Can God be described as “good”?

(Mark D.) #82

It is interesting that the Euthyphro dilemma as we know it arises first in Plato and in relation to a pantheon of gods. In that system it is not clear that what the gods demand is consistent across all the gods, all of whom are immortal and powerful in their own way. In that system ones action may have a godly inspiration, but not one which would have made all the gods equally happy. Morality itself seems less monolithic under that system.

It has always seemed to me that morality really is that complex. Each significant person in our life will inspire some actions and make others loathsome to us. The same is true of the communities of which we are a part whether local, regional, virtual or one based on some common cause. The same also applies to the way we conceive our personal identity whether that be as one more participant in the web of life or as a child of God or something else. The potential for conflicting obligations is real.

Monotheism doesn’t directly reflect the dynamism in our moral lives as closely as pantheism. If there is but one god and if this one god knew all and was infinitely powerful one might expect the morally best action in any circumstance would always be known to God. But how do we know that morality isn’t just as intrinsically complex and always context dependent for God? They say we are His image bearers. If so, then perhaps we are not the only one who finds moral questions difficult. Even with perfect knowledge of any action’s outcome, He might still be forced to choose between mutually exclusive good outcomes or the least of a number of poor ones.

Perhaps good and evil only exist because we recognize our inability to always please everyone and that some evils are unavoidable. And if that is true for us, then so might it be for the one whose image we are said to bear. Why is there evil in the world? Because there are sentient beings in it who recognize the consequences of their action. Good and evil aren’t what they are because God ordains it, and neither does he ordain it because good and evil are independent. Good and evil don’t await anybody’s ordination, they simply accompany the actions of sentient beings whether mortal or god.

From this you will know that I have what William James* would call an “easy going” moral mood, and I confess I do. Nor do I regret it and wish to see myself and all others pushed into a more “strenuous” moral mood. Morally good enough is good enough for me. I am a proponent of smelling roses and appreciating everything good in this world and expect nothing better in anything to follow. I hope I can give little enough offense and minimize what evil I may do even though I recognize I cannot avoid it all.

*From wiki on William James’ resolution of the Euthyphro dilemma:

[spoiler]William James, in his essay “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”, dismisses the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma and stays clear of the second. He writes: “Our ordinary attitude of regarding ourselves as subject to an overarching system of moral relations, true ‘in themselves,’ is … either an out-and-out superstition, or else it must be treated as a merely provisional abstraction from that real Thinker … to whom the existence of the universe is due.” Moral obligations are created by “personal demands,” whether these demands come from the weakest creatures, from the most insignificant persons, or from God. It follows that “ethics have as genuine a foothold in a universe where the highest consciousness is human, as in a universe where there is a God as well.” However, whether “the purely human system” works “as well as the other is a different question.”

For James, the deepest practical difference in the moral life is between what he calls “the easy-going and the strenuous mood.” In a purely human moral system, it is hard to rise above the easy-going mood, since the thinker’s “various ideals, known to him to be mere preferences of his own, are too nearly of the same denominational value; he can play fast and loose with them at will. This too is why, in a merely human world without a God, the appeal to our moral energy falls short of its maximum stimulating power.” Our attitude is “entirely different” in a world where there are none but “finite demanders” from that in a world where there is also “an infinite demander.” This is because “the stable and systematic moral universe for which the ethical philosopher asks is fully possible only in a world where there is a divine thinker with all-enveloping demands”, for in that case, “actualized in his thought already must be that ethical philosophy which we seek as the pattern which our own must evermore approach.” Even though “exactly what the thought of this infinite thinker may be is hidden from us”, our postulation of him serves “to let loose in us the strenuous mood” and confront us with an [existential] “challenge” in which "our total character and personal genius … are on trial[/spoiler]

(Patrick moore) #83

A very interesting comment Mark.

Jordan Peterson has commented at length in a series of lectures on Genesis, and his comments and interpretation, which is largely based in Jung and Nietzsche, is extremely interesting as far as it goes.

Peterson is very careful not to be drawn on the question of whether he is a believer or not, saying that if by “believe” we mean that someone acts as if the bible stories are true and conducts their life accordingly, then he is a believer. Elsewhere I have heard Peterson in discussion with Sam Harris say that he does not believe that “this stuff is literally true” and I think he comes from a position of being an atheist who sees the secular utility to society and individuals having faith and behaving accordingly - even if it is all a fiction.

As you eloquently point out however - it is simply not possible for most people to build a mental firewall that would allow one per of their brain to be a skeptic and the other half (that controls moral action) to act as if it had a simple and genuine faith. For most of us it is all or nothing.

Where this moves from the psychological and philosophical to being tangible reality for me is in the person of Jesus Christ.

So in considering the question of is God good or not it seems impossible to avoid the fact that Christ said “he who has seen me has seen the Father”.

If Christ was who he said he was, then we can’t simply brush him off. It must be THE MOST important thing in all our lives to find out for ourselves to the extent that we are able whether Christ was for real or not. If not, then we can move on with our lives but if he was who he said he was, then that must change everything for us, including answering the question of whether God is good, and it would also make having an “easy going” moral attitude far harder to maintain.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #84


And I might even venture beyond your cautious language to insist: “for all of us it is all or nothing.” Not that we can’t carry on with partial convictions and doubts in our heads - we all do that. But in the end we cannot fool ourselves - and especially our progeny with any “let’s pretend this is true because it will be better for all of us if we do.” Some might seem to succeed a little while with those kinds of efforts, but their real convictions betray them in the end, and the next generation sees right through any such thing in any case.

(Mark D.) #85

I’m not sure what they may have in mind when they say they don’t believe this stuff is literally true but I can tell you what I would mean. In my case, it would have nothing to do with social utility. Rather it would be that the relationship to that which gives rise to literal God belief is not only real but important as well to the individual. But God does not need to be another being in the universe let alone the most powerful of beings in order for that relationship to matter. What matter is that I understand that ‘God’ isn’t something I’m just making up and that God knows things I don’t know and cares about me.

Not everything within my consciousness is under my direct control, indeed the whole is very much greater than my conscious mind. Somehow consciousness creates my sense of an enduring self with an identity. That too is not something I just make up, rather it is one of many things provided by consciousness which are not up to me. So I think the nature of God is that of something else provided by consciousness. God and I are co-products of what consciousness is creating and my theory is that we play complimentary roles. The simplest way to think of God is as a literal entity ‘out there’ somewhere but it is also possible to think of God in the way I’ve described. This isn’t really my idea, at least not entirely.

The former head of the Jungian Institute in Zurich, the american James Hillman has written about understanding the products of consciousness in an ‘as if’ manner. I think he would say it is psychologically healthy to integrate our roles as conscious minds/selves with the totality of consciousness. There is more than one way to do that and religion offers one of them, the oldest perhaps. But even if we come to think of God in an ‘as if’ manner, there is still value in nurturing the relationship.

There is more you say I’d like to respond to but I’m finished with lunch and am keen on picking up what I’ve pruned from the fig tree and making a run to the landfill before they close.

(Albert Leo) #86

Hi Shawn
I find this last sentence troubling. I’ve been fortunate to have had close contact with a number of scientists from Asia (Japan, China, Formosa, Korea), and except for Koreans, none had any significant exposure to Jesus’ teachings. Through no fault of their own, they failed to “choose Jesus”. But in my view, they had led as decent, moral lives as the average Christian of my acquaintance.

It may not be orthodox but I find it comfortable to believe that the title, Christ, applies to that aspect of God that is forgiving, redemptive, and loving. God the Father saw to it that Jesus was the human being, born in the Mid East at critical time in history, that optimally fulfilled this role of Messiah, and thus was recognized as Christ, our redeemer. However, for the future human beings that might never learn that Jesus existed, God’s redemptive power was still operative through Christ, who was a part of the Godhead for all eternity. [“Before Abraham was, I am.”]
Wishing all a blessing-filled 2019
Al Leo

(Shawn T Murphy) #87

Dear Albert,
Thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree, there are very many Christ-like people who do not believe in Jesus. But, Orthodox Christianity says that the only way to inherit the Kingdom God is through Jesus. So, how do you reconcile the two in your belief? My answer to this is the unorthodox theory of Apocatastasis which allows all to find Heaven.

Best wishes for 2019!

(Patrick moore) #88


That is a very deeply unorthodox view. So unorthodox in fact that it seems incompatible with Christianity.

Jesus, Paul and many of the scriptures talk of hell as a real place. The scriptures are adamant that what we do in life has real consequences.

In interrogating Christianity it is impossible to sidestep that reality, and it doesn’t seem credible that one can accept the bits of Christianity that seem nice and fluffy while avoiding the bits one finds less agreeable.

Sin is real and it has real consequences. Actions cannot be undone and even if God is able to bring things round to serve his purposes everything that we do in this world is irrevocable and permanently changes the course of history.

The view you espouse would seem to nullify the consequences of sin, while at the same time robbing people of their joy of salvation. We can only really take an amazed delight in our undeserved salvation when we appreciate the fate that we have been saved from. to downgrade that is to deny the power of the cross and the significance of Christ’s resurrection - because if we are all going to Heaven anyway then why did Christ need to go to the cross at all?

No Shawn, you cannot have Heaven and sidestep Hell. Or at least you can’t do that and call yourself a Christian.

(Shawn T Murphy) #89

Dear Patrick,
Yes, I said it was unorthodox. I agree with most everything you have written, but I guess you do not understand the early Christian theory of Apocatastasis. It says that all of those who have suffered in Hell for an eternity will have the opportunity to achieve the Kingdom of God through a very slow restoration process, repaying all their sins along the way.

It does not say you can sidestep Hell and says you have to repay all your debts to the last farthing. What is unorthodox is it says that eventually all of those in Hell will be able to return to Heaven through Jesus.

(Phil) #90

Actually, Paul never mentions hell according to several places I have read (I have not searched it personally).

(Mitchell W McKain) #91

This is just another example of the way some people ignore the whole spectrum of Christianity and ignorantly equate Christianity with one sector of it. I do not believe in universalism or apocatastasis, but this doesn’t change the fact that it has always been a part of the spectrum of Christian thought from the very earliest times in Christian history.

I have never been a fan of the efforts of a group (even if it is a majority in some area or era) to bully others into accepting their imagined authority over things by using such words/rhetoric as “orthodox.”

Paul simply speaks of things like “the day of wrath,” “righteous judgement,” “eternally condemned,” God “will punish,” or the evil will “reap destruction.” We find far more description of hell in the words of Jesus.

(Patrick moore) #92

“actilually Paul never mentions hell”

I think he does

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22”

What does Paul think that the “some” need to be saved from?

Mitchell, welcome back old buddy. You’ve been gone so long. It’s good to see you back again, I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay away for too long.

(Mitchell W McKain) #93

Sharpening your insult claws in anticipation are you? Should I apologize for leaving you without a target in this thread for an entire 24 hours? I am sorry but I do have other things to do and you can expect me to take leave of this forum (let alone this one little thread) for even longer periods of time.

(Mark D.) #94

I just wish the two of you @mitchellmckain and @Shot would find a way to get back to discussing the Euthyphro dilemma without reacting so much to each other. I’m still interested in the dilemma and how you each envision its resolution. I hate it when people I enjoy hearing from rub each other the wrong way.


But if you’re in hell for an eternity aren’t you there forever??? My grandma had this expression for long periods of time: “forever and a day.”

(Shawn T Murphy) #96

The time it took for the earth to become fertile for life was an eternity on any scale. For in immortal soul/being how long is an eternity, or forever?

(GJDS) #97

The view that may be widely believed is that God offers salvation to all of humanity because He wants everyone to be saved. This offer must be accepted with repentance; if some refuse to repent and with full knowledge reject God, then they join Satan in hell. I think forever (or for eternity) would refer to rejection by Satan and those with him, of the new heaven and the new earth.

(Patrick moore) #98


I had never heard of this “dilemma” until Mitchell mentioned it.

The thread started with a question of can God be described as good?

At the very top of this thread I said that in a sense this is a daft question because, given that God is all powerful, it seems axiomatic that what God deems to be “good” is therefore good.

Mitchell disagrees with that conclusion and seemed to suggest that it is somehow possible to objectively discern what is good. I struggled to see how this is possible. Mitchell resorted to appeals to science and what he described as “logic”, but which to me seemed to be merely subjective opinion.

My objection is twofold and is based 1) on a need for context and scale to define a “fact” or “the good”, and 2) the vagueness in definition and failures of logic in the premises given in Mitchell’s description of the Eurythmo dilemma (as described above).

So regarding my first objection and as an example, is it “good” or “bad” if a small boy is run over an killed by a tram?

What objective criteria do we have in either science or logic to answer this problem?

Does your answer change if I tell you that the boys name is Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler?

With regard to point two, I don’t think i have to go over the holes in the logic of both of Eurythmo’s premises that Mitchell gave us (if indeed they are accurately described by Mitchell) as they are self evident to any casual observer.

So can God be described as good?

My original arguement sought to implicate God in the pandemic of sin and suffering we see in the world - on the basis that an omnipotent creator who sits outside of time and sees the end from the beginning must have seen the chaos and tragedy that was to come and couldn’t he have created humanity with greater fixed-ness of purpose and a greater resistance to temptation? Unsurprisingly Mitchell disagrees with this assessment of God, seeming to think that human sin and history comes as a big surprise to God, but it seems obvious to me from scripture that God knows everything - despite us having free will - and interestingly this view of existence chimes with modern science’s view of space time and relativity.

In discussion with another correspondent I realised my arguement had a pretty serious flaw - regarding responsibility.

So to recap; if someone is disappointed with life and as a result decides to walk into a school and murder 50 people, is God entirely responsible for that crime? Clearly not - and so to the extent that we individually beat some level of responsibility for our actions then any “contributory negligence” of God’s in creating us as weak as we are is irrelevant - we must still answer for our sins.

This does not answer the question “is God good?” But it does at least say that it is irrelevant.

So can we take it further and answer the question in the affirmative?

I think there are a number of reasons that we can answer yes.

The first is Christ and the cross. Jesus said “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. He then went to the cross and was resurrected. So if you don’t believe what Jesus said regarding God the Father then you are calling Christ a liar or a fool - with all that implies.

Secondly there are the miracles of Christ and that continue to be performed in His name. You might argue that these are JUST to demonstrate the glory of God, but frankly that seems far fetched to me, demonstrating God’s mercy.

So finally why is humanity created as weak as it is when it comes to resisting sin and temptation?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I suspect that it has much to do with the fact that in Genesis God gave man dominion and authority, as well as free will. Imagine now that mankind had angelic levels of resolution, and that say 50% of humanity chose NOT to be obedient to God. That is a pretty terrifying thought. You are potentially talking about billions of beings with genuine God given authority who are rebelling against God. Satan only has such power and authority as mankind has given to him - imagine a situation where billions of humans cut out the middle man and become their own Satans or st the very least antichrists. So far in human history we have only had one person who was genuinely able to resist sin - and look at what he achieved. Imagine billions of the opposite. It’s not a happy thought.

I have no idea if that idea makes sense scripturally but it might just be that what we see now in the world is an expression of Gid’s mercy - that it could be infinitely worse and that man’s weakness also moderates his potential for wickedness.

So having thought this through, and having seen numerous holes in my own initial position, I believe that we can say yes, God is good.

I dont think this is a complete answer and I expect that thinking more about the trinity (stitching Christ and the HS to Father God) and how both mercy and justice meet at the cross, will deepen my understanding of the goodness of God.


Not on a geologic time scale.

(Mitchell W McKain) #100

Perhaps you can help by clarifying what you think needs to be resolved. Seems to me we hit the usual brick wall of different premises. And that is the usual place where a discussion has to end with an agreement to disagree. Though it might help if he could respond to my explanation of the necessity of this premise number 1 with something other than empty insults.

(Patrick moore) #101

This doesn’t make sense Shawn.

The universe is estimated to be about 13.8bn years old, the Earth is estimated to be a bit older than 3bn years.

So Earth is young compared to the Universe and the Universe has only existed for the minutest fraction of time in terms of the infinity that is God.

Science believes that neither time nor space existed before the Big Bang and that initial inflation of the universe exceeded the speed of light - which is only theoretically conceivable if space-time itself did not exist prior to the Big Bang (the idea being that nothing can pass through the Universe faster than the speed of light but that this is not the case when neither space or time exist, allowing for a greater than the speed of light expansion of the early Universe (don’t ask me how this can be measured if neither speed or time exist!)).

As such it seems that the best explanation that science has for creation sets an approximate beginning to that process and that in comparison to eternity the Universe itself has been In Existence for the most minuscule period of time - and that God exists outside of time as well as in it.

So all of that suggests to me that Hell is eternal and that as far as God is concerned “Life means Life” with no possibility of early parole.