In the previous essay, we discussed a foundational error in the theology of the Christian church. In that essay, we discussed a doctrine that I call the Supremacy of Jesus Christ and explained that the church of Christ has denied its essential truth for two thousand years. Because that discussion was extremely long, we broke it up into two parts. In this second part, we will illustrate why a correct understanding of this issue is important to fulfilling the Great Commission of the church.
Let us imagine two people having a conversation about the meaning and purpose of life. Andy is an atheist brought up in an atheistic home who is trying to figure out what he believes for himself. Chris is a Christian who was born to Christian parents and has unquestioningly accepted everything he was taught in Sunday School. Andy starts off the discussion with a series of questions.
Andy: Hey Chris, I have been thinking about Christianity since our last talk. You are clearly right that I am not as good a person as I would like to be, but I am just not sure that the Bible is true. I had some questions and I was wondering if you could answer them for me.
Chris: Andy, you know that I love you buddy and I will answer your questions to the best of my ability. Shoot.
Andy: The other day I read an article about a horrible fire in which 14 children were killed and a number of others horribly burned. Yet you tell me that God is good and in control of all things? Why would God create a terrible world and allow things like the Holocaust? That doesn’t make any sense to me?
Chris: Well, you see, God created us perfect in the Garden of Eden and evil was never a part of his plan. But in order for us to love God truly, He had to give us free will. With our free will, we chose to rebel against God and all of these horrible things are a consequence of that rebellion.
Andy: Okay, but if God created us perfect and morally good in the Garden, where did the evil come from? Why did God allow Satan to tempt us to evil?
Chris: This is one of the mysteries of the faith which we cannot understand. All we know is that God did these things for His great glory.
Andy: God’s great glory? How does God get glory out of a fire that burns a number of children?
Chris: You just have to have faith.
Chris is doing the best he can, but his theology doesn’t allow him to answer the question in a way that is intellectually satisfying. After a few obvious questions, he is appealing to faith and saying that the mysteries of God are unfathomable. Let us see if we can do better.
God Alone is Good
The first step in establishing a superior narrative is to establish that God alone is good:
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
While these words would seem to be fairly unequivocal, we saw in the previous essay that even Christians have rejected their plain meaning for two thousand years. If Christians deny that only God is good and believe that Adam was good in the Garden, how can we blame an atheist for rejecting this idea? Let us see if we can understand what God means here.
What does it mean to be good? I argue that being good requires a love that is perfect. I further argue that a perfect love must be all inclusive and based on a perfect knowledge. Now I cannot explain or defend the idea that being good requires perfect love. The idea seems a self-evident matter of definition. The idea that perfect love must be all inclusive and based on perfect knowledge, on the other hand, may require a bit of an explanation.
Why must a perfect love be all inclusive? Isn’t it possible for a perfect love that is not all-inclusive to make you a good person? Let us imagine that you are a slave-owner in the American South who loves all white people perfectly. Are you a good person? What would the slaves think? A love that is not all inclusive is worthless as far as true goodness is concerned:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5: 46-48)
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)
Likewise, true love must have a perfect knowledge. This concept is a bit more slippery, but I appeal to your own experience. Didn’t your parents ever do anything that was “for your own good” where their imperfect knowledge caused injury? I will share a quick story from my past to illustrate what I mean.
The summer before I went to college, I had a factory job. All summer long, I had a problem problem with tardiness and word got back to my father. Upset at my poor behavior, my father rebuked me. Toward the end of the summer, I injured my back while lifting some boxes and called in sick for a couple of days while my parents were out of town. These absences were the final straw for my employers and I was fired. When my father returned from his trip he punished me saying, “I cannot believe you were so irresponsible as to not show up for work for three days.” Angry that he just assumed that I was irresponsible, I didn’t say anything and just took the punishment.
Do you see what happened here? My father’s imperfect knowledge of the situation caused him to “love me” in a way which extremely angered me and punish me beyond what my transgressions deserved. This episode illustrates that a perfect knowledge is necessary for a perfect love.
So all inclusive love based on perfect knowledge is required to be truly good. As I illustrated in the “Great Stink”, the finite nature of human beings necessarily means that human beings cannot have a perfect love because their concerns for others are limited by the self-centered nature of their reality. God alone is good because God alone has the capacity and the knowledge to love everyone perfectly.
The War Between God and His Creation
Now if it is true that God alone is good and that every created being cannot be good because they cannot love perfectly, then this has certain consequences. The only way a created being can be perfectly loving and experience the perfect love that God wants for us is to accept our need of God’s assistance. Unfortunately, created beings deny our essential need of God. “We are made in your image and capable of great deeds and beauty! We are like you! We do not need you to tell us how to live and how to love! We can be good on our own without your help! You are wrong! We don’t require your forgiveness! We don’t require your grace! We don’t require your mercy! We don’t require your love! WE ARE GOOD!”
These poisonous attitudes are absolutely ubiquitous among human beings. Christians argue that Mary and Adam are good just like Jesus and deny the Supremacy of Jesus Christ. They interpret the Bible as if Moses was a perfectly obedient servant who had a perfect understanding and love. If even Christians deny this essential fact of reality, it is only natural that atheists should deny their fundamental need of God. In order to convince yourself of this, just Google “We don’t need god to be good” and see all the arguments that atheists make that the created nature is sufficient and that we don’t need God.
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25)
It is to combat these attitudes that God created this world and its purpose is to demonstrate the need of finite created beings for the perfect love of God. Do you think the Holocaust was horrible? This is the natural consequence of a finite “love” which is not all inclusive. Do you think it is horrible that a bunch of children were burned in a fire? This is the kind of thing that happens when God’s perfect love and knowledge is rejected in favor of the imperfect love and knowledge of finite created beings. Human beings argue that it is okay for us to be self-centered and that we do not need God’s help to be good. God puts us in a world where our need for his help is as obvious as it could possibly be in order that we would accept his help and realize our full potential.
The bottom line is that Adam rejected God’s love and guidance at the first temptation to disobedience. God wanted more for us than the limited and finite love of a created being with a self-centered created nature. Because God is good, he cannot force us to accept his assistance in being good. The purpose of this world, therefore, is to transform self-centered created beings like Adam who would readily choose disobedience into “Sons of God” who accept their need of divine assistance and would submit themselves to God’s superior understanding and love in every situation. The purpose of this world is to demonstrate our need for Jesus Christ that we might accept him as Lord and Savior and become true Children of God.