Friday, April 6, 2012

What If It Were True That God Is Very Good?

“. . . . Indeed, it would seem very strange that Christianity should have come into the world merely to receive an explanation; as if it had been somewhat bewildered about itself, and hence entered the world to consult that wise man, the speculative philosopher, who can come to its assistance by furnishing the explanation.” -- Sören Kierkegaard

If God is so good, why does it look like he isn’t? It seems that nothing stirs the passions of the atheist more than the fact that Christianity asks the world to believe the impossible about God. Christians might have been able to get away with simply believing that somewhere out there in the abyss of infinity there is some vague disinterested and impotent something that some people have decided to call God. The atheist could have remained dispassionate if only that something would have remained unfamiliar, inexplicable and abstract enough so as not to interfere with the world’s perceptions.

But enough is enough, it seems; Christianity hasn’t simply asked us to believe that this God merely exists. It has asked us to believe that he’s knowable without empirical evidence. If that isn’t enough, it has asked us to believe that he’s more powerful than anything we can imagine; that he can do anything at all! More importantly it has asked us to believe that he has the best interests of this world in mind all the time. And finally, it has asked us to believe that he even cares about people and what happens to them in spite of his repeated failure to utilize his supposed attributes on their behalf.

And now that the world has clearly failed to see the enormity of this Christian proposition, and the travesty of irrationality that has been perpetrated against it by this belief, the atheist has been forced to come to the world’s intellectual rescue. Their antidote for this travesty that has been perpetrated against the world is a rational and logical explanation that can lead to only one conclusion: If there is any kind of God that exists, it certainly cannot be the God of Christianity. Christians have taken their faith too lightly, too illogically, too childishly it seems, and now the speculative philosopher must come to its rescue and furnish it with the only reasonable explanation for this outrageous claim: no such thing exists!

B.C. Johnson, for instance, in The Atheist Debater’s Handbook begins a chapter entitled God and the Problem of Evil with this illustration:

Here is a common situation: a house catches on fire and a six-month-old baby is painfully burned to death. Could we possibly describe as “good” any person who had the power to save this child and yet refused to do so? God undoubtedly has this power and yet in many cases of this sort he has refused to help. Can we call God “good”? Are there adequate excuses for this behavior? ....Certainly not. If we would not consider a mortal human being good under these circumstances, what grounds could we possibly have for continuing to assert the goodness of an all powerful God?[1]

There are two major concerns that will be addressed in this chapter: What constitutes a reasonable proof that God exists? And, if there is any such proof, is it reasonable to assume that the God of Christianity can be that God? If we are assured that there is no empirical proof for the existence of a God, why does the Christian continue to believe in one? Even more astoundingly, assuming there is a reasonable way to hold to a belief in a God without empirical evidence, how can Christians hold to the notion of his goodness in light of the evil he supposedly allows if he does exist?

Interestingly, in order for this debate to take place, both the atheist and the Christian must assume that God does exist, and that He is some kind of real being in the universe who acts deliberately and with power in the world. Both sides must acknowledge that God’s character, which is the basis for the motivation of his actions, can be scrutinized, criticized or defended in human terms. Without both sides making these assumptions first, there would be no on-going debate on the subject of God’s existence or his goodness.

The atheist desires to show that his viewpoint on the existence of a God without empirical evidence is valid.[2] The atheist perceives the world in terms of ‘physical’ reality alone, and then wonders how some other reality that the Christian perceives God to exist in might better account for God’s goodness. “Provided that you can demonstrate that it is reasonable to assume that your God exists, how can you possibly suggest that your God is good when all around us we experience and bear testimony to such horrific atrocities? Doesn’t the existence of these atrocities at least challenge the Christian concept of God’s ‘goodness’ and ‘righteousness’”?
At the outset, the atheist sets the parameters for understanding God by limiting his view of reality to a mere scientific, rational, materialistic physical world which can only be understood through empirical (i.e., physically tangible) means. After all, to him, that is the only real world! [3] The atheist believes that the Christian God can only be understood apart from the concept of faith. He will never be able to come to terms with the existence of the God of the Bible the way that the Christian does, because of his view of reality. In the end, it is perhaps not so much that the atheist doubts the goodness of God in this debate, though he undoubtedly does do that. That is secondary. All of the atheist’s doubts about God arise from his fundamental understanding of reality as “anti-spiritual.” It is this limiting view of ‘reality’ that forces the atheist to deny God’s very existence, and consequently, his supposed goodness.

But the Christian also struggles at a very foundational level in this debate. If he concludes that God is indeed real in an entirely ‘other’ sense than the mere physical reality that the atheist perceives, he must then believe in a God who is not only capable of preventing pain and suffering, but also is one who picks and chooses what He does or doesn’t do about it. While the Christian believes in the literal spiritual reality of the eternal, omnipotent God of the Bible, he is often incapable of debating effectively whether God remains ‘good’ within the perspective of this spiritual reality.

The Christian must understand, ultimately, that his belief in the goodness of God comes from his reliance on the fact that Scripture alone establishes his perception of God’s existence and goodness, and not his experience. Scripture is replete with examples of the apparent thriving of the wicked in their wickedness. “For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men” (Psalm 73:3-5). “Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The prophet Habakkuk wrote of his confusion about the thriving of the wicked while the righteous God-fearer suffers: “You [God] are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold your tongue when the wicked devours?” (1:13). In Judges 6:13, Gideon complains with wonder that “...if the Lord is with us, why then has all this [hardship] befallen us?”

Furthermore, what serves as fuel for the atheist’s argument is the Christian conviction that even the very faith we rely on to believe in the God of the Bible is from God Himself.[4] Karl Barth wrote in On Christian Faith, that

Faith is a freedom; a permission. It is permitted to be, so -- that the believer in God’s Word may hold on to this Word in everything, in spite of all that contradicts it [in reality]. It is so: we never believe ‘on account of,’ never ‘because of’; we awaken to faith in spite of everything… when we believe, we believe in spite of God’s hiddenness. The hiddenness of God necessarily reminds us of our human limitation. We do not believe out of our personal reason and power.

Christians do not believe that God is good based upon an empirical proof that God necessarily demonstrates on a physical basis. We awaken to faith in spite of everything. We understand that whether or not God is good is not based upon the limited reality of our human comprehension of our particular experiences. Faith does not allow us to determine what ‘the goodness of God’ should look like. It allows us to believe His revelation about His intrinsic goodness in spite of what our experience shows it does look like. Our faith in God and in his goodness cannot be scientifically tested within the bounds of this physical reality because God exists outside of it. It cannot be validated scientifically or empirically, and so, while to the atheist, it is mere nonsense to attempt to answer the questions regarding the existence or the goodness of God through some means other than empiricism, the Christian cannot look to empiricism as establishing its proof.

Yet both the atheist and the Christian attempt to explain the same set of facts. Both can see that there are discrepancies in our experiences that make it difficult to account for God’s goodness, which is why, from the atheist’s perspective it is

…incumbent upon the theist to provide enough reason for his belief that God is the true explanation of the universe and morality. The atheist, for his part, does not necessarily offer an explanation; he simply does not accept the theist’s explanation. Therefore, the atheist need only demonstrate that the theist has failed to justify his position.[5]

The atheist does not offer a solution because he has none except his experience and human judgment. In the end, it is the atheist’s own materialistic view of the world that has made it impossible for him to believe in a God, let alone one that is good. And we are not blaming the atheist for making that assumption; he has no other alternative! The Christian insists that this physical reality alone cannot account for our understanding of the goodness of God.

Our desire to solve the problem of the goodness of God, therefore, is at a standstill unless we ask an entirely different question than “How does our perception of reality demonstrate that God is ultimately good?” Perhaps it might be better to arrive at some tenable solutions if we ask, “Are you so entirely dedicated to your materialistic view of reality that you will not allow for any other view of reality in considering the question of God’s existence and goodness?”

How Does Christianity Account for God’s Goodness?

Thomas Warren has written that “it is likely the case that no charge has been made with a greater frequency or with more telling force against the theism of Judeo-Christian (biblical) tradition than the complication of the existence of evil.”[6] Historically, Christian theologians have insisted that God has permitted evil in order to bring about “a greater good” than would have existed had evil not been present in the world. Thomas Aquinas argued on a broad scale that “the permitting of evil tends to the good of the universe.”[7]

The Christian theologian relies on the truthfulness of the Biblical account to inform him of God’s goodness and the existence of evil. The Biblical account suggests that a good God allowed evil and sin in the world in order to bring about an immense advantage to men, in that, God, through the incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ, atoned for sin. This atonement for human sin is ultimately an expression of a better “good” than the “goodness” of a world that might have been without the presence of sin because the atonement for human sin is the ultimate expression of His goodness toward mankind. Philosophers have suggested that God gave “to the universe something nobler than anything that ever would have been among creatures except for this sinfulness,”[8] when He allowed sin to come into existence. Therefore, in light of this Biblical theological argument we cannot

…doubt that God does well even in the permission of what is evil, for He permits it only in the justice of His judgment. And surely all that is just is good. Although, therefore, evil, in so far as it is evil, is not a good [in and of itself]; yet the fact that evil as well as good exists, [on the whole] is a good. For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent God, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish. And if we do not believe this, the very first sentence of our creed is endangered, wherein we profess to believe in God the Father Almighty. For He is not truly called Almighty if He cannot do whatever He pleases, or if the power of His Almighty will is hindered by the will of any creature whatsoever.[9]

It is the Biblical revelation of the person of God and the existence of evil that informs us of God’s goodness in light of that evil, and not merely our human perception of what God’s goodness should look like in the world. Faith is an absolutely necessary requirement to understanding how God can be good in this world; it is not an alternative to answering the difficult question of His goodness, it is the solution to answering the question. Often in speaking with people about the choices God made about the kind of world he supposedly created, they will inevitably ask “Couldn’t God have made a better choice by creating a hedonistic paradise that is free from pain and suffering? Isn’t a world free from pain and suffering better than this world? Because God did not create such a hedonistic paradise, is He not therefore lacking in the qualities of love, goodness and power?”

The remainder of this essay will attempt to address these questions. We recognize that the Christian theistic conception of God not only grants that there is evil in the world which God created, it believes that God has ordained its existence (using this word ordained in the normal dictionary usage of “commanded, ordered, established, or intended”) to demonstrate how good he is. Scripture teaches that not only has God created the whole earth and all that dwells within it, but that He remains good in spite of the choices He made to create it as He did, and to govern it as He does.

B. C. Johnson has written of this formidable and difficult problem, that “throughout history God has allowed numerous atrocities to occur. No one can have justifiable faith in the goodness of such a God.”[10] Yet there are literally millions of people who do have justifiable faith in the goodness of the God of Scripture Who has not only allowed evil atrocities to exist, but has in His sovereignty, decreed that they be so, without impacting their view of God’s goodness.

According to Biblical theology, an infinitely good God demonstrated His goodness in spite of His allowing evil to exist. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose...” Note, however, that this verse does not teach that all events in life are ‘good’ from the human perspective in spite of the fact that some of them may actually be evil! Nor does this verse teach that the good and evil events alike work together within God’s providence for the benefit of both the Christian and atheist. This verse however, does teach that as Christians, we know that God’s ordaining of all events, regardless of how they appear in this physical reality, work together for an ultimate good to those who love God. Christians must keep in mind this ultimate end in their understanding of God’s goodness. There appears to be nothing in Scripture to indicate that all things also work together for good to those who hate, or deny the existence of God.

Which Kinds of Choices Demonstrate Goodness?

Now, if we suppose for a moment that Scripture is true in terms of its declaration that God remains infinitely good while permitting the existence of evil, and apparently failing to remedy each instance of it from a human perspective, then does the existence of evil in the world demonstrate God’s goodness, or negate it? In other words, if God is truly good, would He allow evil to exist because He is good, or would He destroy evil because He is good? Furthermore, would there even be an atheist in existence to question the goodness of God, if God were intent upon eliminating every evil?[11] This of course only requires two things. First, the atheist must necessarily admit to the possibility of possessing a single evil thought in his mind for at least one second during his lifetime. We ask that if the atheist would acknowledge the possibility that for one second during his lifetime he has had a thought that was evil, or merely not good, is the fact that God allows him to exist, in spite of his evil thought, a demonstration of God’s goodness? Or would the fact that he did not destroy the atheist the second he had an evil thought demonstrate that God is evil?[12]

The question remains, which action on God’s part demonstrates His goodness? Is God good because He allows evil to exist? Or can His “goodness” only be demonstrated by His elimination of evil as the atheist suggests? Who determines the degree of evil that must be present before God eliminates it? This issue is especially difficult for the atheist. B.C. Johnson states that

A very large disaster could have been avoided simply by producing in Hitler a miraculous heart attack -- and no one would have known it was a miracle ... No one is requesting that God interfere all of the time. He should, however, intervene to prevent especially horrible disasters. Of course, the question arises: where does one draw the line? Well, certainly the line should be drawn somewhere this side of infants burning to death. To argue that we do not know where the line should be drawn is no excuse for failing to interfere in those instances that would be called clear cases of evil.[13]

The atheist must obviously perceive that premeditated murder is a relative ‘goodness,’ which leads to several serious problems. For instance, how does murdering Hitler demonstrate God’s goodness? Furthermore, how do we know that God didn’t interfere in Hitler’s actions, for example, by preventing every Jew from being exterminated? Which is the greater good, allowing only some Jews to live, or murdering Hitler?

Furthermore, how would anyone prove that it was God who gave Hitler a heart attack, were he to have died from one, rather than that his heart naturally stopped beating apart from any intervention by God?[14] Who decides what is ultimately “good”? Should it be the atheist? If so, on what grounds will he suggest that he knows best what is good or not good in every circumstance? He cannot claim eternal omniscience. Perhaps he would claim this knowledge on the grounds of his own goodness? Furthermore, it is intriguing that the atheist is not requesting that God interfere all the time, but just when the atheist says so. Perhaps the atheist imagines that the Christian God should be available to intervene at every beckoning and call that the atheist determines He should?

The atheist apparently knows as well that a line should be drawn in some cases that require the knowledge of “goodness”. Apparently unbeknownst to God, it is before the death of innocent children. But we wonder, if all children are innocent in the atheist’s perspective, wasn’t Hitler once an innocent child as well? How is it that the atheist can label as good the murdering of ‘innocent’ children if they turn out to be like Hitler, and still use God’s failure to rescue innocent children from burning as a demonstration that God is not good? Who knows whether or not one of those children that God allows to burn in a fire will not grow up to be the next Hitler?

Furthermore, on what basis does the atheist determine the ‘innocence’ of children? Certainly not on his understanding of what they will do thirty or forty years after their birth! For even the atheist would have to agree that though Hitler may have been innocent as a child, that innocence certainly left prior to his choosing to murder several million Jews! And if we compare the supposed ‘innocence’ of children to a perfectly holy and just God, what more can we say then of their innocence, than that it is only a relative one? Won’t the atheist agree that even humans allow for degrees of evil when they make “good” choices? Does not a general in the army prefer a slight wound accompanied by great victory, to no wound at all and no victory?

Certainly goodness is relative even in the light of evil choices. Winston Churchill allowed the Nazi bombing of the city of Coventry, England, during World War II, even though he knew ahead of time that the Nazis were preparing to do so and could have prevented the deaths of ‘innocent’ people. Through various spy networks and the obtaining of a Nazi book of codes, Churchill had learned of the Nazi plan to destroy the non-military site of Coventry. Yet he reasoned that if he were to evacuate all of the citizens from Coventry prior to the bombing, (thereby sparing the loss of innocent life), the Nazis would have known the British had broken their secret codes, thereby endangering the future good that would come from being able to determine the war plans of the Nazis more thoroughly, and gain the ultimate victory in the war. The difficult choice was to allow some innocent people to die at Coventry for the greater good of eventually defeating the Nazis once and for all. Did Churchill make a “good” choice? Or would it have been better to save Coventry, yet be defeated by the Nazis in World War II? Perhaps that is a something only God can determine.

The Problem of the Value of Pleasure and Pain

The atheist often supposes that if God is ultimately ‘good’, then He could have demonstrated that goodness more effectively through the creation of a hedonistic-like paradise where only pleasure or pleasant consequences exist. The question of whether human beings[15] might always be capable of only choosing the good in a paradise of pleasure is virtually incapable of being determined in light of our current perspectives of reality. The Christian Biblical perspective is that a perfectly good God allows evil to exist while He Himself remains good. Christians admit that evil is endemic to the world and to those of us who live here because of the presence of sin. The atheist’s argument that all that God needed to do to have made a better choice when He created was to change the environment to one that is hedonistic, is essentially flawed if it does not take into consideration how our present world is affected by sin. For we see that even in our world that now exists, pleasure does not always lead to good. In fact the physical pleasures that we now experience can just as easily lead human beings to jealously, envy, addiction and hatred as they can lead to good, (assuming of course that the atheist would agree that these previous things are not good). I believe it can be demonstrated that injecting heroin into one’s veins, for example, is one of the most pleasurable sensations that humans can experience in the flesh. Yet there are limits to the goodness of these pleasurable sensations. For a little too much heroin can lead to death. And unless the atheist is willing to agree that death is a possible ‘good’ that results from living in a hedonistic paradise of pleasure, we cannot say that the presence of that pleasurable environment alone guarantees ‘good’ results, if human beings, as they now are, were to live there.

Furthermore, we could even question whether we could experience more pleasure in a ‘hedonistic’ world than we are capable of experiencing in the world in which we now live. More importantly, has anyone experienced not only every possible pleasure to its fullest extent in this world, but every possible extent and avenue of every pleasure, in the human body we have in this world that contains evil? It is utter speculation on the part of the atheist to assume that we could experience more pleasure than we are currently able to experience, and then, without negative (evil) consequences, while remaining the human beings that we now are.[16] We grant the atheist his case that he is not necessarily arguing for a world where no pain exists, but perhaps only for a world where less of it exists. B.C. Johnson, for example, does not necessarily require a completely hedonistic world where no suffering of any kind at all might exist, as the only possible alternative to this one. “[The atheist] need only claim that there is suffering which is in excess of that needed for the production of various virtues (which virtues, according to the theist, produce courage, sympathy, etc).”[17] It is interesting isn’t it, that the atheist suggests that suffering might bring virtue to humanity? One would gather by his arguments that suffering would not be considered a relative good, but rather something that God in his goodness would necessarily remedy if indeed he were good. Huston Smith has written that Hinduism, for example, accepts the existence of pain in reality “when it has a purpose, as a person welcomes the return of life and feeling, even painful feeling, to a frozen arm.”[18] Yet, is it not with difficulty that anyone accepts the notion of “purposeless pain”? What function would useless pain have in the physical world? Apparently even the atheist doubts the possibility of the existence of purposeless pain when he suggests that some suffering might be necessary to produce virtue.

Now, we need not look far to see that at least certain kinds of pain do serve a good purpose in this world. Scientists have explained that lepers experience the mangling and deterioration of their flesh because they are no longer able to sense pain in the extremities of their bodies. Because they cannot feel the pain which would normally caution them to be attentive to their own actions, lepers cannot determine whether or not they are incurring any detriment to their flesh. Pain in ones extremities protects the person from incurring more damage to them.

Even the atheist can easily see that pain in the world in which we now exist, is necessary, and that it actually serves a ‘good’ purpose in our world. And even though we agree with the atheist that pain in certain excesses is most often considered to be evil and appears to be of no use to us in this world, God had a purpose and use for it in the world which He created. Does our world not function better in some degrees because of the existence of pain in it?

Though it remains difficult to assimilate the excesses of pain and evil which appear in this world, the Bible teaches further that God uses physical pain and suffering to chastise His own “for their own good,” (rather than plant them into an imaginary world of hedonism and pleasure which is free from pain). King David wrote, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.... I know, oh Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (Psalm 119:71, 75, emphasis added). Charles Haddon Spurgeon, London’s greatest preacher, was afflicted with gout for most of his adult life. His response to that affliction demonstrates a Christian conviction that in spite of pain and suffering, God uses it toward our ultimate good.

The result of [being in the melting pot of pain] is that we arrive at a true valuation of things [and] we are poured out into a new and better fashion. And, oh, we may almost wish for the melting-pot if we may but get rid of the dross, if we may be but pure, if we may but be fashioned more completely like our Lord.[19]

The response of the greatest apostle in the New Testament to God’s goodness and the struggle he had as God formed him towards the pattern of Christ through pain and suffering, is clearly laid out for us in 2 Corinthians 12:9b, 10. “Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Does God Demonstrate the Greatest Good by Allowing the Greatest Evil?

Is it possible that in our desire to answer these difficult questions regarding the place of good and evil in this world that we have failed to ask the most important question of all: Could God have demonstrated the greatest good by allowing the greatest evil? Our tendency to question whether God should have made a world other than He did is worth serious reconsideration. After all, though it is fun to speculate, this is the world we live in.[20] We all experience both good and evil here, some of us to a greater or lesser degree than others. Yet if God did not create this world with the intention of it being a hedonistic paradise, but rather created it to be, as one man suggests, a “scene of history in which human personality may be formed toward the pattern of Christ,” how shall we go about reaching that end while we live in a world that is evil?

First, the Christian theist must acknowledge his own responsibility for his own evil, and cannot fault the world’s Creator for it because he believes that Scripture is true when it says that God is perfect. The Westminster Confession of Faith has stated the Biblical truth that “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.....” (WCF 3:1). But what Christians often fail to understand is that in His perfection there exists a mysterious element that defies human comprehension. God being perfect does not mean that his choices are perfectly understandable. From our finite perceptions of reality, we humans are too willing to challenge the concept of whether God is entirely good. We critique His wondrous ways, faulting Him for what appears to us to be haphazard carelessness in His creation, without any trepidation. We so arrogantly dispute His power and ability by suggesting that He could have done it better ....“If only”. We see murder, rape, greed, and death all around us, and do not hesitate to shake our fists in the air and say, “Why have You allowed this!” Why do we remain so thoroughly blind to the extent of His goodness in light of our own evil? Would any of us be alive for a second longer if God were to eliminate all evil because of His goodness?

This issue is at the heart of the mystery of the Gospel: This God Who is good, who created human beings with a huge propensity toward evil, chose the greatest good for them, by experiencing the greatest evil for them. This God, in demonstrating His goodness, by His grace alone, saves believing men from their evil rather than destroying them for it. In doing this, God demonstrated for those who believe, that though they are worthy of nothing more than to pay for their own wickedness with their own lives, He paid the price for their evil for them with the life of His only begotten perfect Son.

Perhaps rather than challenging God’s goodness, we might become inclined to see how it can be, that Scripture explains to us that while God is free from any evil in and of Himself, and would remain holy and just even if He held us accountable for each of our sins, He has chosen rather to demonstrate His goodness toward mankind in that “…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19). He chose the greater good of allowing the world to become what it is, so that we could experience the greatest demonstration of His goodness toward us who are evil. And that greatest good was to reconcile wicked sinners to Himself, not at the cost of our lives, but at the cost of Christ’s life.

This mystery is the gospel that defies human comprehension. The mystery lies in the fact that God’s goodness is demonstrated to us through the explanation in Scripture that instead of a perfectly holy God obliterating humanity because of its sin, God did the most inhumanly incomprehensible thing to remedy that situation. This remedy is a mystery precisely because His solution is, at the same time, a horrible demonstration of the extent our own evil and an incomprehensible demonstration of His goodness toward us. Even the goodness of God’s solution for our wickedness is incomprehensible in that God poured out His wrath against evil upon His own Son, Who was the only Person to have ever existed who was free from any evil whatsoever, so that he wouldn’t pour it out on us!

I urge the reader to consider 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The gospel message of God pouring out His wrath upon His own Son is a message that is absolutely foolish to those who are perishing in their unbelief! (1 Corinthians 1:18). Yet that very same message has the power to save those who believe it. God, in His mysterious wisdom, has made what the world believes to be true about ‘goodness’ foolish. The gospel is foolish because the world can never understand God’s goodness unless it understands God through faith and the wisdom of the cross of Christ. In fact, not only can the world not know God through its own kind of wisdom, it was pleasing to God to save those who believe the very same message that the rest of the world rejects as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Scripture records that, “it pleased the LORD to bruise Him [Christ]; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the travail of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:10-11)”. That message of forgiveness of sin by the pouring out of God’s holy wrath against His perfect sinless Son is a message that cannot be understood apart from faith.

The very idea of God putting His own sinless Son on a cross to pay the penalty of sin for every person who would ever believe that message is impossible for the human mind to accept as logical or rational. The unbelieving world asks, “How can that message demonstrate God’s goodness, when, for all intents and purposes, that message describes one of the most horrific absurdities capable of being conceived?” And even to begin to grasp that message in faith, requires of the believer that he acknowledge that the greatest good could only come about through what appears to us to be nothing short of an atrocity. God’s gracious forgiveness speaks volumes not only of our inability to save ourselves, but begs the question: “What if God demonstrated the supremacy of his goodness by allowing the greatest evil to occur?”

[i] B.C. Johnson, The Atheist Debater’s Handbook, (Amherst: New York), 1983, 99-100.
[ii] On what basis does the atheist come to the conclusion that there is no spiritual reality? On what basis does he come to the conclusion that empiricism is the only valid source for determining all that is real?
[iii] One cannot prove what does not exist through any means, empirical (see, hear, touch, taste, smell) or otherwise. Using empirical means as a scientific proof can only prove what does exist. If atheism is certain that God does not exist, there would be no empirical proofs available to prove it. So why make any effort to do the impossible?
[iv] This short paper cannot consider all of the implications about faith. We are only considering here that it does not arise within ourselves.
[v] The Atheist Debater’s Handbook, 12.
[vi] Thomas B. Warren, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1972), vii; quoted in The Blue Banner, vol. 8, Issue 11-12, First Presbyterian Church Rowlett, Dallas, Texas, 1999, 7.
[vii] John A. Mourant, Readings in the Philosophy of Religion, sv. “The Best of all Possible Worlds,” Gottfried Wilhelm Freiherr von Leibniz, (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1954), 384.
[viii] Leibniz, Readings, 384
[ix] St. Augustine, Readings, s.v. “Evil as Privation of the Good”, 391. The reference is to the Apostle’s Creed, which begins with the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth....”
[x] Handbook, 106.
[xi] A friend of mine made a good point here. We are not suggesting that questioning God’s goodness is an evil in and of itself. Nor are we suggesting that having a single evil thought makes the whole person evil. What we are suggesting however, is that all humans have at times thoughts that are essentially evil, and we are assuming that evil thoughts arise from an innate evilness. That God does not destroy us for this innate evil is a good thing.
[xii] Perhaps at this juncture, the atheist might consider it a ‘good’ compromise if God were to only erase the evil thought that came to the mind of the atheist the second that he had it, rather than eliminate the atheist altogether.
[xiii] Handbook, 104.
[xiv] It is curious that the atheist suddenly and conveniently argues for a God produced miracle in his belief system. We wonder if a miracle certainly would be the atheist’s contention were he to discover that had God actually produced a heart attack in Hitler.
[xv] By this we mean human beings as they now are. Neither the Christian nor the atheist can speak reasonably or explain what might be involved in speaking of some other kind of human being that exists in a different kind of world. In this imaginary utopia of pleasure, where the divinity apparently demonstrates His love and goodness by providing nothing but pleasure to human beings, yet no evil consequences to any of those pleasures whatsoever, do humans have the same bodies they have now? Are they still sinful? Would all other things in the world be equal? How would they need to be different to live in that world and experience more pleasure?
[xvi] It might be reasonable to ask here whether or not the evil consequences can be deemed good in that they might restrain the participant from a complete abandonment to utter hedonism to the neglect of other necessary considerations in life.
[xvii] Handbook, 102-103.
[xviii] Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1991), 22.
[xix] Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis (Eugene, OR.: Harvest House, 1993), 266.
[xx] On what basis does the atheist make the assumption that a ‘safe and peaceful world’ is a better world than this one? Certainly it is not on the basis of his omniscience. On what basis does the atheist make the assumption that he knows what would make this world a better world? If this is the only world he has experienced, how could he know?

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