Thursday, 7 April 2011

Measuring God against Goodness

We all have our different ways of tackling the challenges people present to the idea of faith in God. The most usual challenge is surely the problem of evil. I imagine that more than a few of us have encountered this type of criticism from colleagues at work.

The usual form the challenge takes goes something like: “I can’t believe in a God – or a good God – Who would allow such things to happen.”

I think I must leave aside the question of the widely varying phenomena that are generally gathered together under the umbrella word of evil. These deserve a separate discussion. But even considered in its most simple and general terms, I don’t think there can be an all-encompassing and satisfying answer to this kind of question.

Sometimes, however, a little light can be shed on the subject, from an angle.

What is a person actually doing when he asks the “God and evil” question? He may not realise he’s doing it; but he is in fact saying that he believes in goodness. Not simply goodness, but Goodness as an absolute, as a yardstick against which he measures “God” – or his idea of God – and finds Him wanting. In his eyes, “God” falls short when compared with Goodness.

It is not a very great step from this realisation to a further insight: that the critic’s “God” is not the real God. It is a collection of ideas; it is not God at all. In fact, he is not looking high enough, towards what he instinctively knows is there, and acknowledges as the highest thing, and appeals to. The real God is that perfect Goodness in which he himself already believes.

Naturally this does not answer the great conundrum of why God Who is Goodness allows evil to happen. It leaves that hanging in the air, as a distressing mystery; a mystery, however, which is capable of examination in its various manifestations, and thus of a degree of understanding, however imperfect.

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