There is another way people get tripped up on this foundational question, another way they work the God equation wrongly. There is a worse way they work this equation wrongly, or, more accurately, a worse way they approach the equation. The guy I mentioned in the previous post simply couldn’t work the equation; he wanted to, but because he didn’t start/didn’t know to start from the foundational truth that God was good, he was unable to. He got stuck in the middle of the equation somewhere. He just couldn’t do the math.
Some others I’ve met, though, won’t do that math. It’s not that they can’t work the equation but that they refuse to. It’s not that they get stuck somewhere in the middle but that they get stuck at the end. They look at the answer (or what they think is the answer, what they think the answer will be), they don’t like it, and they walk away from it.
What I’m talking about here is any kind of statement that beings, “I can’t (won’t, refuse to, etc.) believe in any god who_____” Any number of things can go in that blank space. I’m sure you know that. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I’ve heard it many times before. Probably the first was in the movie Star Trek 5 which I saw in the theater in my early teen years.
I remember being mildly disturbed by that at the time. I guess I thought it was pretty sensible, that Dr. McCoy had a pretty strong argument against God. In the years that followed, I would meet real life people who made similar statements and would be even more disturbed.
I am less disturbed by these statements now (I’m less disturbed by what they might/might not say about the existence of God, anyway; I remain disturbed by what they say about people’s logic and hearts). I am less disturbed by them because I realize how terribly they are handling the God equation. There are a few ways this approach mishandles the God equation; it treats the question of God’s existence as a subjective preference rather than an absolute reality, it assumes a morally superiority to God (which is impossible; the created cannot be more moral than the Creator), it is self-defeating (it literally says, “God can’t exist because I don’t like Him,” which is an inherent contradiction), it jumps much further into the equation than it needs to (for more on this idea, see this post). But, perhaps most fatally, it makes the same mistake my friend from the previous post made: it does not start at the starting point; it does not account for God’s goodness. To use math terms, it does not “carry” the goodness of God.
And that is what has to happen if we are to work the God equation correctly. The goodness of God has to be carried into every situation in which God’s actions are being questioned. To be sure, there are times when God does things which do not seem good to us, times when He seems similar to whatever it was Dr. McCoy and the Enterprise crew encountered in Star Trek 5. That shouldn’t be as surprising as it is, though. The actions of superior beings are often confusing to inferior beings. They often seem not good or even bad to the inferior beings. Tim Keller has mentioned this a few times on Facebook and Twitter.
I see it in my own home as well. I do all sorts of things that seem not good or even bad to my grade-school daughter. And, as we adults all know, the reason those things seem not good or bad to her is that she doesn’t know how to live life like I do, how to pay bills and manage diets and ensure everybody in the house gets enough sleep. It is an inescapable truth that goodness doesn’t always look like goodness, that what looks bad may in fact not actually be bad (or as bad as it seems).
And that inescapable truth simply has to be incorporated into the God equation. It has to be taken into account. To fail to do so is not to be righteous (and Star Trek 5 was without a doubt asserting Dr. McCoy’s righteousness in his opposition to that “god”). It is not even to be righteously indignant. It is just bad math.