Over the next several weeks I will be publishing here installments of a paper I wrote on behalf of my fellow elders in my church. In it I attempted to provide some perspective on the thorny question of how sin can exist in a world created by a good God. Notice I said perspective and not answer because many brilliant man and woman have preceded me, are alive today, and will arise in the future with far better minds than I possess, who nevertheless won't be able to definitively answer this question. Alas, I would much rather take the high road and continue to have us consider what it means to be dwellers in God's kingdom, in Christ, but I cannot seem to evade these difficult theological questions; such is one of the challenges that goes with the territory. The following paper will likely not satisfy anyone; the scholars among you will find it poorly attested, and the rest of you will find it too heady. Please don't give up on it, though; because the exercise will be good for all our brains and hopefully cause us to wrestle with--perhaps for the first time--what we believe and why. BONSAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1) Because God is Good whatever He wills is Good; God’s will always flows out of His inherent Goodness. One reason we can be certain we can trust God to be faithful to His promises is because His Goodness is His very nature. It is as the Psalmist confidently trusts:
He restores my strength.
The presupposition opposing this is held by the so-called High-Calvinists. It states, “Whatever God wills is good because He willed it.” This supposition, also called voluntarism, was perfected—if not invented— in the 13th century by Duns Scotus, who firmly asserted that for God to be God, God must be absolutely free. And voluntarism became the foundation of Reformed theology. For example, in, Bondage of the Will, Luther states,
God is that Being, for whose will no cause or reason is to be assigned, as a rule or standard by which it acts, seeing that, nothing is superior or equal to it, but it is itself the rule of all things. For if it acted by any rule or standard, or from any cause or reason, it would no longer be the will of God.[i]
One of the main problems I have with voluntarism is if it were true, it would leave us doubting God’s faithfulness to His promises. If His will is only a pure expression of His free, unbridled power and not His goodness, then God could change His mind, if He so chose, in order to demonstrate His power.
2) God will not act in contradiction of His Goodness; God is God.
3) God is relational. The whole Biblical narrative attests to this fact, but a particularly poignant demonstration of the relational nature of God is found in Matthew 23:37,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!” [NET]
We also know God is relational because of the eternal relationship of the three Persons of the Trinity. And this relationship is bonded together by love; for God is love.
4) There is a right order that both defines and is defined by love; God is holy. The inscrutable Divine nature is Goodness, which is love and holiness in perfect tension, where by tension is meant that if either side—love or holiness—is diminished, or eliminated, both sides are lost. That Goodness can be defined by the tension of love and holiness is supported by Micah 6:8. Probably the most explicit statement of the tension of love and holiness is found in Ephesians 1:4,
For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. [NET]
But the love/holiness tension is ubiquitous throughout the Scriptures[ii], and usually stated in terms of mercy and justice (see below).
5) God’s love does not want to be contained. But because of its nature, love can be contained by one rejecting it.
6) Therefore, righteous relationships, by definition, are when love is freely chosen and shared through translation—not as a transaction—between the lovers in the perfect tension of love and holiness. Love is not a matter of deal making or coercion, but freely giving and freely receiving and receiving in order to freely give again.
7) God is sovereign over His sovereignty; although, this is really a restatement of Presupposition 2 (above).
God’s Purpose in Creation
[ii] E.g., Gal. 5:13-26; Col. 3:12-14;I Pet. 1:22-25;I Thes. 4:1-12; Ps. 25:8