a long way to showing how God can be perfectly morally good even though evil exists.

Why does this attribute of God matter to me, to us?

First, the goodness of God matters because it reminds us that Christianity—the religion founded by God—is good for the world. This fact has been widely documented. Christianity has ushered in great goods in healthcare, education, science and technology, law and human rights, and much more. As support for this claim, I offer an unlikely advocate: the staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins now calls himself a “cultural Christian.” This is interesting. He doesn’t think Christianity true, that would be impossible since on naturalism miracles are not possible. But he does think it is good. He wants all the trappings of Christianity without belief in Christianity. There are many problems with this unstable position, but notice, importantly, what is being stated here: Christianity is good for the world.[5]

Finaly, Christianity is good for me. A. W. Tozer writes in his book The Knowledge of the Holy, “The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us.”[6] Every good and perfect gift, as James 1:17 states, if from God above. Because God is perfectly morally good, I can remember, rest, and hope. F

[1] Thomas V. Morris, Our Idea of God (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1991), 48.

[2] In what follows I summarize the discussion from Laura Garcia, “Moral Perfection,” The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology, eds. Thomas P. Flint and Michael C. Rea (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 221–232.

[3] Garcia, “Moral Perfection,” 230.

[5] For my extended thoughts on Dawkins idea of “Cultural Christianity” see my essay “Atheism and Cultural Christianity” found here: https://worldviewbulletin.substack.com/p/atheism-and-cultural-christianity.

[6] A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 82.

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