God and being good

I was reading an article the other day that asked a perennial question, can people be good without God? Well that depends on what you mean by “good.” Good is one of those words that is very flexible, that is, it’s meaning is determined more by the context in which it is used than a definitive denotation.

For instance, Jesus was asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone,” Mark 10:17-18.

In the context of this statement Jesus is making the point that God’s nature is so completely holy and consummately just that it is unapproachable by any human standard or example. Jesus could have as easily said, “No one is perfect except God alone,” because in this context good is a synonym for perfect.

The word good does not commonly mean perfect though. If we say, “She is a good woman,” we typically mean that compared to other women we know she is better in some respect in our estimation. She may possess a better character, be a better attorney, or can clean house better than other women, but we would be using the word “good” in a relative sense. We would not mean, “She is a perfect woman.”

So when we talk about being good, it is important whether or not we are talking about being good in a perfect sense or a relative sense.

So the answer would be yes, a person could be a good productive, contributing member of society and a law-abiding citizen in a relative sense without God. Society would have no right to expect that of each citizen unless we were capable of being good in this sense.

But the psalmist did not lie when he wrote, “There is no one who does good,” Psalm 14:1. None of us can say we have always done what is right in every situation all the time. All of us have sinned at some time, and more; none of us can say we are perfectly good.

It is those imperfections, that lack of perfect goodness, that makes us unfit citizens for the Kingdom of God. We may get by on our relative goodness here, but we cannot enter there unless we are perfectly good, and we cannot do that without God.

Since we were imperfect and incapable of perfecting ourselves, the Father “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Having been created in the image of God each of us are capable of great good, but having inherited our first parents propensity to sin we are also capable of committing great evil and often do. So you can be relatively good without God here, but will never be perfectly good enough without God to make it there.

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A Madman in Las Vagas

Stephen Paddock was the suspected madman of the Las Vegas massacre. I say, “was” because after unleashing a barrage of deadly gunfire on a crowd at a concert, with arrest imminent, he took his own life.

During the next few days news commentaries will be awash with speculation as to why Paddock shot up a crowd of fun-loving folk who only wanted to hear some country music. The truth is we will never know why he did it. Even if he had been arrested and was later questioned as to his motives, could we trust the testimony of such a madman?

Jay Michaelson recently opined that “conservatives,” too readily blame the cause of such violence on this being a “sick world” because of our “theology.” What does he blame it on, that Paddock went on his murderous rampage because he was sipping from the jug labeled “the milk of human kindness.”

Every time evil rears its ugly head fallen men fail to recognize we live in a sin-cursed world populated by people whose “heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). So they search about futilely for a cause, something or someone to blame.

He actually blames the massacre on Paddock being able to possess modern automatic weapons. I agree with Michaelson here, I see no need for a ordinary citizen to possess automatic firearms, but I also know Timothy McVeigh killed almost three times as many people (168) when he bombed the Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City with a truckload of fertilizer.

We cannot blame what Paddock did on guns, but there will be a debate on gun laws because of this fresh instance of violence. So let me clear the air on where I stand on this issue. I own guns but I am not a member of the NRA. I have contemplated getting a concealed weapon permit, but in my heart of hearts I would rather be killed than kill another.

The only other reason to get one would be to protect my wife and those I love should someone try to harm them, but if I can trust the Father with my own wellbeing then I think I can trust His capable hands to care for them. So this is not a gun issue for me.

The issue for me is that we fail to see that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. The first violent act in the Bible was a murder and at its core it was a religious conflict: Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was rejected, and Cain killed him for it after God had given him sound advice.

When Cain turned his back on God’s counsel, he turned on his brother, and it has been that way ever since; as people turn away from God’s truth, they turn on one another. Our only hope as a nation is to repent and turn to Christ.