Can we judge God?
If "good" means "what God wills" then to say "God
is good" can mean only "God wills what he wills." Which
is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.
Christians sometimes avoid the issue of their God's moral behavior
in the Bible by making a statement like this: "God is the source of
all moral standards, and without Him, how can we say what is right or
wrong? Therefore we cannot judge God, for by what standard would we do
other words, without God, we cannot determine what is right or what
is wrong, about Him or anything else. They also say that good does
not exist without God, that what He does is always good by default,
simply because He is good. Let's see if this can be true.
If we cannot judge, we cannot recognize
If we do not have the ability on our own to discern what is good or
bad, how do we tell a god from a devil? God gives us one set of rules,
and Satan gives us another. Without the ability to make moral judgments
on our own, we could not recognize God as good, or Satan as evil. "Love
your neighbor" would seem just as "good" as "cheat
your neighbor" to us. The fact that we can distinguish God from
the Devil shows that we do have the ability to make moral judgments within
What is the "standard" anyway?
But let's say there is a Divine Moral Standard that tells us right
from wrong. It's fine to claim to have such a standard. It's quite
another thing to say what that standard is, and what it advocates.
For example, "Thou
shall not kill." Some say the word "kill" should really
be "murder." So which is it? In any event, does this apply
to self defense? How about war time? Killing civilians as well as
soldiers? What if you are not in danger of death from the invaders,
just a takeover of your government? Is human life secondary to national
sovereignty? Can I kill someone just so I can live free? This reminds
me of a bumper sticker: "When Jesus said love your enemies, I'm
pretty sure that meant not killing them."
In the end,
we're all in the same boat. Christian or not, we all must decide
what we feel is moral. Even with their "standards," Christians
will disagree with eachother on these questions, and many others.
Not to mention different denominations' differing interpretations
of Scripture. So even though in theory they can argue for a Standard,
in practice there is no real standard they can appeal to, because
they do not even agree on what that standard says, much less what
Some Christians reject secular morality on the grounds
that it was created by humans, because human agency is fallible.
What they forget is that religion was also created by humans. The
Bible itself was written by these humans, and subsequently interpreted
by the same. If moral laws created by humans are suspect (because
humans are fallible), why is human writing or human interpretation
of such writings (even if the writings were inspired by
God) any less fallible?
We really all use the same standard
It's obvious, however, that standards do exist in human culture. Show
kindness to someone, and they will think you did good toward them.
Try to harm them, and they will consider your actions bad. Why is
this? Because we are all humanists in the end. What is good for us
we consider good, and what is harmful we consider bad. That's
why we determine God to be good, and Satan evil, for God is assumed
to be a loving being who wants good things to happen to us, and Satan
the opposite. Whether we appeal to religion or humanistic ideals,
the morality of a thing is usually defined by its impact, good or
bad, on people. So what are we really saying when we say God is good?
We are saying that He does things that are good for us, such as granting
us health, happiness and life. And Satan is bad because He does things
to harm us. So what happens when God does things that are harmful
to us? We must call such behavior bad. Why? Because if we don't, then
we cannot call anything bad, or anything good either.
Remember, morality is a relative term
For humans, good or bad are always determined in relation to us. Goodness
cannot exist in a vacuum. It can only have value when it is judged
in relation to something else. For example, if I say John is good,
I am making a non-statement, unless I define the context I am using
the word "good"
in. In other words, I must explain, "good at what?" For
if I am talking about altruism, then I could mean that he is good
at helping others. But if I am talking about his boxing abilities,
then I may mean that he is good at inflicting harm on others. The
same applies when we say God is good. Without a context (such as
humans, and the effects on them), calling God good means nothing.
Even so, Christians sometimes try to make "good" a characteristic
of God, such as "God is good." But that doesn't really
make any sense, for good is not a state of being, rather it is a
comparison word, just like the words near, far, tall or short. So
to belabor the point yet a little more (since this concept seems
so hard to convey to some Christians), to say
"Jesus was near" means nothing until you add "near
Compared to Jerusalem, for example, he was near. But he was not near
to South America. But to say that "Jesus was near because nearness
is a characteristic of Jesus" makes no sense. Similarly, goodness
cannot be called a characteristic of God or anyone-- to do so would
require twisting the word and rendering it meaningless.
So again, God's behavior, and therefore His moral character, can
only be judged in relation to its effect on the party in question.
Back when God was alone, before He created anything, saying God was
good could only mean that He was good to himself, which could only
mean that He did what He wanted to. In that regard, He would have
been no different from any other sentient being, whether a devil
or a human. It is only when there are beings other than Himself involved,
does His goodness, or His morality, take on any further meaning.
It is only then that we can differentiate His morality from anyone
else's, and make any statements about it.
Morality is a relative term that can only have meaning when it is
considered in relation to those affected. Clearing the American West
was a good thing for the American settlers, but a bad thing for the
Indians. Burning more coal may be good for keeping our homes warm,
but bad for our air. Similarly, when we say God is good, we must
have something to measure that by. And the only yardstick we have
is us. Can we judge God? Of course. And we must. Or else, we would
never know if we were worshipping a god or a devil.