I’ve pondered for some time a peculiar inconsistency in the way we think about God. In spite of our established set of doctrinal positions – views that we defend to the nth degree – there has still been a silent stirring in me concerning our fundamental orientation concerning who we understand God to be.
In short, I think we’ve suffered (from multiple sources, in various ways and degrees) from a malformed theology.
I use the term malformed on purpose, meaning our basic skill set for doing theology and studying God has not been formed correctly. In fact, it has been misshaped; we have been ill-equipped to think about God in proper ways. To make matters worse, we have cemented our doctrinal positions while also creating a Do-Not-Ask-Questions-Ever church culture, and now we are the proud owners of profoundly conflicting ideas about God with no way of sorting them out.
So here’s the peculiar inconsistency I’m referring to, in three steps:
First, we all assent to the notion that God is good. In fact, that is a gross understatement. He is not just good, He’s even better than that. He is better than you think He is. He is the Ultimate Good. He is infinitely transcendent Goodness.
Second, we make claims about the nature and ways of God that, measured by any normal-functioning moral intelligence, are not good, but instead cruel. Actually, some acts we ascribe to God are not just cruel; they would rank in the most horrific atrocities ever perpetrated of all time!
Third, we have created a theology that forcibly contorts these two incompatible and irreconcilable ideas in such a mind-bending manner that it doesn’t make sense to anyone… well, anyone who’d be brave enough to admit it.
We have suggested that He is at once both Ultimate Beauty and Cosmic Anger.
He is simultaneously a sinner’s closest friend and soon-to-be vicious torturer.
He is the Creator of all things yet persists in destroying innocent men, women, and children in hurricanes and earthquakes because America has permitted homosexuality or abortion.
If you live for a mere 50 years on this planet and never become a Christian, you will be tormented in excruciating pain and desperate agony for the next 50 trillion years.
See what I mean?
When propositions of this sort are put forth and everyone’s conscience and moral sensitivity revolt, our next move has been to employ phrases like, “You’ve just gotta have faith” and “His ways are higher than our ways.”
To all of this I say: NO.
God created each one of us with a functioning moral intelligence; something embedded deep within our human equipment that helps us delineate between goodness and evil, love and hate.
This particular toolkit of moral functioning and imagination is not designed to be repressed, subdued, rewired, or altogether ignored in our attempts to know God. Instead, it is the very apparatus He has provided for us to know Him as He is. That is why it is so unbelievably damaging to posit ideas about God and His nature that violate all sense of moral reasoning.
It simply cannot be.
If God is the precise opposite of everything we know as moral creatures, then we are doomed to an epistemological and theological nihilism. If our faculties cannot be trusted at the most basic level to discern between good and evil, then knowledge of any kind is impossible.
When speaking of God as the Ultimate Good – the language of Goodness is defined precisely how our moral imagination instinctively knows to define it.
We come equipped with an intrinsic sense of what is good and what is cruel.
Therefore, we cannot take acts that would, by any other measure, be self-evidently cruel, and attribute them to a God who is the Ultimate Good. His thoughts and ways (which are indeed higher than ours) are greater and grander, but not fundamentally different.
David Hart said it best: “God infinitely transcends our understanding; He is not infinitely contrary to our understanding.”
When we call God “good,” it can only mean good in the sense that we understand good. It can be better than good, or greater than good, but it cannot mean something other than good.
This means we cannot ascribe horrible ideas to God that are repugnant to our basic moral imagination and violate every notion we have of what goodness is and means – and it still be considered “good.”
If our version of “God” is one that is not rooted in transcendent “Goodness,” then perhaps we have a wrong version of God.
The truth is He is just as good as we’ve always imagined Him to be.
Actually, He’s even better.