In my previous post I said that my #1 rule of theology is that God is Good (all the time). That got the pretty obvious follow-up question in the comments, "what do I mean by good?"
It's a reasonable question. We might agree, after all, that "God is Good" (all the time), and disagree entirely on what that looks like. I think it is important to keep your core affirmations simple, precisely so they are stable enough to support a rational system of ideas and beliefs. So while, I'm happy to try and give some definition to my meaning of "good" I wouldn't include this stuff in my rule, because my opinions can and do change sometimes (and on a rare occasion I'm even wrong).
So what can I say about "good"? I will say that it is an immense concept - a quality which can be applied to people, situations, behaviors, and things. It has overwhelmingly positive connotations, be they moral, artistic or emotional. When we say someone or something is good, it is a positive affirmation. A statement of support. An indication that it is "right" or "virtuous". A "good" thing is itself in a way that is proper or laudatory, even exemplary. But these are all ways of getting at the concept generally. I can be more specific.
"Good" is the object of moral reasoning. It has been defined variously, by different schools of ethics, as "seeking the greatest benefit for the greatest number" (utilitarianism), "never treating another person as a means to an end, but only as an end in themself" (deontology), or "perfecting oneself through habits of virtue" (virtue ethics). There are more ways of approaching this, but the central agreement here is that there is such a thing as "good" and it is possible to deduce what is good for a particular person or in a particular situation via reason, experience, observation and rules.
One way of describing the process of moral reasoning for arriving at the "good" is the ascription of value. We ascribe value to tangible and intangible factors alike in attempting to determine what is the best course of action or way of being. For example, we value things like "freedom", "truth", and "safety". By placing relative value on these things we can then begin to discern right from wrong by whether or not it promotes or injures these values. Everything, from individual actions, to patterns of behavior, to the substance of a person is valuable in this sense, in different degrees. When something is highly valuable we call it "good". When something has extremely low value, or a primarily detrimental effect on higher values we call it "bad". This makes ethical calculation complex indeed, but also crucial.
There is no way of getting around the fact that relative valuation of moral "goods" is extremely subjective. You and I are going to disagree on whether "freedom" or "truth" is more valuable. This makes it difficult to make very definitive statements about what is good. Openness to persuasion is thus a virtue, a "good", I believe we should value, but ultimately we have to agree that the "good" is something worth pursuing and it is attainable in some degree. If we don't at least agree on that, then the conversation was over before it started.
How does this relate to what I mean by saying "God is Good"?
First, "goodness" like God is somewhat inscrutable. It eludes perfect understanding. However, like God, "goodness" is indeed knowable, and it is imperative on us to seek to know it. The quest to know God and the quest to know what is good are intimately related, because God is the ultimate definition of good. Where we are forced often to choose between relative goods, sometimes sacrificing a lesser good for the greater, God retains the value of all goods at all times. Indeed, God increases the value of all goods infinitely. In God, every good attains its perfection and no imperfections are found.
To say "God is Good", is not like saying "Mozart's music is good" or "charity is good". It is saying, "God IS Good". God is the essence of good. God is pure, distilled, good.
So many of our theological questions, failing to grasp this, start with false premises. For example, the possibility of universal salvation is often said to be in conflict with free will. Some will say, for God to be good God must save everyone and permit no suffering, but others will say that for God to be good God must permit his creation a choice, which means there is a possibility some will not be saved. God does not have to choose between valuing freedom and salvation. God is capable of valuing both to their utmost or God is not Good. And God is Good. (All the time).