Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Aric's Rule #1 for Theology

Everyone has basic assumptions they make which shape everything else they believe. In many cases these basic assumptions may be subconscious, unknown to even the believer. When these assumptions can be known and revealed it makes understanding much easier, because you can trace the roots of someone's thought. Knowing a person's core assumptions also gives you a good idea whether you will ever see eye-to-eye with them since these are the interior foundations, the things upon which a person cannot compromise because (as Doug would put it) to do so would threaten that person's immortality project.

Here is my #1 rule, my #1 assumption, my core belief regarding God. On this I will not compromise:

God is good.

God must be good in my belief because if God is anything else then God is not my father, my creator, my protector, my sustainer, my savior, or my friend. If God is NOT good, then God is my enemy. For Christianity, for faith, for the world to make any sense at all God must be good.

Furthermore, goodness is apprehensible. Maybe not fully. Maybe not in every single situation for all time, but we can make accurate statements about the general contours of goodness that have meaning, and that meaning because of rule #1 is applicable to God.

For example:

Murder is not good. Anywhere. Ever. It is a synthetic moral norm that murder is always wrong. Therefore we can say conclusively that God does not murder. If God ever did murder God would not be good, and God is Good.

Torture is another synthetic moral norm. It is always wrong, by definition. This is why the Bush administration is bending over backward to define the techniques they've authorized as something other than torture. The moment they admit they have condoned torture they have no moral authority left. Anyone attempting to argue torture is ever morally acceptable is sadly confused. Because torture is wrong, God does not ever torture anyone. If God ever did torture someone God would not be good, and God is Good.

The pattern coming out of this is that for all my love of postmodern shades of gray, on some things I am an absolutist. When I say God is Good, I mean absolutely good, perfectly good, the definition of good. God is good in such a way that no human being (except Christ) ever has been or could be.

I have a little imagination game I play with myself when trying to discern God's Will - I think of the best possible situation, and then I try and think of something better than that. Somewhere beyond the limits of my best ideas, are where God's hopes and plans actually lie. Whatever we can dream of, God's dream is better than that.

Thus when it comes to questions of afterlife and eschatology and all of these fields of theology about which we really know nothing and are left to our imaginations, I am comfortable with saying that it is better than the best I can imagine, and since I can easily imagine much better solutions to injustice and evil than hell, and since I can easily imagine much better solutions to faith and righteousness than heaven I have no trouble tossing them out.


Jodie said...

Good rule of course. Good post. Hard to respond to.

A bit tongue in cheek, I'd modify it to say

"God is. Good."

Happy New Year

Grace said...

Happy New Year from me too!

I agree that God is good, but I think there is a difficulty in totally using our finite, fallen reason alone to flesh this out.

I'm feeling we need to balance reason with a realization of the authority of Scripture, and the tradition of the church.

Otherwise, we run the risk of coming up with a personal God who is simply an extension of our own subjective philosophy, and reasoning, a kind of mental idolotry.

Sometimes what might seem loving, and good to us in the short term, may not always be good, and just in the long term. And, only God is omniscient, and knows the end from the beginning.

Hey, just some thoughts I'm throwing out...

Aric Clark said...


Thanks for throwing out thoughts. Keep on doing it.

I was well prepared for the perception that I am "constructing" a God out of my own reason. Frankly, I accept that, because all our ideas of God are constructed in our own heads. We don't come to Scripture or tradition or experience or any other source of theology without our own reason being constantly operative in interpreting the data. In a sense Freud and Bertrand Russel and Dawkins are all right that God is imaginary and religious people are deluded.

We cannot escape our own heads. There is simply no way around the fact that all we know and believe is completely impossible to confirm, the basis of our knowledge is limited to our subjective perceptions conditioned by our biological, cultural, and psychological makeup and interpreted for us by our reasoning mind.

If reason is invalid (which it obviously is) then all knowledge is invalid (which it obviously is) and all of this is just a bunch of hot air (which it obviously is).

I do attempt to understand scripture and refer to the tradition of the church all the time in my exploration of God. I still have to make sense of it, and the only method available for doing that is by reasoning it out. The God of the Bible, the Church, and faith only makes sense at all if God is good, and if God is good then... see what I mean?

Craig said...


When you use the word good, what does that mean to you?

Doug Hagler said...

Ahhh...good question.