How the moral proof of God’s existence begins from our sense of pain.
Did you know that your recognition of evil suggests there’s an ultimate standard for evil?
In other words, you have to know what is imperfect to know what is perfect.
So then, what is perfect? And how do we define perfect?
More to the point–and a little harder–what is good? And how do we define good?
What Is Good?
Good as an adjective means kind, adequate, convenient, useful, valuable, suitable, competent and safe.
Goodness in human beings means something admirable, attractive, praiseworthy or generous.
Think acting in good conscience.
When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy. Oscar Wilde
Good as a noun means “to diminish or reduce pain or increase happiness or prosperity.” Reminds me of Bentham’s utilitarian view.
The Jeremy Bentham Guide to Morality
If there is no objective standard for good, then we have nothing to go on that would define good outside of man. We only have ourselves to go by.
Jeremy Bentham, who was a moral hedonist, said morality should be based on “the greatest happiness of the greatest good.”
(Moral relativism is inevitable, by the way.)
To discover the degree or amount of pleasure any one action would cause, Bentham suggested a utility calculus. Variables consist of intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity and extent.
Here’s a couplet to help you remember:
Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure–
Such marks in pleasure and in pains endure.
In the case of a car accident with multiple injuries, the utility calculus amounts to triage. In the case of pleasure, it amounts to something totally different.
The Parable of a Sex Affair
Imagine you are a married journalist visiting India. You take a swim in a nearby pool. You see a half-naked woman in the water moving toward you. It’s obvious she’s a prostitute. You have two possible solutions:
1. You have sex with the prostitute.
2. You avoid sex with the prostitute.
Sleeping with her would provide certain and immediate pleasure. But it’d be short-lived. Plus, you risk catching a venereal disease. Or getting the woman pregnant. Or getting caught. And if you get caught, your wife gets hurt.
The utility calculus might tell you not to have sex with her. But there’s a twist.
Not sleeping with her would provide certain, short term pain. But the pain would not last, nor would it haunt you. Yet, there still remains a value judgment: would you get caught?
Because you are in India and your wife is not, India provides the perfect scenario: you are a stranger in a remote land and the likelihood of punishment is low. It really just depends on how sensitive you are. And depends on motive.
That’s why we must dig deeper and seek a different standard–a standard outside of ourselves. We can’t determine what is good for ourselves, otherwise we have to allow Stalin or Hugh Hefner or child rapists to stand in our company. The child rapists says, “I raped her to increase my happiness.” If you are a relativist, can you argue with that?
See, we know outrageous moral degradation is wrong. It’s the subtle nuances that get overlooked.
Can We Know What Good Is Without Someone Telling Us?
We can’t use statistical outcomes to determine morality because at any point a society could still be dead wrong with their assumptions. Overwhelming majority vote doesn’t make child prostitution right. We must look for something outside of ourselves.
But how do we find it? And how do we know what it is once we’ve found it? How do we know it is good and not evil?
My argument is we can’t know what is good without the Law, that is, the Word of God. Paul said, “On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.”
God planted consciences in us so that when we sin we sink into secrecy and shame. We are defensive and aggressive when in sin. So when we are not shameful and defensive, we must be doing good, right? Close.
The core issue comes down to “what is sin?” Because when we know what sin is, we can then know what good is: the opposite of sin.
Here’s How to Know What Sin Is
We all sense we know what is wrong with the world. We can sense child abuse is wrong. Genocide is appalling. Cyclone Nargis barreling through 250,000 people, bad.
We know that diseases that ravage the body into a corpse is wrong. An earthquake snatching a hundred thousand women and children and men, wrong. Terrorists butchering people alive for their faith, wrong.
We know all this is wrong.
But how do we know it’s wrong? We know what is imperfect…but not what is perfect. Why is that? Why do we have this sense of imperfection? Of something gone wrong?
Here’s why: We cannot know the imperfect unless we know the perfect. Thus, there must be a perfect standard. Could this perfect standard be the ultimate Moral Lawgiver?
Anselm argued that since we know things that are more or less perfect, there must be a most Perfect by which we know this.
In the Bible we learn God is morally impeccable:
The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He. Deuteronomy 32:4
His perfection follows from his infinity: he is an infinitely perfect Being. Flawless and excellent.
Now think of God as the just judge.
The Biblical judge is expected to love justice and fair play–and to loathe all ill treatment of one person by another.
On the other hand, an unjust judge is one who has no interest in seeing right triumph over wrong. This person is by biblical standards a monstrosity.
Evil That Offends God
We all agree what repulsive evil is. What we disagree on is the evil that offends God because it ends up being very subtle.
Let me show you what I mean.
God posses a holy jealousy and a morally perfect character. The former is what gives God zeal to protect and preserve his own holiness. The latter is the absolute moral perfection that pervades the character of God.
Thus, offending a holy God is not hard. We do not need to murder or rape to offend God. Merely ignoring him will do the trick. Sin–moral rejection of God–can happen easily.
Why should he not love us unconditionally–and just back off? Good question. But who said God has to love the way we love?
The Unchanging Standard of Goodness
Theism affirms that God is an unchanging Being. So, he must love in an unchanging way. That means God can be perfectly just and perfectly loving at the same time–provided it is not on the same person at the same time. In other words, his wrath rests on all unrepentant sinners and his love on all repentant sinners.
This does not mean there is a change in God.
In his Systematic Theology Norman Geisler says that God always manifests wrath on unrepentant sinners and always manifests love on the repentant. The only thing that changes is that the person–by repentance–moves from under one attribute to under another.
To say God changes, is a category mistake–comparing a changing thing with an unchanging being.
Besides, for God to change is to admit some imperfection in his being. And to admit that there is some imperfection in his being is to suggest a perfect standard to judge his imperfection by.
So then, what is that standard, if not God himself?
The unjust implies the Just. Evil implies good. We get our sense of evil because we have a sense of good. We can bring that sense of good into sharper focus by studying God, since he is the ultimate standard of good. And once we do this, we can learn two things:
1. Pleasing a holy and just God is a whole lot safer than alienating him.
2. God will one day defeat evil.
When we learn about the ultimate standard–the perfection of good–we discover that God can’t let evil prevail. He is both omnipotent and holy: he cares that evil exists and he has the power to do something about it.
And as hard as it sounds, we have to trust his reasons for not vanquishing it now. That is what it means to surrender.
**Part of The Nature of God series.**