I saw John Mark McMillan and Kings Kaleidoscope in concert this past Saturday, and I want to share a little bit about that. Tomorrow is also Friday, which means that I will have a roundup of all the new music to do, so the concert review may have to wait until Saturday. At any rate. For now I want to spend a few moments on the subject of how God’s personal
God’s word doesn’t teach us that goodness and justice are abstract concepts out there in the universe to which God is accountable. The view of God that we get from Scripture is that goodness and justice and are attributes of His character, that they come from Him and originate from Him. If there was no God, there would be no goodness. If there was no God, there would be no such thing as justice. Moral goodness and justice are personal rather than abstract. All that we will ever experience of goodness and truth and beauty depends on the reality of God, and as a result, God Himself is the standard of what is good and true and beautiful. Goodness, truth, and beauty are because God is, because I AM is I AM. (This is not a doctrine I’m going to explain or defend in detail at the moment, although I probably will attempt to do so at some point.)
Now the most common objection that is thrown up against this is that it makes goodness arbitrary in its contingency on the will of a person, i.e. that God could do whatever He wanted, or expect of us whatever He wanted, and we would be under an obligation to think of it as good, even if it were to go against what we know to be good. But this is actually faulty for two reasons. One, it involves a subtle error of begging the question, re-asserting the very premise that is being challenged (that goodness is an impersonal absolute abstract “out there” to which God is accountable) in order to attempt to prove that premise. Everyone has presuppositions–indeed, it is impossible to begin thinking without them–but we can’t think that restating our presuppositions is the same thing as an argument. But the second and bigger mistake is that it involves a misunderstanding of what Christians are saying when they say that God is the standard of goodness. We are not saying that God decrees what is good, and that good and evil are contingent upon His say-so. We are saying that God is what is good, that goodness is His character, that everything He decrees is consistent with His character, and that one of the other important attributes of His character is that it is immutable, i.e., it never changes. That is very different than setting up the world as contingent upon the say-so of a capricious being that might say or think anything. It does, however, mean that God is accountable ultimately to Himself, and not to us. (Hebrews 6:13) For God to be good is simply for God to be true to Himself, because He is good. However, we are creatures, and on top of that, sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God, which means that we need something more than merely to be true to ourselves in order to be good. We need redemption, and we need to be true to the one who has created and redeemed us.
Where I am going with all of this is to make the point that sin is always a personal issue. When God confronts us about our sin, He is not confronting us about violating a law out there that He has the responsibility of protecting. He’s not coming to us saying, “Hey, I wish this wasn’t necessary, I really hate to break it to you, but I’m responsible to uphold the law here and you’ve blown it.” On the contrary, He is confronting us about the way we have personally violated Him. Every sin is a personal violation of God and that is what makes it wrong. It is precisely because He is immutable goodness that He must punish sin. He could either punish it or go along with it, and He cannot and will not go along with it. Repentance, also, is not about us making things up to a standard of goodness. Repentance is about us leaving sin for God, because to move toward God is to move away from sin. When God disciplines us (which is a very different thing from punishing us, as we will explore some other time), He’s not dealing with us about the way we have gone astray from some standard out there. He’s dealing with us about the way we have gone astray from Him, to urge us and help us to see the need to come back to Him, because He wants us to live with His goodness flowing through us.