I must say that there are a few things in your recent letter that disturb me about your understanding of God, such as your statement that "doing good" is rather vague in your mind, and that you don't think that God is required to do good in order to be God. I'm going to address the first point in this letter, and consider whether God must do good in my next letter.
First of all, I think you're confused about what I mean when I define love as "seeking the good of another." You're equating that with "doing good", which, it seems, you're defining as "doing nice things". That's not what I'm saying. I defined "good" above according to philosophical ideas. "Goodness" is to be understood, as I use it above, as the extent to which something conforms to the purpose and end for which it was created. A paintbrush is "good" to the extent that it applies paint to a canvass, or a wall, or whatnot. A "bad" paintbrush is one, then, that does not apply paint to something. There are obviously degrees of the goodness of a paintbrush, in how effective it is at applying paint. There are also, of course, degrees of suitability--I wouldn't use a roller-style brush for wall-painting to paint details in a portrait. It would be a "bad" paintbrush for portrait painting, even if, objectively, it was a good wall-painting brush.
When I say that love is defined as seeking the good of another, I mean good in the sense that true love always seeks to enable a person to fulfil the purpose and the end for which he is made. This doesn't always mean that we do nice things for that person. Sometimes, for a person to fulfil his God-given purpose, he needs a good swift kick in the ass. Ass-kickings aren't always nice, but they can be good for a person if it succeeds in giving him the needed motivation to do what he needs to do to be good--that is, to fulfil his purpose or achieve his ultimate end.
So it is with God's love for us. He isn't always doing nice things to or for us, but He is always doing things that are good for us.
Now, we can begin to see what constitutes our "good" when we look at how we were originally created--that is, at Adam and Eve in the Garden.
When we look at the end of Genesis 1, we see that, first and foremost, our purpose is to be the image of God. Thus, we are good insofar as we reflect God's image. The degree to which we fail to image God is the degree to which we are not good.
The first way Genesis reveals that we image God is in relationship. That is, God, immediately in the expression of creating us in His image, creates us as Male and Female (Gn 1:27). In Genesis 2, the alternative account of the creation, we see God creating Man first, and then saying "It is not good that the man should be alone" (v. 18). Thus, God creates Woman to be his companion. That is, if Man is good insofar as he is the Image of God, and it is not good for Man to be alone, then the conclusion is that Man does not properly image God when he is alone.
Now, Adam was on intimate terms with God Himself, and in that way was not alone. Further, he was given care of all the animals, and in that sense, also was not alone. Yet God still regarded Adam as being alone. Why? Because there was no other according to Adam's own kind. Adam's goodness, his imaging of God, is dependent on his being in relationship with another human being. More, it is through the life-giving relationship between a male and a female--Adam and Eve--in which their goodness is expressed in relationship to each other--it is expressed in each seeking the other's good in that love relationship--and it is expressed in being fruitful within that relationship.
Now, we could continue to examine Genesis 1 and 2 to find other points of purpose and ultimate ends which we as humans are created for, and thus are "good" when we live out, but that would get us way off track. I will highlight only one more--and that is that we are created to be in relationship with God Himself. None of us can be good if we are not in relationship with God. Now, I'm not advocating by saying this some sort of Calvinistic "total depravity", that human beings are thoroughly bad by nature. Rather, simply because we have been created by God we are good, inherently. However, the full consummation of that goodness is only realised when we are in relationship with God.
But let's back up a second. So far, we've seen from Genesis two points of what makes Man good. In fact, both of these points of goodness are branches from one tree, if you will. The "tree" is the Image of God. The first branch is relationship with other human beings, and the second is relationship with God Himself. (I put them in this order not because I think that relationships with others are more important than relationship with God, but because that's the order I laid them out above in this message. Please don't make more of it than it is.)
Now, of course, if we image God through relationship, then God, whom we image, must exist in relationship. As we've both agreed on, God doesn't change. Therefore, the relationship that God has must exist from all eternity. This is why the Doctrine of the Trinity is so crucial--because if God was not Trinity, then there would be no one for Him to be in relationship with. If God was simply solitary, He would be alone from all eternity in precisely the same manner in which He declared that it was not good for Adam to be.
In other words, again, if God was solitary, then He would lack something. He would have had to create us to have that lack, that need, fulfilled by us. But God, as we both agree, lacks nothing. He did not create us because He needed anything, but simply because He wanted to.
Thus, God cannot be solitary. He must have, within Himself, a relationship. Hence, we see that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are all the One God, but are themselves distinct persons, able to be in relationship with one another. Thus, the One God exists, from all eternity, as a family of Love. And it is that Love Relationship that is fruitful, and out of which springs all Creation--just as the relationship of Man and Woman in love was designed to image God by being fruitful through procreation.
As for God's love seeking the good of another, the Father seeks the good of the Son, the Son of the Father, and the Holy Spirit of each, and each of the Holy Spirit. But, of course, God is perfect, lacking nothing. The seeking of the good of the other is not meant to indicate that this good is lacking in God. Rather, God is the very source of Good. In seeking the good in the context of the Trinity, each member is entering deeper and deeper into the infinite love of the others. God is eternal union and love of the Three Persons of the Trinity. In the same way, we must ultimately seek our good in God, who is the source of all goodness. God's love for us is always engaged in seeking our good--namely, ultimately, intimate relationship with Him. Everything that God does in the world is designed to bring us into that relationship.
However, I should mention that one aspect of our imaging God is our freedom--our free will. God, who is an utterly free agent, made man to be free, albeit in a more limited and contingent way. God will never violate our freedom in order to make us good. If He did, we would be good in all other respects except for freedom, and since freedom is an essential attribute of our goodness, if God violated our free will to save us and bring us into right relationship with Him, we would still not be good, because we would not be free.
That's enough for now. As I said, in my next letter, I'll discuss whether God can do evil and still be God.
(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)
Monday, May 31, 2010
Posted by Gregory at 9:34 am