Divine Goodness

As my loyal readers will know, I have often tried to use this space to combat what I have perceived to be the intellectual vacuity exemplified by much of the blogosphere. However, to only inflict upon my readers my own thoughts and musings would not only prove these efforts to be both supremely arrogant and an exercise in intellectual masturbation.

To rectify this error, I begin by posting a short excerpt from C.S. Lewis. Lewis not only demonstrates an incredible style, but his incisiveness and skill at apologetics impress upon this author the crudeness of my own attempts at such writing. This work remains copyrighted, and I reproduce this excerpt here in the hope that upon considering it, some readers will be encouraged to delve further into Lewis' body of work. As the recent feature film will I am sure prove, Lewis is all too often grossly underestimated as being nothing more than the sum of his fiction writing such as The Chronicles of Narnia. His most powerful work will always be his masterful use of reason and the English language to tell what is essentially the story of a self-described one time "reluctant convert" from atheism.

Lewis' defense of the Faith has rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Why stive to reproduce his efforts when the original will always retain it's incredible power? Enjoy.


From "The Problem of Pain."

"Love can forbear,and Love can forgive . . . but Love can never be reconciled to an unlovely object. . . . He can never therefore be reconciled to your sin, because sin itself is incapable of being altered; but He may be reconciled to your person, because that may be restored." Traherne. Centuries of Meditation, II, 30.

Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.

On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.

On the other hand, if God's moral judgement differs from ours so that our "black" may be His "white," we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say "God is good," while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say "God is we know not what." And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) "good we shall obey, if at all, only through fear--and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity--when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraced, our idea of good is worth simply nothing--may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship.

The escape from this dilemma depends on observing what happens, in human relations, when the man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those who are better and wiser than he and graduatlly learns to accept their standards--a process which, as it happens, I can describe fairly accurately, since I have undergone it. When I came first to the University I was as nearly without a moral conscience as a boy could be. Some faint distaste for cruelty and for meanness about money was my utmost reach--of chastity, truthfulness, and self-sacrifice I thought as a baboon thinks of classical music. By the mercy of God I fell among a set of young men (none of them, by the way, Christians) who were sufficiently close to me in intellect and imagination to secure immediate intimacy, but who knew, and tried to obey, the moral law. Thus their judgement of good and evil was very different from mine. Now what happens in such a case is not in the least like being asked to treat as "white" what was hitherto called black. The new moral judgements never enter the mind as mere reversals (though they do reverse them) of previous judgements but as "lords that are certainly expected." You can have no doubt in which direction you are moving: they are more like good than the little shreds of good you already had, but are, in a sense, continuous with them. But the great test is that the recognition of the new standards is accompanied with the sense of shame and guilt: one is conscious of having blundered into society that one is unfit for. It is in the light of such experiences that we must consider the goodness of God. Beyond all doubt, His idea of "goodness" differs from ours; but you need have no fear that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your moral standards. When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact, be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already call "better." The Divine "goodness" differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child's first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning.

This doctine is presupposed in Scripture. Christ calls men to repent--a call which would be meaningless if God's standard were sheerly different from that which they already knew and failed to pracitise. He appeals to our existing moral judgement--"Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?" 1 GOd in the Old Testament expostulates with men on the basis of their own conceptions of gratitude, fidelity, and fair play: and puts Himself, as it were, at the bar before His own creatures--"What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me?"2

AFter these preliminaries it will, I hope, be safe to suggest that some conceptions of the Divine goodness which tend to dominate our thought, though seldom expressed in so many words, are open to criticism.

By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness--the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, no so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven--a senile benovelence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all." Not many people, I admit, would formulate a theology in precisely those terms: but a conception not very different lurks at the back of many minds. I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don't, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.

I might, indeed, have learned, even from the poets, that Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness: that even the love between the sexes is, as in Dante, "a lord of terrible aspect." There is kindness in Love: but Love and kindness are not coterminous, and when kindness (in the sense given above) is separated from the other elements of Love, it involves a certain fundamental indifference to its object, and even something like a contempt of it. Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object--we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering. As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished.3 It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lvoers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it often appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, more inexorable sense.

Note 1: Luke xii, 57.

Note 2: Jer. ii, 5.

Note 3: Heb. xii, 8.

Return to Top

Comments

Popular Posts