In my last letter, I mentioned that your last letter to me contained some worrisome ideas which I intend to address; namely, the meaning of "Good" and whether or not God is "mandated" to do good. I devoted my last letter to discussing the very concept of Good, and explored Genesis to gain some clues as to what our good is, and to see what we learn about God, whom we image. In this letter, I wanted to address that comment in your last letter which most concerned me--whether God is mandated to do Good.
When you wrote to me that you don't think God is necessarily mandated to do good to you, but that He could do evil to you and still be God, you make it sound as though God is forced to do good by some external source. But God is the ultimate source of Good. He is not constrained by something beyond Himself, but since He is good by nature, He cannot but do good. In fact, if God were to violate His goodness, He would absolutely cease thereby to be God. In other words, it is impossible for God to do something evil.
That's a different thing than saying that we'll always understand or perceive God's actions to be Good. Many times we'll wonder why He allowed, or even caused, sickness or suffering to afflict us, as we view suffering as "evil". But in God's omniscience, He knows that such suffering will bring us closer to our ultimate goodness--if we, through the exercise of our free will, allow it to. We can, of course, reject God's goodness in the face of such suffering, and thus the good effects of suffering will not take effect in us. But that does not make the gift and purpose of God any less good.
You argue against God's necessary goodness by pointing to the case of King Saul, whom God allowed an "evil spirit" to afflict (1 Samuel 16-18). In understanding this passage, though, we must keep in mind several things.
First of all, Saul had rejected God's goodness and his relationship with God, and so the evil spirit was a punishment and consequence of that rejection.
Second, as with any suffering, it can either bring us to our senses (as with the Prodigal Son) or it can harden our hearts against God. It is our choice.
Third, the term for evil, "ra`" in Hebrew, doesn't necessarily mean "evil" in the sense that we use it. It has a range of meanings from "sad" to "troubling" to "hurtful" to "worse than..." If we take 1 Samuel 16:14 in this last sense, we see that God's Spirit departs from Saul and a "worse spirit" takes His place. The Bible isn't teaching that God caused the devil to possess Saul, per se.
Fourth, the Hebrew conception of spirits was much less developed than ours, or that of the New Testament. Revelation was given to the Hebrews gradually, and we can actually watch it develop over time reading the Old Testament. Ideas such as life after death, Satan, and many other things are later developments in Scripture. So foisting a contemporary understanding of "evil spirits" onto 1 Samuel 16ff is somewhat inaccurate. This again is why not just anyone can pick up a Bible and interpret it for himself. There are subtle nuances and things that can only be discerned through much study--and not everyone has time or money for such study. If an unstudied person tries to interpret the Bible without knowledge of the languages, cultures, etc. they end up being very confused.
That's all that I'll say about King Saul for now. I hope it provides some food for thought. Ultimately, though, the point I'm making is that God is good, and cannot be or do anything else. Even the suffering and "evil" He permits is always and only for the achieving of a greater good, as St. Paul tells us, "We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good" (Romans 8:28).
This truth is plainly seen in every Crucifix--wherein we are reminded that the greatest evil ever perpetrated by mankind, the murder of God, is the very source and cause of our Redemption--the greatest Good.
(Category: Theology Proper: The Holy Trinity.)
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Posted by Gregory at 7:37 am