Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who put the "good" into goodness?

Here it is a week before Thanksgiving and the Christmas ads are already on TV. Wow, it seems that it was only yesterday that we were celebrating the 4th of July. I guess we all better start putting our best foot forward if we want something other than coal in our stockings this Christmas. There’s even an old children’s song that warns us Santa has his eye on us so we had better “be good for goodness sake.” We really do need to be good - don’t we? But it shouldn’t matter if Santa is coming or not because it isn’t Santa who sees us when we are sleeping and awake and knows if we have been bad or good – it’s God. So we really do need to be good.

Recently one of our local news broadcasts had a story about an atheistic/humanist group that has paid to have this idea of being good placed on the side of the buses in the Washington, DC area. It says something to the effect: “You don’t need to believe in God. Just be good… for goodness sake.” The idea is that we don’t need God this Christmas (or any other Christmas). We only need to embrace being good. Regardless of whether you agree with this ad or not, we do need to understand what it means to be good because unless we do, we will never be able to have peace on this earth. So this month we want to address the question: Who put the good into goodness?

Here’s the problem I have with the ad from the atheistic/humanist group: How can we know what good is if we don’t believe in God? Their statement is at best inconsistent and most likely an oxymoron because there can be no good if there is no God. You see, the only way we can know “good” is to have some absolute standard that transcends ourselves against which we can measure our understanding of good or else it has no meaning. It would only be someone’s opinion and who is to say which opinion is to be valued over another’s? What’s good to you may be something entirely different than what represents good to me. That’s why we find people who are like Mother Theresa and Adolph Hitler in this world. Goodness can never be determined based upon what we find in the world because what people actually do should not the basis for what they ought to do. If it was so then people should always lie, cheat, steal, murder, etc. as well as giving to the poor, helping people from burning buildings, etc. because that is what we find happening in the world. What we ought to do must be based on an absolute independent benchmark other than ourselves or this world.

The only absolute independent benchmark that could possibly work is God because He is the only one who is truly good. The Bible makes it clear that not only is “goodness” one of the attributes of God (Ps. 100:5, Ps. 119:68) but there is no one who is “good” except God (Luke 18:19). So you see, without God there is no absolute independent benchmark for the meaning of “good” because there is no one who is good except God. Therefore, goodness has no value or meaning apart from God.

One could argue that there must be some goodness found within the nature of man. That is true. In fact, since we are created in the image of God, goodness is one of those Godly attributes that has been designed into us. It is this moral compass for knowing right and wrong that serves as one of the proofs for the existence of God. How is it then that we still struggle so much with being “good”? You see, while that built in attribute of goodness serves as a moral compass, it won’t, by itself, help us to be consistently good. Here’s the truth: Even though we are created with the attribute of goodness, it has been flawed by our sinful human nature. Since we are flawed, it is nearly impossible to have anything but a self-centered understanding of goodness without looking back to God.

This is where the ad from our humanist friends falls apart. You see, because we have a selfish nature we can’t just be good for goodness sake. We may want to be good but we can’t do it without the understanding of what God intended for goodness to be and also without His power to make it a reality in our lives and in this world. We can’t just be good for goodness sake because we need God in order to be good. This Christmas seek to be good, not for goodness sake but for the sake of all humanity remembering that only God is the unflawed source for goodness and He provided the best example of it in the life of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ where we find both the understanding of and our power for doing good. Have a very good “Christ” mas!

Dr. Richard Tompkins