The problem of goodness

Monday Musings for October 05, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

I was listening to a panel of Christian leaders that included Dr. Gregory Ganssle, Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, and I found that we have some things in common. First, he enjoys good secular literature and believes that it enriches his faith. Second, he came to faith through the problem of goodness — not through the problem of evil... and this, of course, will take some explaining because it sounds backward!

You see, a soul-winner wants the person-in-the-crosshairs to understand that he or she is a sinner — and that God has zero-tolerance for sin! I agree. This is why we need to be saved — born again as new creatures. We can’t just suck-it-up, do good works, reform ourselves or get relabeled. Those activities won’t get us into heaven.

The problem is, people don’t have a sense that they are utterly condemned. In fact, most feel that they are not sinners in the main. We Christians know better, but this is because we have educated ourselves; we understand that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and if this is true, we live in a world that cannot be reformed! It must be redeemed.

But as wonderful as redemption is theologically, it is not the bright shiny object of people’s desire. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Redemption is that unpleasant process that deals with human darkness. It’s the “bad news” part of the good news — and “bad news” tends not to sell.

But the bad news isn’t the whole story: the world has a lot of light too. There are plenty of good things in the world that exist with or without redemption. That’s the “problem” of goodness.

Ganssle came to faith after he observed that there was too much good in the world for it to be an accident. God must exist, he posited, and I heartily agree: goodness persists... and it’s a dour Christian who dismisses the power of goodness in bringing people to Christ.

I had my share of challenges growing up. I was a bitter and cynical person when I came to Christ, and those negative personality traits did not simply go away when I was saved. The “old man” was still with me in large part (Romans 6:6). I had to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). This took a lot of years — and it took a lot of elbow grease!

Don’t get me wrong, though; grace abounded — and it’s always involved in a Christian’s growth. But cooperating with the Spirit does not mean that the Spirit does all the work. In fact, growing in Christ can be a bit of a grind! Living in a world that won’t stop being evil can wear a fellow down — and so even a Christian can benefit from the light that comes from something other than Scripture! And as it turns out, the world has quite a few sources of light.

The problem comes when Christians look at the world as if it were just a place of redemption... a dark place that must be overcome by Jesus’ blood. That’s true — but there are other motifs too! So there’s no reason for Christians to walk around just hating sin — sort of as a full-time job — and wearing the face to prove it!

Now, I am grateful for the blood of Christ! His grace is sufficient for me! But alone, it’s not a sufficient motivator to keep me active in Christ. For that, I need the hope provided by a world full of light. And since God’s light is a sufficient testimony of God’s goodness for the unreached (Romans 1:18-20), why shouldn’t it be for those of us who understand the darkness?

(Find Dr. Ganssle’s comments at time marker 1:14 at the following YouTube link: )

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