Time for a bit of amateur theology/philosophy. As a disclaimer, my presentation is based on my own informal learning. So those with actual study credentials can feel free to correct me (so long as one can back it up please).
God is good. It is a simple enough phrase but it contains a profound, concept shattering truth. In general this truth is not appreciated in common conversation. Yet the implications of this truth fundamentally alter how we approach basic concepts of morality in discussion.
The truth I refer to of course is the following:
The divine attributes of God and the divine essence of God are one and the same.
To put it another way, when we describe an attribute of God (His goodness, His truthfulness, etc) we are at the same time describing His essence. Who God actually is. So to say “God is good” literally means God IS good itself.
Part of the issue with how we describe God today is that we tend to treat Him as some kind of superhuman. We think of His goodness as “much more than any of our goodness”. He “loves us more than anyone could love us”. These things are true to some degree, but they also paint an inaccurate picture if left unbalanced.
The Church however holds that God’s love and God’s goodness must be understood in an analogical sense. The way we experience love, goodness, peace, etc is different from how God IS these things. As a result, to look at God’s attributes in the same way as we look at our attributes and the attributes themselves is incorrect.
Which makes sense if one thinks about it. Since God is the source of everything, that would also include concepts like truth. But we are not the source of truth, yet we can understand the concept of truth (in a sense, more on this). So right off the bat our relationship to “truth” is different from God’s.
Now let us ask a question. Do we really understand what “good” is? Most of us have less of a concrete sense of “good” and more of an abstract and fuzzy concept of “I know it when I see it.” We understand (sorta, kinda) concepts like justice, mercy, truth, etc. But if we sit down and actually think about these concepts we find our grasp to be lacking to say the least.
For example, attempt to define truth without some sort of circular reference. What is truth? That which corresponds to reality. What is reality? Um…..that which is true. I have a doubt that any attempt to define “truth” without recourse to truth at some point will occur.
Or take the concepts of “mercy” and “justice.” We recognize that both are important. But that they also seem to conflict with one another, even though they are both “good” to pursue. And for us at times it is quite difficult to know which to pursue, and how to meet both.
All of this suggests to me that “good”, while we grasp it in some sense, is also beyond our complete understanding. We have an incomplete understanding of good. This combined with the notion of God’s attributes and essence as one and the same led to some very interesting places.
For example, a person on the Catholic Subreddit asked how Catholics justify calling Jesus “good”. While some pointed to specific works, I pointed out that the Catholic definition of “good” is defined in relation to God. So if Jesus is God as Christians claim, then He is good by definition. It only took about 30 back and forth comments to get the point across.
Exchanges like this show that even when it comes to basic concepts of “good” we Catholics come from a very different moral and intellectual framework than what is accepted by popular culture. And far too often when I see us engage in discussions with our atheist brethren (I use the term discussion loosely) we seem to surrender a lot of ground. We accept their terms because our culture has redefined things like “good” away from their origins. We do ourselves no favors and only cause confusion when we give ground on definitions unnecessarily.
The point of all this philosophy/theology lite stuff is that if we are to argue the Faith we need to argue within the Faith. This doesn’t mean that we must quote Bible passages while arguing with atheists. What it means is that we must understand how our Faith actually impacts our understanding in a most fundamental way. Otherwise we will only confuse ourselves and others.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a software developer for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]