And what is good?
I have the next post in our series ready, but today is not the appropriate day for it. I awoke this morning, meditating on the meaning of good in Good Friday. You have probably heard much on this theme over the years, but we can never get enough nourishment.
My mind traversed various verses on this good theme. “The Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” “No one is good but God.” “You are good and do good.” “O, taste and see that He is good.”*
I thought of the first usages of the adjective, good, in the opening chapters of Genesis which describe God’s response to His own work: “And God saw that it was good”, repeated after each day’s work, but after the sixth day’s work, God saw that it was “very good”. God is good and does good work.** I thought of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I thought of pure goodness, as in God’s character and His work, in contrast to the more complex goodness expressed in a fallen world.
I thought of the cross as the ultimate expression of that good-bad goodness.
I’d like to present a few quotations, first from the last chapter of my thesis (which develops a theology of suffering and joy) and then from three great Christian minds/hearts.
(The following two paragraphs are one paragraph in my doctoral, research project which introduce the first section of the last chapter.)
“The Good Foundation beneath the Cross”
“Good has been put in the crucible. Good is God’s warehouse of blessing, beauty, order, excellence, resilience, sweet fruitfulness, virtuousness, and happiness. God is good. God does good. All God’s works are good. God’s response to good is delight; mankind’s right response to good is delight. Yet, good and all its attendant responses have been squeezed in the crucible of the curse. In This Present Cosmos, good has become, as C. S. Lewis has described, ‘a more complex kind of good’.
In the Original Cosmos, the algorithm for good was simple: good + action = joy. In This Present Cosmos the algorithm is complex. Because of the trespass at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the algorithm for good has multiple steps. The equation requires good + evil in every set. Good cannot move directly to joy. Experience corroborates. Christ-followers learn that ‘pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified’. While pain is in the equation, it is not in the ultimate answer.”
I’ll not quote further from my research, but I want to quote from two of C. S. Lewis’ books, followed by a quotation from Norman Geisler, and then from a great and down to earth book on suffering by Elisabeth Elliot. Their observations (discussed in my project) have deeply impacted me in ways appropriate to consider on Easter’s Good Friday.
In 1940 Lewis published The Problem of Pain. This is a lucid and logical work. In 1961 he published A Grief Observed. Less lucid, Lewis willingly exposed to the public his heart-ripping grief over the horrendous loss of his love, his wife so late in life received and taken. In both works Lewis explores the nature of the good. Listen to the difference between a rational explanation of good and evil and then his experiential perspective:
In The Problem of Pain Lewis writes of “the problem which God has set Himself when He created the world, the problem of expressing His goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents, in spite of, and by means of, their rebellion agains Him” (p.80).
Of course, when Lewis speaks of “the problem” he speaks from the human point of view.
He goes on to write (an often quoted section):
“. . . God saw the crucifixion in the act of creating the first nebula. The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces. The doctrine of the free Fall asserts that the evil which thus makes the fuel or raw material for the second and more complex kind of good is not God’s contribution but man’s” (p. 80).
I find it helpful to see the good in our present world as “the second and more complex kind of good”. The algorithm involves more steps. In those steps is often much pain.
Twenty-one years later in A Grief Observed (from the record of his personal journal), Lewis pours through his pen these pain filled words:
“If God’s goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God” (p.27).
Lewis, like Job and like most of us, must work through the experiential side of the problem of good and evil. As he does so, he has years of biblical nourishment to strengthen him. And now, he not only has experienced God’s presence but also His seeming distance. Lewis learns in deeper ways that God’s “second and more complex kind of good” is working for his good even when he cannot sense it (Habakkuk 3:17-19; Romans 8:28-29). Did not Jesus exclaim on the cross, “My God, my God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Stunningly, “Jesus learned obedience through what He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). His was a different kind of learning than ours. The psalmist explains what we don’t want to hear: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word” (Psalm 119: 67). Strikingly, the next verse confesses to God, “You are good and do good!” Verse 71 then admits, ” Is is good for me that I was afflicted that I may learn Thy statutes.”
We have to admit, gratefully, as Norman Geisler explains, “The cause of good must be Good, since it cannot give what it does not have to give. . . . But since the cause of all goodness is infinite, it follows that he must be infinitely good” (Christian Apologetics, p. 248). Simply, we affirm, “God is good; God is good all the time.”
Let’s bring this “second and more complex kind of good”, this good-bad goodness, back to the cross with an insight from Elisabeth Elliot’s most comforting book, A Path through Suffering.
“If the cross is the place where the worst thing that could happen happened, it is also the place where the best things that could happen happened. Ultimate hatred and ultimate love met on those two crosspieces of wood. Suffering and love were brought into harmony” (p.26).
Selah. . . .
So, in harmony we can sing:
In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.
Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified;
Peace is there that knows no measure, joys that through all time abide.***
God is good. God does good. What a good meditation.
*Psalm 100:5; Mark 10:18; Psalm 119:68; Psalm 34:8.
**Here’s a list of Bible claims about good/goodness:https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/God,-Goodness-Of .
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