T.R. Ragland

A Clinched Fist

T.R. Ragland
A Clinched Fist

God – the greatest conceivable being, the very substance of virtue – is revered by many, and rejected by some. The some who reject, as with the many who revere, each utilize various presuppositions and convictions to arrive at their common belief. However, I safely assume none who reject God do so because of His individual attributes, namely God being loving, just, omnipotent or good considered in isolation. In theory, each attribute merits the label of virtue and befits God. Justice without love, omnipotence without humility, sovereignty without goodness are easily acceptable. The accusations arise when God claims that within His essence these attributes exist in perfect harmony. How could God love humanity and punish them for their evil deeds? How could a good God with infinite power forgo rescuing those whom He claims to love from every instance of danger, discomfort, or harm? These are valid questions which even the most devote theists grapple with and at first find repugnant, but with time the answers prove mysteriously delightful.

THE CREATOR & CREATURE DISTINCTION

Entering this conversation properly oriented depends on the presupposition that a distinction subsists between the creator and the creation. God’s eternal existence – the Father eternally begetting the Son and together eternally generating the Spirit in perfect self-sustaining oneness – differs fundamentally from our fractured finite derivative existence. Looking to nature provides a correlation which can aid our understanding of God’s transcendent existence. Plant-life, while significantly different from human-life, shares aspects of existence with humans. Both plants and man need food in order to survive, yet the means by which they acquire food radically differs. Plants lack the perception of motion, relationship, emotions, and senses to perceive altogether. Nonetheless, life belongs to them properly even as a ruder form. Thus, one can imagine the coherent yet complex mystery of God’s superior existence.

Nevertheless, God in His generosity impressed His image on mankind, providing man access to some of His communicable attributes (love, goodness, mercy, etc.). However, a number of attributes He reserves for Himself, and due to His superior existence, the communicable attributes share similarity in form but lack congruence in degree. A commonly cited scripture articulates this idea: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”[1] The Hebrew word used for ‘thoughts’ is mahasabah which indicates more directly the contents of one’s thoughts. God, from whom logic derives, does not exercise a kind of logic which contradicts ours, but the contents of His thinking far exceeds the capacity of our mind’s potential. None of God’s decisions consist of dependent variables, ambiguities, or missing information. God never hypothesizes; He works with all of the facts in mind.

THE GOODNESS OF GOD AND THE SCANDAL OF GRACE

At this point, the above arguments established God’s infinitely superior existence and the nature of His omniscient reasoning. The last attribute of God which necessitates discussion to complete this explanation is the goodness of God. The common rejection of God’s goodness arises from the presence of evil, and the more easily accepted truth of God’s power. However, the argument that an all-powerful and all-good God would never allow for evil can only derive from an incomplete understanding of good and evil. If good and evil were equivalent substances this dilemma would be compelling. However, just as darkness exists only in the absence of light, evil only exist as the privation of good. Immorality is only the lack of morality; it is dependent. Thus, the removal of all evil forbids creation all together. God, the only being possessing complete goodness, exposes everything and everyone other than God as reflections of goodness. As the moonlight depends upon the brilliance of the sun, so does creation’s light depend upon the illumination of God. Which means, by nature, all of creation’s goodness depends on God and each step nature takes away from Him brings it that much closer to darkness. One may argue that God should have left off creating anything if creating meant the presence of evil. However, this presupposes that the all-good, all-powerful, omniscient God whose existence infinitely exceeds ours, ignorantly created all things without accounting for evil. Instead of the presence of evil disproving God or fostering disdain for existence, it ought to affirm the existence of a greater purpose God must have for humanity and creation.

The scandal of the gospel reveals the scandal of creation. In the gospel narrative, we first find God entering time and space by becoming a man, which implies His otherness. One important fact about Jesus, which every major religion that mentions Him affirms, is His goodness. Moreover, the Christian narrative teaches that “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him” for He was the “only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father.” The transcendent God, made immanent in Christ, revealed an absolute goodness which the world had never seen and could not comprehend. These two seemingly conflicting terms hold together the hope of mankind. God’s transcendence affirms that a greater reality exists, and His immanence demonstrates His commitment to take us there. Thus, this immanent yet transcendent God, altogether good and powerful, demonstrates these truths in the incarnation. To create was to redeem.

ALREADY BUT NOT YET

This same God teaches us that a man should never endeavor any major enterprise without first considering the cost, least He began and fail to complete His task due to deficiency in resources or expertise. What enterprise exceeds the grandeur of creation? The God who insists that a man counts the cost surely has done so himself. The fact that this world and all of us in it exist echoes the confirmation of creation being very good. But God is omniscient; did He not see what would come of His creation? He saw with more clarity and confidence than we can see the palm of our hand. For God sees further than this very moment you are experiencing reading this article. He sees His finished plan, but we are in progress.

Paul tells us that we see dimly as in a mirror, and John tells us that we know what we are, but not yet what we shall be. C.S. Lewis reiterates this sentiments in his work The Great Divorce: “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”[2] Woefully we hold our theology and understanding of the world with a clinched fist and accuse God of being small, but He is large and it is our grasp that is not. What God has revealed about Himself must be firmly held, but the minutia of life must be taken with an open hand of surrender. True faith – rather than clinging to this life, blindly following an image of god – clings to the true person and promises of God as He has revealed Himself, and trusts His plan though the trials of life rail against it.

 

[1] Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)

[2] The Great Divorce

T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.