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God is Good?

C. S. Lewis once wrote about the meaning of the word Gentleman.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognizable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman… But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behavior? They meant well. To be honorable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. A gentleman, once it has been spiritualized and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. –Mere Christianity

I think the same thing has happened with the word good. Let’s see how it was used in the Bible, in relation to God the Son:

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. (Matthew 19:16-17)

The seeker in this passage used the “modern” version of the word good, the idea of something that is acceptable or pleasing. Jesus Christ responded that there is only one Good person – Good with a capital G, if you will. In essence, Jesus Christ was linking Goodness and Deity. It’s as if he said, “Either you’re using that word incorrectly, or you’re calling me God. Which is it?”

The noted late Atheist Christopher Hitchens wrote about the goodness of God:

If Christians modify the dictionary so that no action of God’s could ever be bad, assigning the word “good” to God’s actions says nothing. They hope to make an important statement with “God is good,” but debasing the dictionary makes the word meaningless.

In fact, like the word gentleman, it is the modern definition of good that has been debased.

Let me borrow C. S. Lewis’s words, slightly modified:

To call God “good” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “good” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object.

When we call God Good, we aren’t paying him a complement, we’re stating a fact; not “God is good,” but “God is Good,” with a capital G. As a gentleman’s title was a characteristic of his position, so the title of Good is characteristic of God’s position. He is the absolute moral standard, and without his standard of Goodness, good hardly means more than what the speaker likes.

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