On December 9th a group of us will gather for the second installment of Sacred Conversations. It is sacred space we who are involved have carved out to explore doubt, disbelief, and the mystery of God with humility and curiosity. At our first gathering there were doubters, never-doubters, atheists, and a pastor. Sheesh, what a crew, right!?
Most of us are new to an experience of open and honest discussion — free of debate– around the topics of God, faith, church, and the like. So we are all new to this and figuring it out as we go. We welcome you to join with us, all the details can be found on our events page here.
At the end of our last discussion we landed on this issue of Goodness. If God is real, must he also be good? I reached out to a number of scholars, theologians, and pastors to get their insights on the issue. And friends, there is not much out there that is humble, curious, and generous on the topic. No wonder it came up for us! In my work over the last few weeks to find something of help to start our discussion one leader I reached out to had this to say,
Oh man. I just spent a half hour chasing those rabbit trails. I have absolutely no idea how to get at this in an accessible and reasonably concise way. The question as to whether or not God is necessarily good is the topic of quite a few dissertations (as I just found out). This discussion gets into the issue of the problem of evil (1. God is omnipotent. 2. God is wholly good. 3. Evil exists – Any two of these propositions entails the falsity of the third). Then this gets into the evidences of there being an actual God. And it gets into the concept of what is good (obviously there is relativity here – try to come up with a definition of “good” that would make sense with an eternal, infinite, immaterial being). And what is the good life. Goodness is such an empirical and individual and culturally-conditioned thing.
Dr. David Williams, President of Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta wrote this to me,
I encourage you to invite conversation about how one knows anything about God and see where that goes. Our cultural malformation is to assume we know what we are talking about when they say “God” (and/or that we mean the same thing when we say it). I am reminded of the comment by George MacDonald to never argue with someone about whether God exists until you know what kind of God they are talking about. That conversation opens wide avenues for Christians to bear witness to the “God” revealed in Messiah Jesus and the “good” for which that God created us.
Maybe this above serves as a good starting point for our discussion. And yet once I again I come back to the starting point of Jesus as wonderfully encouraged by Scot McKnight in the article we shared last month. Starting with Jesus the man. Not necessarily Jesus the Christ, or the Messiah, or even the concept of him as member of the Trinity. But the guy who actually lived and had a good deal of teaching. What did he teach and demonstrate about goodness?
The Apostle Paul had this to say about Jesus in a letter to his friends,
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so expansive, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.
-Colossians 1:15-19ish as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message
I am eager to join with you, friends, to embark on this discussion in a spirit of playfulness and joy together treating one another as sacred beings. May our humility and curiosity drive our discussion about who and what is God and must that God be good by whatever standard we can find reasonable. Let me leave you with one final insight from the great C.S. Lewis,
We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
—C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.
See you Thursday,