Okay, I have to admit that I wrote that headline just to be provocative. A better one would be: does the fact that you believe in a Creator God mean that you necessarily believe in a God that is good?
And I think the answer would have to be no.
Today, for Spiritual Saturday, I thought I'd elaborate a bit on my understanding of the amazing benefits of the fact that our God is, actually, good!
On Good Friday I wrote a post on how pain is an intricate part of life, and we don't have to deny pain in order to prove our spiritual bona fides, so to speak. But we often still struggle with why God lets bad stuff happen. One thing we never tend to ask, though, is whether God is actually good. We just assume He is, and that's why we're in such a conundrum.
But does it necessarily follow that God has to be good? Let's go from first principles. What does it mean to be good? Does it not necessitate a standard for what is right and wrong? And if there's a standard, good can't be relative. Good has to be linked to how God defined it.
However, most cultures do not have the view that God is actually good. They may believe He is holy, but they often mean something different by that that we do. God is holy because God is God, and therefore anything He does is right. But God is outside our realm of understanding, and therefore we will never understand what good is.
Take the ancient Greeks, for instance. They believed in a multiplicity of gods, most of whom were engaged at any one time with war with other gods, or with stealing men's wives, or with in general making life difficult for those here on earth. The gods were to be served and placated, but never really understood or befriended. The gods were not necessarily one's ally.
In tribal religions in the Caribbean, South America, and Africa, there's a similar view of God or of "the spirits". The spirits are mean. They're unpredictable. They can curse you or cause you pain at any time, and so the main job of humanity is to make the gods happy with you at best, or else fail to notice you at the least.
Christianity, though, says something very different. Our God is not actually omnipotent, because there is something our God cannot do. Our God cannot sin. He cannot lie. He is good, because He is The Good. We don't have to fear Him. He doesn't ask us to operate by a moral code that He Himself doesn't already operate by.
When you serve a God who MAY lie, or who MAY do mean things, then morality often becomes relative. In Islam, for instance, it's wrong to lie to other Muslims or to rape other Muslims, but it's okay to lie to unbelievers or to rape unbelieving women captured in war. They do have a version of the Ten Commandments, but those commandments only apply within the Muslim community. Outside the Muslim community anything goes. Christians, though, are never allowed to do any of these things. A commandment is a commandment; it's not relative. Our holiness is defined in the same way God's is; we are to be absolutely holy, as God is holy.
That may sound onerous, but it isn't. It actually makes life so much easier, because we know what's expected of us, but even more so, we know what we can expect from God. Do you realize what a luxury it is that we get to wrestle with the question "why does God allow bad things to happen?" I know we fuss over that question, but it assumes two very important things: God is good, and He loves us. We who grew up in the Judeo-Christian culture take those assumptions for granted, but most of the world does not share this view.
When we lived in downtown Toronto we had frequent conversations with Muslim neighbours. Around the time that our son with Down Syndrom was born, we got in a conversation about birth defects. They had a family member with disabilities as well, and they had interpreted it as God punishing them for something. God was capricious, and so this family member was essentially hidden so as not to bring shame on the family.
I won't go into the reasons that I think God allows bad things to happen, because that's another post, but the very fact that we believe God loves makes us approach life differently. If you don't fundamentally believe that God loves you, and if you fundamentally believe that God can do bad things, then where is the joy in serving God? Is there not just primarily fear? There isn't necessarily even relationship; it's just a subject to a master, understanding that the master might do anything he wishes at any time and you really can't predict what those things will be because God doesn't operate by any rules that you could also understand; they are all above us.
Just because Islam is monotheistic does not mean that it actually has anything in common with Judaism or Christianity. It doesn't necessarily believe in a loving God; it doesn't believe that there is an absolute right and wrong--there is only what Allah wills, which is unknowable anyway. And because Allah doesn't operate by any logic that we understand, it's hardly surprising that Islamic societies tend to be anti-intellectual (the academic progress made in the Ottoman empire was largely made by Christian slaves from the Byzantine empire).
I love God, and I know He loves me. I know what right and wrong is (even if I don't always do them). I know God will never do wrong. And that makes life so very, very much easier to live, even if we do struggle with the question of suffering. I'll take that struggle over the alternative anyday.
Subscribe to To Love, Honor and Vacuum
Labels: Christian, faith, grief