Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why and How God Is Good

... all the time.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Psalm 34:8
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28
The goodness of God is often spoken of as if it were a mere instinctive desire for the diffusion of universal happiness, without reference to the characters or habits of his creatures -- as if he were concerned to make them comfortable, whatever might be their views and feelings in reference to himself, and in whatever way might be most congenial to their disposition and taste; as if, in fact, God had regard to no other end than the mere physical enjoyment of man!

Now, no view can be more at variance with the doctrine of Scripture than this!  I see not how, on such a supposition, we can reconcile the actual facts of human experience, with the belief that an Almighty Being, acting on this principle, exercises a providence over the world.  For, unquestionably, there is much suffering in the world.  And if there is no moral reason and no final cause for such suffering -- it would seem to derogate either from the goodness which we ascribe to God, or from his power to carry his benevolent intentions into effect.*

The man who holds it as a first principle, that the only or the chief end of God is the diffusion of mere physical enjoyment, irrespective of all moral considerations, and who takes a survey of the actual state of the world, or a review of his own experience -- must be staggered by many difficulties, which a more correct and Christian view of God's end in providence can alone obviate and remove.

The Bible does not speak of God's goodness in this way.  It never once ascribes to him the desire of making his creatures happy without reference to their moral condition.  It declares his loving-kindness, indeed, and tells us that he has no pleasure in our sufferings.  But it affirms, notwithstanding, that these sufferings are inflicted by his hand, and will continue to be inflicted, so long as the more important ends of his government are unfulfilled.  In a word, it is a moral happiness -- a happiness springing from, and in a great measure consisting in, the graces and virtues of a holy character, that the Bible declares God's willingness to bestow.  And it is a moral goodness that is ascribed to him, not an indiscriminate charity, that would secure a happiness for every man conformable to his own inclination, however wicked and perverted these inclinations may be; but a holy love, acting wisely, with a view to moral ends, and seeking to bless its objects in a way suitable to their dignity as moral and responsible beings.

--James Buchanan, The Improvement of Affliction
As often as we hear Romans 8:28 quoted, how often do we hear the very next verse--Romans 8:29--quoted together with it?  Not once in my experience.  But Romans 8:29 begins with the word "for" which means not only that it's inseparable from verse 28, but, more importantly, it provides the ground on which verse 28 stands!  What is that ground?
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:29
In other words, why do all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (verse 28)?

Because the good purpose that all things are working toward in the lives of those who are foreknown and predestined by God (verse 30 will make explicit that those called according to God's purpose in verse 28 is the same group as those foreknown and predestined in verse 29) is for every person in that group to be conformed into the image of the only Man who is morally perfect--namely, His Son Jesus Christ.  Which is to say that the good of Romans 8:28, the goodness of God, is ultimately a moral goodness rooted in God seeking not the temporal but the moral happiness of men.  Exactly what Buchanan says.

*In his best-selling book, Rabbi Harold Kushner solved this dilemma of reconciling human suffering, the goodness of God, and the sovereignty of God by denying the sovereignty of God.  God cannot be in control because the existence of human suffering robs His creatures of comfort and happiness and this would contradict Kushner's superficial doctrine of God's goodness.