God is Good?

Last night in class we were discussing the theology of God’s nature and attributes, and an interesting question came up.

What does it mean that God is good?

More specifically, does God do things because they are good, or are things good because God does them?

Besides making your head hurt if you think about it too long, the question has some significant ramifications. If God does things because they are good, and he must do good because he is God, then “good” becomes a standard outside God’s self. Who then sets that standard?

Me? Surly that’s a bad idea for all involved, myself included. Society as a whole? Still problematic. A sort of “deeper magic” as in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia which is simply the way the universe works? Well God made that universe, so that falls apart as well.

However, the alternative has some disconcerting implications as well. If things are good because God does them, than anything God chose to do would be good by definition, including if God told us to do evil, or at least what we understand to be evil.

Such a definition allows for the idea that God could make a world where loving enemies is good, or a world where he calls war, rape, pillaging, and genocide good, and that would also be good according to the terms we’ve set out.

That doesn’t sit right either, for all sorts of reasons.

So what’s the answer?

I’m not sure I have one to be perfectly honest, or at least not one that resolves both tensions.

If forced to choose though I would say that the only one with a right to define “good” must be God, and so it comes down to having faith that we can trust in that goodness. Not an easy thing perhaps, but what choice do we have really?


What are your thoughts?

What does it mean for God to be good?

Does God do things because they are good, or are things good because God does them?