Friday, June 15, 2012

Nothing Is As Good As It Seems?

What makes a good thing good?

If I love my wife and kids, is this love simply due to chemicals in my brain? If I show compassion to someone in need, is this kindness merely the chance result of an evolutionary trait which helped our species to survive? If we answer the questions affirmatively, we must be prepared to say that there is nothing inherently good about loving our families and showing compassion to those in need. It's not that scientific explanations are necessarily wrong; it's that they are in themselves insufficient to account for goodness. At best then, all acts of love and compassion are neutral, being simply cause and effect, actions no different than a soda fizzing over when shaken. At worst, phenomena such as love and compassion are "good" if they help us personally and "bad" if they don't, a definition which prompts the question of whether we're even still talking about true love and true compassion. If you react against this kind of utilitarian use of "love" and "compassion" for one's own personal ends, perhaps it would be helpful to consider what your negative feelings are based upon.

There is only one reality that can provide any meaning to goodness, and that reality is God. In God, we not only find the standard of goodness, but we also find in Him the source of all goodness. For example, the reason it is good to love is because God's nature is love. And we are able to love to the capacity that we have experienced God's love, whether or not we recognize God's love as the source of our own. In failing to see God as the source of all good things, we're like a man who stumbles into an apple orchard and, seeing apples having fallen to the ground, believes that the ground has produced the apples.

On the contrary, apart from God, we have no basis to believe that love, or any good thing, is truly good. Unless God is the source of goodness, goodness itself is an illusion caused by chemicals and survival instincts. Apart from God, we can no more say that love is good than we can say that murder is bad. We can only say that a thing is pleasing to us or that it helps us achieve our own ends in some way.

Who can live this way, as if nothing is really as good as it seems? Who has ever given or received love and not believed that love was intrinsically good? Who has ever shown compassion and not felt that the exchange was good in itself? Deep down, we all know that goodness is not an illusion, proving we know this by the way we live our lives, living our lives as if good things really are good and as if they really matter.

If anything in your life is good, anything at all, it is because there is a good God. And if this God has given you good things, it is for this purpose: "God's goodness is meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom. 2:4). God wants us to turn from spending these good things on ourselves or from enjoying them for their own sake alone. Good things can turn bad apart from their source, just as fallen apples will go bad the longer they are apart from their tree. Rather, God desires for us to turn to Him, the Giver and Sustainer of all good things, and receive from Him not only good things, but the best thing - Jesus Christ.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1 

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