Friday, January 8, 2010

And it was good

Genesis 1:3-5

Here's an important question that might seem at first like just so much philosophical trivia:

Is something "Good" because God says it's good, or is there a greater idea of "good" that God is bound to follow? Another way to ask the same question -- does "good" reflect some moral abstraction, or does it reflect the personality of God?

I believe God determines what is good based on his own nature. So if something -- beauty, intimacy, relationship, courage -- lines up with God's character, it is good. We might use those same words to apply to things that appeal to us, but are far from God's heart, and then our notion of beauty or of courage is a twisted mistake.

Why is this important?

Because, simply, if we can know "good" apart from knowing God, we have the authority to make up our own minds about what is beneficial, what is positive, what is preferred, without ever submitting our wills to God. This is precisely the sin of the garden of Eden (to jump ahead a couple chapters) and is often the reason why strong Christian movements get derailed and turn in on themselves to pursue their own agendas. Well meaning Christians who decide they know what is "good" and pursue it apart from the primary agenda of knowing, loving, and submitting to God, tend to end up in a swamp.

Eve and Adam chose to eat the fruit in the garden in order to know how to discern Good from Evil apart from God. But here in Genesis 1, God himself declares what is "good." Making up our own minds is an ongoing temptation for us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his final work, Ethics (which he never completed but which was assembled and published after his death under the Nazis in 1945), states that pursuing the knowledge of good in itself means we are missing the mark, for only through Jesus Christ can we know what is good for us, i.e., what it is that God intends for us.

Yet over and over again we are tempted to make up our own minds about right and wrong, good and bad, without ever seeking Jesus or his guidance on these questions. We decide a thing is good and we pursue it to the bitter end, not realizing that the good we are pursuing has turned on us and become evil before our eyes.

The whole thing reminds me of a line from the classic western "The Outlaw Josey Wales." A brutal, despicable northern officer has sworn to bring in the hero, Josey Wales, and has pressed one of Wales' friends into helping him. At one point in the movie he talks about all the other outlaws they'll go after when they've gotten Wales. The other man protests, "Once we get Wales it ends." But the evil man responds, totally sincere, "Doing right ain't got no end."


  1. After particapating in the "Truth Project" this is an easy question - important, but easy. Something is good because it aligns with God's character, persona, or God's being.

    It is encouraging to have a simple standard to determine good from evil. These concepts are not determined by any man's idea nor are then changing with the whim of culture or society.

    Oh, yeah. I still like the character of Josie Wales - Clint Eastwood at his rugged best.

  2. The Truth Project series was eye-opening, I own a set of the dvd's and still watch them occasionally because the teachings are so amazing. Where can you get Ravi Zacharias, RC Sproul, Dr. Tackett and all those other great theologians rolled into one? They rock.

    and i just have to say, I've seen "the outlaw Josey Wales" and i think Clint Eastwood was at his best in "Bridges of Madison County", but hey, i'm a girl, so whaddaya expect? ;o)

  3. Oh and i forgot Os Guiness! (another theologian featured in the Truth Project series). He visited Central once. During the question and answer period at the end of his talk I was able to ask him, "If you had a room full of people who were unbelievers listening to you, what would you tell them?" His response was something along the lines of, "well, first off, I would seriously consider what kind of company I was keeping."

    I've never forgotten that answer.