About a month ago, I had a perplexing thought that I could not reconcile. I had been listening to an apologist debate an atheist on the radio about the goodness of God. As I listened intently, it was not long before I drifted into my own musings and began to break down the argument of God’s goodness.
Here I began to consider the implications of God’s eternal goodness. It is well known that Christians champion the infallible and perfect goodness of God. But another axiom of the Christian faith is that God’s goodness is infinite and eternal. In other words, the quality of God’s goodness has always existed. This is true since this quality is not a part of God, but in fact who God is as a divine being.
The dilemma is that not everyone will so readily agree to this philosophical position. Most Christians understand either theologically or intuitively that God is the very essence of good. But for those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith and engage in the finer points of philosophy, this claim needs to be substantiated.
In Eastern philosophy, namely Chinese philosophy, there is something called the principle of Yin and Yang. This is a concept that claims everything is understood through necessary and contradictory opposites. Consider the following illustrations:
- You would not know what cold was unless you have experienced being hot
- You would not know happiness unless at some point in life you experienced pain
- You would not know darkness unless you knew light
The reason I bring this up is because there is some truth to this philosophy. C.S. Lewis once wrote about his musings pertaining to his understanding of justice before he became a Christian:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? (Lewis, 30).
And with all this, I arrived at the question, “How could God be good before He created anything in and outside of time?” Allow me to explain the thrust of this question.
Before God created anything at all—including angels, and predating the creation of the universe and our humble planet—God was a standalone Being. So how was God considered good? In order for good to exist something evil must exist. If there was no potential evil, then there was nothing to compare goodness with and therefore what we understand as goodness could not exist in the same sense.
If there were no agents of evil then the goodness of God would have been a universal quality that could not be elevated or have moral substance. Goodness would simply be the normative state since there was nothing else to compare with or define it as something better or ideal.
Let us return to C.S. Lewis and his analogy of a straight line. If goodness existed without evil when God was completely alone, then a proper diagram would be that goodness was a straight line. But without anything to compare goodness with it can only be a neutral straight line that does not allow for paradoxical moral ideas such as goodness and evil. And thus the concept of goodness is seemingly impossible without an opposing quality to give it substance and definition. So, it becomes philosophically problematic to deem God good since evil did not exist when He was the only entity in existence, and His goodness was simply a neutral quality that could not transcend anything.
Now, as a Christian, I believe that God is the embodiment of good and His goodness does not need to be defined outside of Himself. Nevertheless, I offer two logical answers, that must be understood together, in order to answer this conundrum for those who need to substantiate this claim.
God has Always Known About Evil Through His Omniscience
The first thing that should be understood is that God is omniscient. This means that God is outside of time and sees the past, present and future simultaneously. He knows what is going to transpire even before it happens. Therefore we should understand that God has always known about evil since it would occur in the future through the rebellion of the intelligent creatures He created.
This means that God knew about evil even before it began to exist. It stands to reason that God has always been good since He knew about the presence of evil that would one day exist and oppose His very nature.
The Triune God Showed Himself Goodness
I believe that we sometimes forget that God has always been involved in an eternal and loving relationship with Himself. God is one Being with three Persons. A being is what a person is i.e. humans are beings, so what we are is humans. But a person is who someone is i.e. I am a distinct and unique person created in the image of God. I have a unique personality, history, purpose and so forth. In the same way, God exists as one perfect Being comprised of three holy Persons: God the father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
God did not create human beings because He was lonely or somehow could not express love without us. It was because God wanted to share the love and goodness that He has always known within Himself.
This means that God has ultimately shown Himself the quality of goodness even before the creation of any other creature. This also means that goodness and love have always existed even without evil because God has shown Himself these qualities for eternity.
Omniscience of the Triune God
It is no longer difficult to concede that God has always been good when you understand the two aforementioned concepts. God has always known about the opposing immoral quality of evil that goes against His nature in every possible way, but chose, and still chooses, to show every Person within the triune Godhead unadulterated respect, goodness and love. This dilemma can be resolved once we understand that (1) God exists outside of time and therefore had the foreknowledge of evil before it came into fruition, and (2) because God exists outside of time, He has always existed in tandem with the presence of evil in the past and present.
The point is that God’s goodness can be measured through His knowledge and existence alongside evil since His infallible nature of goodness has never been tainted. Further, this is true because despite His omniscience of the future and co-existence with evil outside of time, God has shown Himself goodness for eternity.
Thus there has always been both good (God’s nature) and evil (the absence of God understood through God’s foreknowledge or an impending reality) that could be compared in order to establish one or the other. I therefore find it logically sound to propound that God has always been good even before there was any entity, or creation to give shape and substance to the moral claim.