Extension Material - goodness_of_god_problems
Extension Material - goodness_of_god_problems
Problems, the Forms, Mill, Plato and
PROBLEM! PROBLEM! PROBLEM!
• If God is interactive, can have relationships
and is capable of change and response, how
can He be perfect? Surely, perfection is, by its
very nature, always the same.
• If part of the nature of God is that he doesn’t
have a body, how can he suddenly have one?
The Christian God
The Biblical portrait of God differs
sharply from the Greek conception of the
• In the Bible, the goodness of God sets a moral
standard for people, and demands a response from
• The goodness of God is expressed through its direct
activity in the lives of people.
• It is not a remote quality.
• God = more than a model of goodness = perfectly
good = to be understood analogically (in comparison
to) = not the same as human goodness.
• In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro (Youth-ee-pro!)… Socrates
asks ‘Is conduct right because the gods command it,
or do the gods command it because it is right?
• If you take the first option, you simply accept that
whatever God commands must be considered ‘good’: you
have no independent way of deciding right from wrong. So
what if God commands something that your reason tells
you is wrong (e.g. genocide?) You appear to be at the
mercy of particular scriptures and their interpretation.
• If you take the 2nd of Socrates’ options, it implies that
human reason provides us with an independent standard
by which we can judge what is good. But this sets the
authority of human reason over that of God. This is
something that religious people reject.
• Difficult to solve!
• Believers tend to use God’s commands as
a point of reference when deciding what is
good, but are aware that sometimes their
relationship with God might call them to
do something which they know rationally
would be considered wrong.
‘ Reason and morality normally go
together but, just occasionally,
it is possible for a love relationship
with God to cause someone to do
something which goes against
society’s accepted norms. It may
call one of us to leave mother
and father, brother and sisters
for a higher love… In the Christian life, lived as part of a
love relationship with God, it is just possible that this
relationship might call an individual to act against what
appears to be rational, reasonable and understandable.’
John Stewart MILL
• Mill argued that a good God
should not act differently to a
good person, so we cannot justify
apparently evil acts of God on the
grounds that he is divine.
• Suffering and evil are huge problem for religious
• If God is both omnipotent and benevolent, then
why does he permit evil?
The goodness of God cannot be measured by
human standards of goodness but it is to be
experienced within a relationship which is based on
faith, not reason.
Classic example - Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac
(someone called to do something that society would
condemn as wrong).
• Vardy’s observation - because Abraham trusted his
relationship with God, he was able to hold two
1) God’s promise to him that he would have many
descendants through Isaac
2) That he would sacrifice Isaac as God had commanded him
The fact that he ultimately was not required to do so is not the
point; Abraham responded in faith assuming that he would
be so required.
More on Biblical verses
God’s goodness does not depend
on circumstances or on him acting
in an entirely predictable manner.
• The experiences of Job and Jesus himself show
• Despite their experiences, these characters,
and others like them, accepted that God’s
goodness is ultimately incomprehensible, but is
• For the Israelites, God’s goodness was experienced
through his covenant (formal agreement) relationship
with them, first revealed in the giving of the Law,
including the 10 Commandments (the Decalogue) at
• = set out standards of behaviour towards God and
• = not a law code (not comprehensive enough for that)
• = deal in the most general terms with moral behaviour
• The acceptance of them indicated the willingness of the
people of Israel to enter into a covenant relationship
with God that separated them from all other nations.
• It was a free response to a free act of grace by God, but
it did bring certain obligations upon the people, who
were expected to represent God and his goodness to the
• For this reason the highest standards of behaviour was
expected of them, & they could not expect to be
immune from God’s judgment if they violated his
standards of goodness:
• ‘You only have I known of all families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities’ (Amos
God’s goodness is not inflexible
• Although he is angry when his people violate his
standards, and because he is just he must
judge, he does not do so hard-heartedly.
• The book of Hosea balances God’s divine wrath
(which Israel’s conduct deserved) against God’s
desire for them to repent and return to him: ‘I
will not execute my fierce wrath against them, I
will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God
and not man; the holy one in your midst’ (Hosea
Philip Yancey (1997)
• Uses the book of Hosea as an example of God’s
grace – his undeserved favour shown to sinful
• In a manner of speaking, grace solves a
dilemma for God… On the one hand, God love
us; on the other hand, our behaviour repulses
him. God yearns to see in people something of
his own image reflected; at best he sees
shattered fragments of that image. Still, God
cannot – or will not – give up.
God is eager to forgive
• And since ‘“my thoughts are not your
thoughts, neither are your ways my
ways”, declares the Lord’ (Isaiah 55:9), he
can do what he likes, and go to whatever
lengths he chooses to be reconciled with
• Hosea was told to marry a cultic prostitute
to learn the lesson of God’s unfailing love,
even when his goodness was deeply
offended by human sin.
God’s goodness is also displayed in
the personal experiences of
• The psalmist frequently write of his experience of
God’s goodness underpinning his own life, especially
when he is in situations of peril.
• Psalm 69 starts with the cry ‘Save me, O God! For the
waters have cone up to my neck…’ (69:1)
• And ends with the exclamation ‘I am afflicted and in
pain; let thy salvation, O God, set me on high! I will
praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify
him with thanksgiving’ (69: 29-30)
• The biblical characters knew God personally and
trusted in his goodness, whatever was going on
New Testament writers
• The ultimate demonstration of God’s goodness is the
sending of Jesus
• God takes the initiative to overcome the natural
inclination to sin which is in all men, and provides the
means of redemption.
• John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave
his only Son, so that all who believe in him should not
perish but have eternal life’
• God’s willingness to sacrifice his son is the model of
• It is the saving act to which humanity is called upon,
by the New Testament writers, to make a lifechanging response, freeing ourselves forever from the
impossible task of measuring up to the perfect,