The Goodness of God
by J Brian Huffling
My last post on God and morality brought up the issue of if and how God is moral. My main point was to reject the notion that God is moral in the sense that humans are moral. But I did mention that God is good, just not morally good. That is, he isn’t good because he lives up to some standard of goodness. I even rejected the notion that he is his own standard since that seems to be indistinguishable from being arbitrary. In thinking about this topic over the years it seems to me that many Christians believe that God is good because of something he did for them, such as Jesus dying on the cross, healing someone, providing in a time of need, etc. But is this really what makes God good? Would God still be good if he never saved anyone, didn’t heal, and didn’t provide? God’s goodness is not grounded in his actions, but in his perfect being.
What Does It Mean for God to Be Good?
The classical notion of God’s goodness is that God is good because his being is perfect and lacks nothing. This is seen in the thinking of theologians like Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. Aquinas, following the thought of Augustine, thought that ‘being’ is basically synonymous with ‘goodness’. To be good is to have fullness of being. It may help to contrast this with evil. The traditional Christian view of evil is that it is a privation of good. In other words, something is evil if it lacks some good or is corrupted in some way. A standard example is an apple that has rotted. The apple itself is good but the rot is where the apple has been corrupted. That corrupted part of the apple should be good (i.e. not rotten) for it to be what an apple is supposed to be. Thus, the rot of the apple is said to be an evil. It should be fairly obvious that this notion of evil has to do with being or existence and not morality, for apples aren’t moral beings. In short, the apple is good insofar as it has the proper being of an apple and doesn’t lack any good or perfection.
Since God is perfect being as such, he is perfect goodness. He lacks nothing and is…
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