Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Goodness of God and the Goodness of Creation

That All Things Were Created Good
The beginning of any account of our redemption must consider God's goodness. All things, we are told, were created good. Our main difficulties in believing this are the reality of death and the evil done by mankind; each of these will be discussed in more detail going forward. Still, for what we see in creation, our basic impression is that God is good. When we look at the stars or the sea we have no difficulty believing that God is good; we have difficulty believing he could be otherwise. The world is filled with things that evoke awe and wonder, things that stir up images of paradise in our minds and call out that this world itself is, or was, paradise. Each thing of beauty is a reminder of heaven, showing a facet of the mind of the maker, drawing us toward him. Each thing God creates has some mark of him. This goodness of God and its reflection in creation is the basis of the experienced goodness of life as well as the basis for the understanding of good and evil.

If this were the whole of it, if everything in our lives called out to us "God is good", the questions about evil would never have been asked. The next post discusses the image of God and the fall of man; the one after that focuses on death. The remainder of this post is addressed to a closely related subject, the "best of all possible worlds" views of creation which are popular in some circles. My main aims in the following section are to return to a view of creation that is directly rooted in Scripture's discussion of creation, and to review how God implements his lordship in this world without revoking the gift he gave us at creation, our sub-lordship within the boundaries he has established.

The Best of All Possible Worlds?
(Again, unless you have a particular interest in the "Best of All Possible Worlds" theories, you may want to just skip to the next post on the image of God and the fall of man.)

Every now and then I hear arguments whether this world is the best of all possible worlds. These arguments usually assume first that all actual happenings in this world were specifically decreed by God and desired by God; and second that God, in his act of creation, chose one set of possibilities above all other sets of possibilities as the best set of possibilities for this world. As with so many speculative theologies, we may ask, "Where has God made that known to us?" and "How would someone know whether or not that were true?"

But this variety of "best worlds" argument has some problems beyond its speculation. It supposes a world which was, at the outset, compromised with evil. But in the account of the world's creation -- regardless of whether you take it as literal or symbolic -- there still remains the fact that the world is said to be very good in every way. Where is there a hint that this world was already directed towards all the evil which has since come? And where is a thing which God would have done differently to create another of these "possible worlds"? If all actual events were decreed by God at creation, then each specific thing -- for example, the fact that my parents had two children, or my mother's parents also had two children -- this is supposed to be decreed at the creation of the world. But what was it that God did in creation that ordained how many children my ancestors would have? What, in the act of the world's creation, would have been different if God had desired for my mother to have three children instead of two? Would the sun have been made differently? Would the plants have reproduced differently? Would the days and nights have been established differently to cause my ancestors, or yours, to behave differently? What, in the act of creation, determined or decreed any of that?

All of that is just by way of pointing out one thing: the view that all actual events were decreed by God at the time of creation is unsupported by anything in the account of creation. From that account it seems more likely, and logically it is more straightforward, that this world itself contained all those possibilities within it at its beginning. This would imply that, rather than God decreeing each specific action in the world at the foundation of the world, that he decreed the range of possibilities and fixed the boundaries within which our actions would take place. This would imply that God gave his consent to any outcome within that range, rather than specifically decreeing which outcome must occur, for many things in this world. For instance, in the account of Job, we do not see that God decreed for Job's children to be killed by a collapsing building; but he did consent to catastrophes befalling Job up to a certain limit. Again in other places in Scripture we see God enacting his lordship over this world not by decreeing each specific action for others, but by decreeing the limits within which he will allow others to act. In various places, the Bible describes God's relationship to his people as a landlord to his tenants or a wealthy man to his stewards, where God is not said to decree each action that the tenants or stewards do, but to lay out the boundaries of what they may do. In this way God's action at the larger level determines many things and sets the boundaries for all things, but he has still left stewardship, responsibility, and some participation in the actual results in mankind's hands. Within the boundaries he has set, our actions make a genuine difference.

At this point some theological camps would still deny that mankind has any latitude in his actions based on God's foreknowledge of our actions, and that all things happen only because God desires exactly that to happen. The basic premise is that God cannot change. If, they say, God's knowledge of what we do changes, then God himself changes. Therefore, they say, God's knowledge does not change and therefore, they say, mankind's latitude to direct himself is an illusion not a reality. While it is doubtful that a change in God's knowledge, rather than a change in God Himself, was meant when it was said that God does not change, even this is likely beside the point. God can know what we do for all eternity, and still not have decreed it, if that is his choice. If he is omnipotent and omniscient, then he has the power to allow room within boundaries for us and still have full knowledge of what we will do. The question is not what God can do, for most of us will allow that God can do all things which are not self-contradictory; the question is what God has chosen to do. We have been told that God made us in his image, and in Scripture we are shown a number of situations in which God is said to set limits for the actions of others rather than make specific decrees for those actions.

How Much Freedom?
Other schools of theology would make room for mankind to participate in our own salvation, and not only by living it out or working it out, but even at the point when we are still enemies of God. But this is getting ahead of myself, and the next point to cover is what happened to mankind.

Index for systematic theology series

1 comment:

James Fletcher Baxter said...

"I should think that if there is one thing that man has
learned about himself it is that he is a creature of
choice." Richard M. Weaver

"Man is a being capable of subduing his emotions and
impulses; he can rationalize his behavior. He arranges
his wishes into a scale, he chooses; in short, he acts.
What distinguishes man from beasts is precisely that he
adjusts his behavior deliberately." Ludwig von Mises

"To make any sense of the idea of morality, it must be
presumed that the human being is responsible for his
actions and responsibility cannot be understood apart
from the presumption of freedom of choice."
John Chamberlain

"The advocate of liberty believes that it is complementary
of the orderly laws of cause and effect, of probability
and of chance, of which man is not completely informed.
It is complementary of them because it rests in part upon
the faith that each individual is endowed by his Creator
with the power of individual choice."
Wendell J. Brown

"These examples demonstrate a basic truth -- that human
dignity is embodied in the free choice of individuals."
Condoleeza Rice

"Our Founding Fathers believed that we live in an ordered
universe. They believed themselves to be a part of the
universal order of things. Stated another way, they
believed in God. They believed that every man must find
his own place in a world where a place has been made for
him. They sought independence for their nation but, more
importantly, they sought freedom for individuals to think
and act for themselves. They established a republic
dedicated to one purpose above all others - the preserva-
tion of individual liberty..." Ralph W. Husted

"We have the gift of an inner liberty so far-reaching
that we can choose either to accept or reject the God
who gave it to us, and it would seem to follow that the
Author of a liberty so radical wills that we should be
equally free in our relationships with other men.
Spiritual liberty logically demands conditions of outer
and social freedom for its completion." Edmund A. Opitz

"Above all I see an ability to choose the better from the
worse that has made possible life's progress."
Charles Lindbergh

"Freedom is the Right to Choose, the Right to create for
oneself the alternatives of Choice. Without the possibil-
ity of Choice, and the exercise of Choice, a man is not
a man but a member, an instrument, a thing."
Thomas Jefferson

Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son
of man that You visit him?" Psalm 8:4
A: "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing
and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and
your descendants may live." Deuteronomy 30:19

Q: "Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that you are mindful of him?" Psalm
A: "And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose
for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the
gods which your fathers served that were on the other
side of the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose
land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will
serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

Q: "What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is
born of a woman, that he could be righteous?" Job 15:14
A: "Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He
teach in the way he chooses." Psalm 25:12

Q: "What is man, that You should magnify him, that You
should set Your heart on him?" Job 7:17
A: "Do not envy the oppressor and choose none of his
ways." Proverbs 3:31

Q: "What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son
of man that You take care of him?" Hebrews 2:6
A: "I have chosen the way of truth; your judgments I have
laid before me." Psalm 119:30 "Let Your hand become my
help, for I have chosen Your precepts."Psalm 119:173

Let us proclaim it. Behold!
The Season of Generation-Choicemaker Joel 3:14 KJV