This post is written from an Evangelical perspective.
Is the Christian God good?
Does the Christian God expect humans to be good?
Every Christian regardless of what sect/denomination/church they are a part of will answer both of these questions with a resounding YES.
Sonrise Community Church, a nearby Evangelical church, uses this little ditty in their worship services and has the first part of it plastered on the front of their building:
God is Good all the time. All the time God is Good.
If God is good all the time and God expects human beings to be good, then it seems to me that God should at least be as good as the humans he expects to be good.
Is the Christian God as good as good humans are?
Do we see a good God in the Bible? One would be hard-pressed, after reading the Bible, to conclude that God is good all the time. The Bible does show God doing good, but the Bible also records violent, murderous, capricious acts done by God that no rational person would call good.
Christians will object and say God is not bound by the same standard of goodness as humans. So, God expects humans to live by a standard he is unwilling to keep? God, because he is God, can do whatever he wants even if it means acting in ways that no human would call good?
Humans judge goodness based on behavior. Good people DO good things. Good people ACT good. Good people LIVE lives of goodness. Sure, they fail from time to time, but, for the most part, they try to live good lives. Wait a minute, the Christian says, the Bible says all humans are dead in trespasses and sin. According to the Bible, they can’t do good. The only way a person can ever do good is to become a born again/saved Christian. Then the person will have the Holy Spirit living inside them and they will be able to do good.
If goodness is the domain of Christians alone, why is it that so many Christians aren’t good? If God saves and lives inside Christians, shouldn’t Christians have the power to always do good? Christians have free will, someone is sure to say. Yes, God lives inside every Christian, but they have free will and they can choose how they want to live. This kind of thinking necessarily leads to the conclusion that Christians are, in some circumstances, more powerful than God. God can’t overcome Christian free will and force them to do good? God, then, is not as powerful as Christians claim.
This whole scenario is quite strange; A good God that doesn’t do good because he can do whatever he wants. If God doing what he wants is not an act of goodness, then I must conclude that God does evil. As the stories of the Bible clearly show, the Christian God can act in ways that rational humans would call bad or evil. God requires/demands Christians be good and he empowers them to be good by living inside of them, yet there are times they are not good. I must conclude that God is stymied by Christian free will and is unable to force them to do good. Is such a powerless God worthy of worship?
I think that the God of the Christian Bible is a myth. No God of goodness, who acts according to a different standard from what he expects humans to follow. There is no God that lives inside of Christians, influencing them to do acts of goodness, acts that God himself is not required to do. Good people do good. I have said many times that, fortunately, many Christians are better than the God they worship. Millions of Christians go about their lives every day trying to do good. What they fail to realize is that they are doing good because they are good, not because a deity made them good. Theists and non-theists alike do good. Their acts of goodness have nothing to do with a God.
The next time someone does good and you benefit from it, thank the person who did the good. Don’t shoot a prayer to the heavens thanking a not-so-good fictional God for the goodness in your life. Good people do good things, and they are the ones who deserve the praise.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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Christians defend the evil deeds god does, as recorded in the bible, as being good for mankind in the longer term. Everything god does is for your ultimate good, but you must accept that the initial appearance is that it is far from good. This makes god a consequentialist and, as humans, that is largely how we live our lives. We lie and steal to protect others, and try and have heed to the effect our actions have on others (even those intending harm realise that their actions have consequences).
The trouble is that once you understand this then you lose any sense of objective morality; actions aren’t wrong in themselves, and must be judged by their consequences. Human morality effectively becomes superior to the god of the bible.
Even when I still believed strongly, I was sometimes puzzled by the fact that some non-Christians seemed to be much better people. For instance, when they were able to truly forgive…. These stories always baffled me as I knew I found it a pretty hard thing to do and they didn’t even have God/Jesus to help them with it, nor threathen them with not being forgiven oneself! I also realized that some Christians can be horribly petty or downright horrible. It just didn’t match: Christians were no better (or worse) than anyone else and yet they were suppose to be… It’s just one of those things that doesn’t really have an answer, along with so many other things, and therefore has to be ignored as much as possible. Until you can’t ignore it any longer, that is 🙂
Love the comic by the way!
I grew up with a pretty well-defined notion of what being good meant. It meant I obeyed my parents (unless I could lawyer my way out of doing so, because what they wanted was silly), and cared for other people. Prayed for other people. Tried not to hurt people. Apologized if I did. Did generous things. Let people gossip around me, but became an information sink. Said kind things when people were hurting because of some loss they couldn’t mitigate.
As I got into high school, I started wondering why I had to try so hard not to hurt anyone, and apologize if I did and try to make it right, when God didn’t seem to have that requirement. I wondered why I had to pray, night after night, for the same things; hadn’t God heard me the first time? Did he not have a prayer version of an answering machine to queue up prayers, when he was busy with another call?
I left Catholicism behind as a young adult, and my husband and I joined an Evangelical church. People were nice and the service seemed to have a lot less pageantry. I was allowed to read my own Bible without a religious hierarchy interpreting it for me, or so they said. (They so lied. I was supposed to interpret it the way they did.) I started attending Bible studies, which always opened and closed with prayer, and the prayers of my supposed co-religionists irritated the heck out of me. “Heavenly Father, we want to, just, blah blah blah, and we just want to say blah blah blah, and we just blah blah blah…” I would sit there thinking, did he not hear you the first time? I know what you asked for, you’ve rephrased it three times, and why all these groveling ‘justs’? At this point, aren’t you wasting God’s time as well as mine? Oh, and isn’t this closing prayer stuff a slight rehashing of the stuff you said in the opening prayer?
I did not make a good Evangelical. I was absolutely shocked when one of the elders assured me that all of Genesis was literally true. Oh, and he was an engineer, which was my first introduction to the Salem Hypothesis. (Google it.) I was falling into deep depression, so that every sermon–which focused at some point on how humans are crap and God just loves crap so much, he redeemed us–just deepened my depression.
After I abandoned the church, and got some mental health help, I had to re-think my thinking on almost everything. And I concluded that I know what being good is (it’s evolved with time, to value treating other people even more gently, not to impress a deity but because focusing on doing so improves the person I am), and that any Omnimax Jerk who could create what he later figured was crap, and redeemed his crap by blood sacrifice, did not meet my standard of good. But by then I’d accepted that he was nonexistent, anyhow.
What do Jewish scholars think of their God – I mean, we co-opted him – do they think he is all good all the time? I think he is a fictional character, but I am curious what the religion that created him interprets him to be.
Growing up Catholic (an altar boy in Catholic school: you can’t get much more Catholic than that), I don’t remember hearing “God is Good” or anything to that effect–not even from the nuns or priests. Now, as I reflect on those times, I don’t think I heard much about God at all. That may have to do with the fact that Catholics seem to have vested more of God’s authority in his putative proxies–the priests and nuns.
On the other hand, as an Evangelical, I was always hearing about this God who’s so wonderful. And, I blush to admit, I even said as much when I was leading a Bible study group, even when it came to verses like Ezekiel 25:17, Luke 19:27 and 1 Corinthians 5:9-13–not to mention Leviticus 20. A preacher’s explanation (which I parroted) was that God had to be vengeful and violent to purge evil. (Was he in Kyiv yesterday?) In that sense, the preacher told me, God is good because in doing such things, he is doing good.
What I find ironic is that such an explanation makes God sound like the comic-book version of Machiavelli: “the end justifies the means.”