Monday, March 19, 2007

God Exists, God is Good, God is Love

Connor asked:
Could you say a little more about dropping special providence, but sticking with God is good. It seems to me that most people, at least at the gut level, claim God to be good because of special providence, i.e. Jesus (as God) dies for my sins so I'm saved, yanks me out of Egypt, whatever.

That is a bit of a conundrum, isn't it? The Israelites say, "we know God is good because God brought us up out of Egypt". But I'm saying, "if God brought you up out of Egypt, God is not good."

Let me cheat a little and rephrase Connor's question as, "If there is no special providence, how do you prove God is good?"

The short answer is, I can't.

My theology begins with a pair of unprovable statements: "God exists" and "God is good". My theological goal is not to prove these statements. If anything, my goal is to disprove them. I want to see if there is a way to understand the world given that these two axioms are true. While I can and can present arguments for each of them, and can relate my own experiences that reinforce these beliefs, and can relate the experiences of other people that have been elevated to the status of Church Tradition, I'm not really concerned with proving them true. These are things that I simply believe, in the same way I believe that the sky is blue. You could argue the heck out of the proposition "the sky is green", and I could try my hardest to believe it is green, but in the end I simply would be unable to affirm, from the depths of my being, that the sky is green.

Once upon a time, my theology probably operated under the influence of a third axiom, "God regularly intervenes in the world", but I've since decided that this one simply won't jive with the first two axioms and my experience of the world. However, this panentheism project is an attempt to see if it's possible to soften that axiom somewhat so that it still captures an important part of the Christian witness; in particular, I'm seeing what might happen if I changed "God regularly intervenes in the world" to, "God is intimately involved with the world," or "God loves people," or something like that.

So really, these three axioms underpin my assumption that theology is something worth doing. If God does not exist, theology is silly. If God is not good, theology is dark and futile. If God does not care about the world, then why care about God?

But if these three axioms are true, and can be brought into harmony with my experience of the world, then theology may actually be a worthy endeavor.

My theology is not for people who have happy, rosy relationships with God, and who believe things like "God made the world in 7 days" or "God got me a parking space." My theology is for people who are suffering, or who see the enormity of the suffering in the world and are - rightfully - furious with God. If I can present a theology that provides a way to understand God as good and loving within a world full of horrors, then I think I will have done something helpful.


Cody said...

A noble task, in my opinion.

Paul said...

I think so too.

Jason said...

I came across an article by Wright that connects somewhat with your thoughts here. I've often found myself vexed by the questions concerning God's intervention or lack thereof, and I appreciate your wrestling with the matter.

Matthew said...


Thanks for the link. I've heard this referenced before, but haven't read it.

Incidentally, Wright is wrong about the "problem of good". The problem of evil is essentially an attack on the logical coherence of theism, asking how it is possible for the evil in the world to proceed from a supremely good and powerful being.

People who worship a supremely *evil* being might have to account for good in the world, but atheists, who postulate no such being, face no corresponding problem of good.

Jason said...

I think Wright is overstating his case on that point, or perhaps not elaborating on it enough. I would think he intends for the argument to go deeper than "There's good in the world. How do we account for good if not with God?"

I find some of his other points in the essay to be more cogent, though.

Matthew said...

"I find some of his other points in the essay to be more cogent, though."

I agree, with some reservations.

Wright seems to be doing theology for people who are comfortable within the church, and who are at least marginally satisfied with traditional theodicies and apologietics. He seems to be trying to say "look, those don't go far enough, let's try this Christ-centered approach instead." While I think that's great for people who are already bought in, I'm not sure it will work for those people who, say, doubt that an eternity of Heaven will be able to justify allowing one act of torture.