IS GOD EVIL OR HOLY?

0312_virtue_Joy_Olivia_Miller

Here of late I have debated sean samis.  This post is in response to three carefully considered comments.

Both of the posts Sean commented upon focus on the subject of evil. Sean’s concern is the relationship between God and evil. Sean insists God is capable of evil.

First Comment

In his first comment, Sean argues that God is capable of evil. In a purely literal sense, Sean is correct. That is, God has the physical capacity to perform an evil act. However, were God to do evil, then He would fail to be God. Consider how we define God.

God
n 1: the supernatural being conceived as the perfect and omnipotent and omniscient originator and ruler of the universe; the object of worship in monotheistic religions [syn: God, Supreme Being]

God is the Creator. To do evil would be to harm His own creation, and that would not be a logical act. Remember what Jesus observed about Satan’s kingdom:

Matthew 12:25 Amplified Bible (AMP)

25 And knowing their thoughts, He said to them, Any kingdom that is divided against itself is being brought to desolation and laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will last or continue to stand.

If we think it makes no sense for Satan to defeat the purposes of his own devils, why would we choose to believe God would harm his own creation?

What does it mean for God to be perfect and omnipotent and omniscient? If God wanted to do evil, God could do evil, but God is love, God is power, and God is wise. God would not want to do evil. Therefore, we say God is incapable of doing evil. Similarly, when we say we love someone, we say we are incapable of hurting that person we love.

In addition, Sean disagreed with a proposition offered by Ravi Zacharias.

If you argue from the existence of evil to the non-existence of God, you are assuming the existence of an absolute moral law in order for your argument to work. But if there is such a law this would also mean that there is such a God, since God is the only one who could give us such a law. And if there is such a God to give us this law, then the argument itself is flawed, since you have had to assume the existence of God in order to argue that God doesn’t exist. It is an attempt to invoke the existence of an absolute moral law without invoking the existence of an absolute moral law giver, and it cannot be done. (from here)

Sean observes:

The phrase “God is good” is meaningless if “good” is whatever God does or says to do.  There must exist moral facts or moral order distinct from God for that phrase to be meaningful.  There must be a law God might conform to or not.

Is Sean’s assertion true?  I do not think so. Creation is of God. What God created does not exist apart from God. Therefore, the Laws that God’s creations must obey are also of God, but that does not mean God is subject to the Laws of Creation.

Consider the definition of “free will.”

free will

n : the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies [syn: discretion]

We operate within the context of God’s creation. God does not; God existed before  Creation. Thus, we can assess whether God has left us free to choose between good or evil. Whether we think God will do evil towards us depends on whether we think God loves that which He has created.

How do we know if God loves us?

  • We can study God’s Creation and learn what it reveals about the character of its Creator.
  • We study the moral law God wrote in our hearts.
  • Christians say we can also study the Bible. Christianity is the belief that says God loves us, that He sacrificed His Son for us to save us from ourselves.

What is moral law? Does it exist? Is the moral law from God? Each of these questions involve separate discussions and arguments. The full expression is “natural moral law,” and explanations of it can get a bit windy (see here, here, and here). Essentially, what it comes down to is what our conscience directs. Here is how the Apostle Paul explained it.

Romans 2:12-16 Good News Translation (GNT)

12 The Gentiles do not have the Law of Moses; they sin and are lost apart from the Law. The Jews have the Law; they sin and are judged by the Law. 13 For it is not by hearing the Law that people are put right with God, but by doing what the Law commands. 14 The Gentiles do not have the Law; but whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law, even though they do not have the Law. 15  Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written in their hearts. Their consciences also show that this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them. 16 And so, according to the Good News I preach, this is how it will be on that Day when God through Jesus Christ will judge the secret thoughts of all.

When we care for our neighbors as we care for ourselves, our consciences–the Law written in our hearts–directs us appropriately. Then we do that which is good. Unfortunately, we can find numerous excuses not to love our neighbor. Why is that?

There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity (from here)

Second Comment

In this comment, Sean considers two subjects.

  • Is God All-Powerful and All-Knowing? Sean restates this topic as God’s Omnipotence and Omniscience.
  • Is God really a Person?

God’s Omnipotence and Omniscience

Sean started by trying to define the limits of God. Since I don’t actually disagree with his conclusions, I will let that part of the discussion pass.

Here, at least for the sake of argument, Sean answers the question (Is God all-powerful and all-knowing?) in the affirmative. He then argues that if God all-powerful and all-knowing then he must be able to do evil. That is, if God has an “informed free will” he must be able to choose to do evil. To answer that argument, please refer to my responses in the First Comment section above. I think Sean and I differ here less than he thinks.

What I find of interest in this section is what Sean says about an “informed free will.” Here Sean forgets to mention what informs our decisions. Information is important, but information is only a small part of what drives our decisions to towards good or evil. We do good only to those whom we love. Otherwise, in self-love we plunder and pillage those we regard as weak.

Is God Really A Person?

Sean begins here with this paragraph.

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and yet cannot choose to do evil, it is reasonable to doubt that God has volition: the ability to actually choose what to do.  This is an odd thought because it would mean that God would lack a power humans have (the free will power to choose to do evil).

Here Sean speaks of God as a person. In one respect, God is a person. That person is His Son, Christ Jesus. Beyond that, I doubt that God is a person any sense we would ordinarily understand (Who can explain the Trinity?). That God has the ability to choose and to act, I do not doubt. However, if God is holy, and not evil, then God will never choose to do evil. Effectively, God knows evil is not worthwhile; evil is destructive. So He abhors evil, and He will not do evil.

God is perfect. If God is perfect, God never does evil. He has totally renounced evil. Does that make God less than human? No. It just means that God has a perfect understanding of good and evil, and He has no fear of the pain, the danger, or the difficulty of doing that which is right.

Third Comment

Here Sean went directly back to the subject of the post, evil.

Tom wrote that “Consider also that evil is nothing. Thus, creating evil would create nothing. Evil is nothing more than disobedience to the will of God. When we disobey God, that disobedience is evil. The one does evil creates the consequences that we call evil.”

This is an incoherent definition of evil.  If evil creates nothing, then evil creates no harm or consequence; evil creates no damage or barrier.  If evil is truly nothing, then it is nothing.  Punishment for “evil” would be punishment for nothing. (continued here)

Sean went from here to a discussion of the difference between love and hate. Here Sean responded to a comment (here) I had made on the same post. In that comment I argued that evil and hatred stem from the lack of love.

Consider the definition of heat. Heat is real. Apply heat and we raise the temperature. Similarly, if we apply cold, we lower the temperature. However, what is cold? It is simply the absence of heat. When we apply cold, what we are really doing is using mass with relatively little energy to drain the heat from a warmer object.

Good and evil are similar to the hot and cold. Love is analogous to heat.  When we want to increase the good, we add love. When love dissipates, what replaces love is indifference. That is because hatred is not any more real than evil. Hatred stems from pride, a preoccupation with one’s self, an overly protective, misdirected self-love. If there is any such thing as perfect evil, then it stems from an infinite pride, a pride that makes the bearer of that pride indifferent to anyone’s welfare save his own.

We confuse good and evil for the same reason we confuse love and hatred.  Good is simply a measure of love. The more people love each other the more “good” they do for each other. The less people love each other, the more their self-love rules. Where self-love–pride–dominates, people take advantage of other. They are indifferent to each other’s needs. In such communities, because people do not care for each other, in their pride, they react angrily and defensively, and their pride ultimately manifests itself as that thing we call hatred. The prideful hate anyone who refuses to meet what they define as their personal needs.

In a community where people do not love each other, the people squander their creative abilities in feuds. The result of this activity is not something; it is chaos. When we are full of pride, we do not see the world as it is. Because we do not have a realistic measure of our own merit, we do not take the opinions of others seriously. Therefore, the prideful squander their time and their talents in fantasies of their own creation.

Love allows us to be creative and to protect that which we have created. Will a mother defend its baby from a dangerous predator? Yes. Will that mother hate the predator and attack it with all the ferocity she can muster? Yes, but what we see–that hatred–is not actually hatred. What is real–what we do not see when battle rages–is the mother’s love for her child. The good that mother does for her child comes from a mother’s love.

Is there something worse than pride? Probably not. Nonetheless, we can be guilty of loving no one, not even our self. Then we can slip into acedia and even despair. The modern expression for despair is depression, which can result from a medical condition.

The Wrath Of God

The Old Testament in particular is noted for the wrath of God. Because of sin, God has destroyed almost all of mankind (Noah’s Flood). Later, He annihilated Sodom and Gomorrah, allowed the Hebrews to run the Canaanites out of Canaan, and punished the Jews by scattering them from Israel more than once. Moreover, the Book of Revelation says more is to come.

Does God’s wrath make him evil? Does His insistence that we obey His Laws make Him evil? No.

Instead of blaming God for His wrath, we should consider the weight of our sins, and our stubborn refusal to quit sinning. God refers to us as His children.When God punishes us, He is trying to correct our behavior.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he did so as an act of love. God knew the Jews would never be able to obey the Ten Commandments, but those commandments still serve a purpose. They show us and the Jews that we need a savior. That savior is Jesus.

Want a good explanation of how the Ten Commandments show God’s love for us. Check out God Carved His Love in Stone, a video of a sermon by Dr. David Jeremiah.

Conclusion

Intellectually, most of us understand that we should do what is right. However, we do not have perfect knowledge. Thus, we must fill the holes in our knowledge with faith. We must have faith in what we know is true. We must have faith that our Creator is not capricious. God, however, does not require faith such as we understand it. God has certainty of the truth. God is Truth.

When we debate the characteristics of God, we can forget we were only made in the image of God. Unlike God, we are not perfect. Therefore, we do not always make sense, and we do not alway do good instead of evil. Because God is perfect, God will always choose to do good.

We can only try to be wise, and sometimes some of us seem to make almost perfect sense. Yet none of us ever approach the perfection of God. Only God is perfect. God is perfect in Wisdom and Virtue. That perfection–so outside our experience–we find difficult to grasp or to explain, but that perfection means God is devoid of evil. Only God is holy.

4 thoughts on “IS GOD EVIL OR HOLY?

  1. Tom, I think I have been clear in the past about this but let me reply directly; do I think God is “crazy?” No. And I have never implied anything even remotely like that. My comments about God’s capabilities have always sprung from the notion of God being omnipotent, or all-powerful. God has the power to do anything, therefore he is capable of doing anything. My statements have been about God’s power, not his sanity.

    One of the pitfalls of using ordinary language to talk about God is that God is beyond ordinary concepts. When, in the ordinary course of things, we say a person is capable of anything, we are usually referring to a madman (or madwoman). You correctly say this. Ordinary comments about humans rarely translate directly to God.

    But even in ordinary comments, we are not suggesting these insane humans can literally do anything. Mental illness does not confer upon any human powers which mentally healthy humans lack. I hope this clears up any confusion.

    Regarding “sloppy writing”, I suggest that writing “X is true.” and “X is not true.” in the same thought is sloppy unless you acknowledge and resolve their conflict. As an example, I acknowledge I just used those two phrases together; I used them as examples of contradictory statements, not as assertions. So there is no conflict.

    Notwithstanding your citation of Romans 8:28, you seem to acknowledge that God is capable of “harming his own creation” and that doing so is not illogical. Such is within God’s power. I don’t say this is your acknowledgement of God doing evil; you still reject that. The acknowledgment I see is only that God is indeed capable of doing anything; God’s power is unlimited.

    The rest of your comment is interesting, but on topics I choose to not discuss here. There are many hard questions and challenges to belief. What I wrote to Matt exactly a month ago was true then and is true still: “I believe that faith does not require one to ignore these questions or to fashion answers to unanswerable questions. I believe that faith requires trust in God’s goodness in spite of those questions. One who cannot have such trust just does not have faith.

    I believe that faith is not belief in God. Faith is belief about the character of God. Faith is TRUST in God’s goodness. The nuance there may be subtle: belief not in God, but in God’s Goodness. Is that even possible? This ‘Goodness’ without God? I just don’t know. I’ve been pondering that for a long time, without a clear resolution.

    I believe you cannot “TRUST in God’s goodness” if you think God unable to do evil.

    Happy New Year, Tom.

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  2. Tom;

    Although you mention me several times in your post, your comments seem focused on a question that I have not touched on: Is God Good or Evil?. To a great extent, my comments serve only as a lead-in to matters I have no interest in pursuing here. So there is little I have any interest in commenting on.

    Let’s be clear about this; I make no claim about what God Will or Won’t Do. I have and will continue to limit my comments to what God is capable of: God is CAPABLE OF ANYTHING.

    You wrote early in your comment that “ Sean insists God is capable of evil.

    Yes I do, AND that is my ENTIRE POINT. I insist only that God is CAPABLE of evil. If God is an omnipotent, volitional person, God is CAPABLE of choosing to do evil. An evil God is not a logical impossibility. If God never chooses to do evil, that is by his free choice and not compulsion. Period.

    You also wrote that “ God is the Creator. To do evil would be to harm His own creation, and that would not be a logical act. ” Then you ask, “why would we choose to believe God would harm his own creation?

    If harm to a part of his creation is what God wants, then it is not illogical for God to do so. The Bible is filled with stories of persons and kingdoms raised up only to be destroyed by God. If it is part of God’s plan to destroy something he’s created, such destruction is not illogical; in fact it’s Biblical!

    You wrote that “ If God wanted to do evil, God could do evil, but God is love, God is power, and God is wise. God would not want to do evil. Therefore, we say God is incapable of doing evil.

    Therefore you speak sloppily. If you say one thing (“God could do evil.”) and then immediately contradict yourself (“God is incapable of doing evil.”) you wreck your credibility. Let’s be clear: God is capable of doing evil. We hope God does not want to do evil. Let us clearly distinguish between what God CAN do and what God WANTS to do. I comment on the former, and have no comment on the latter.

    When we say “God is good” are saying one of two things:

    1. that God’s behavior conforms to the moral order that (we assume) God created, or;
    2. that “good” is a meaningless term applying to God. Instead of saying “God is Good” we could just as well say that “God is X.”

    If #2 is true, then the term “good” is meaningless about God.

    If God is good, and we know what “good” means, then we know that #1 is true.

    If we exempt God from consideration vis-à-vis the moral order, then saying that “God is Good” is empty and meaningless.

    I don’t say that God is good or evil, I only say that either is possible, that it’s God’s choice, unconstrained by our logic which is, in any event too feeble to tell us what God IS.

    You finish with your theory of good and evil; it’s interesting but it is strains logic unnecessarily. We’ve discussed this a lot; I think we’ve arrived at the point of diminishing returns.

    In any event, it would not be difficult to explain everything your theory tries to with an alternate theory; and explain those things more coherently. My alternative does not require evil to be simultaneously nothing and something; simultaneously unable to do and yet doing much. But I think at this point all we will do is make our competing assertions and resolve nothing.

    Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, the best reason to reject your theory about good and evil is that it conflicts with the idea that God is a person with volition. Tom, you have made valiant efforts to square your theory with God’s personhood, but to the extent your definition of evil as “nothing” and therefore God cannot do evil, your theory denies God’s volition and even personhood. To the extent that God is regarded as a person with volition, your theory of good and evil is implausible.

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    1. Sean — You said I speak sloppily. Perhaps, but think about this.

      Let’s be clear about this; I make no claim about what God Will or Won’t Do. I have and will continue to limit my comments to what God is capable of: God is CAPABLE OF ANYTHING.

      When we say a person is CAPABLE OF ANYTHING, we are usually referring to a madman. Do you think God is crazy? Is that also a logical possibility?

      Let’s set aside the matter of who is being sloppy. Is it possible that we have just a failure to communicate?

      Is the Bible filled with stories of persons and kingdoms raised up only to be destroyed by God? There are some such stories, but what the Bible is filled with is the story of our redemption. God created man. We sinned, not God.

      Romans 8:28 Good News Translation (GNT)

      We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.

      Think about what that Bible verse means. Think about the complexity of Creation. We have yet to even understand ourselves, but God in ALL THINGS “works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.” HIS purpose.

      God is love. We know that He loves those who love Him.

      I admit I have relatively little idea what God is doing. He is the only one with the Big Picture. So there are passages in the Bible that leaving me scratching my head, wondering, “why did He do that”? Sometimes I can find a commentary that provides a satisfactory explanation, but sometime I can’t.

      May I suggest reading the Book of Job with a good commentary. Even though I think that every word in the Bible is Truth, I know it does not provide us a complete understanding. The Bible itself (The Book of Job being a good example.) says it does not. Only God is God.

      God is perfect. Why is that necessary? We have only the inkling of an idea. Were God to work evil only once, then He would be evil, not just capable of evil. Because God is eternal, if there was any possibility He would allow Himself to do evil, then in time He would do every evil it was possible for Him to do. At least, given our limited understanding of God, that is what the statistical probabilities suggest.

      God created the “moral order.” God decides what is good and what is evil. Whether He chooses to conform to the moral law He gave us to follow is up to Him. He is, after all, God. He makes the rules, not us.

      Does God obey the same moral laws He expects us to obey? The Bible says no. For example, vengeance is the Lord’s. Because we cannot handle that task appropriately, you and I have no business avenging ourselves.

      Anyway, I have enjoyed the discussion. Please visit again, and may our Lord bless you and yours in the New Year.

      Like

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