What if the Snake was right?
This a sample chapter from Questioning Christianity, a new book by Aussie authors Dan Paterson and Rian Roux. The title is appropriate for a book responding to issues such as ‘But what if everything is not as it seems? What if there’s more to the story? What if you’ve never actually encountered real Christianity?’
“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to him and bad when it turns from him.” C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The tendency to doubt whether God can be trusted is a good place to start weighing our doubts. Why? Because were you to trace the genealogy of God questions back through the Christian story, you would find that no other doubt boasts such a rich pedigree. Questioning whether God is really good was ground zero of doubt in the Bible. Way back in the garden of Eden, it was the snake who first planted this skeptical seed, questioning whether we could take God at His word. When you dig beneath the surface of many of the serious objections to Christianity from Eden until now, you’ll find this lingering question has fed many of those objections, almost like a root system of suspicion.
But consider the surprising flip side to this equation. Suppose there are good reasons to believe that God is supremely good. If that could be reasonably demonstrated, then the calculus changes dramatically. For then, even without comprehensive answers to every derivative objection, at the very least you can fall back to a baseline of God’s goodness from which to reason.
The difficulty in navigating any territory of trust is that the terrain is shaped by our past. As young children, we tend to trust our parents without reservation, but as we grow up in a world where disappointment and betrayal taint our experience of relationships, we often find that trust is a harder-won currency.
No doubt you have disappointments in life, perhaps even horrendous scars, that make it hard to believe that God is good, and we would be fooling ourselves to pretend otherwise. Even so, with eyes wide open to the disappointments and pain of life ourselves, we still believe God’s goodness is the baseline of reality. Here are some of the reasons why.
Without a good God it is difficult to find an anchor for objective moral values or to have a secure footing from which to oppose evil.
To begin, there seems to be a nearly unbreakable bond between our deep intuition that goodness exists and the existence of a good God. Now this may be a little philosophical and does next to nothing to help make sense of our unmet expectations when we think about how a good God should act. Nonetheless, bear with us for a moment because there is a long-standing, strong argument for the existence of God — the moral argument — that steps soundly from our apprehension of objective moral goodness (and evil) to the existence of a cosmic moral lawgiver.
To spell it out negatively, without a good God it is difficult to find an anchor for objective moral values or to have a secure footing from which to oppose evil.
If we want to believe that good and evil exist beyond the changing tides of human opinion or that they are more than the blind result of our socio-evolutionary history in an ultimately purposeless universe, then there has to be something outside ourselves to serve as the reference point for morality. Every time we denounce something as evil, like the practice of enslaving people based on the color of their skin, we believe we are making a statement of fact that is true regardless of the popular cultural beliefs of the time.
The problem is that without God to serve as the arbiter between good and evil, alternative explanations are sparse. God makes good sense of our belief in objective goodness, with evil being a departure from God’s good nature and design. And that we were created for good in God’s image explains why, even if we don’t believe in Him, we still apprehend the moral fabric of God’s world every time we revolt against the injustices that plague our world.
A second reason to believe God is good is that there are meaningful ways to reconcile a good God with the seemingly bad things used to call His goodness into question. Were you to draw up a list of your own reasons for doubting God’s character, and then investigate the responses from thinking Christians, you would discover that there are plausible ways to make sense of why a good God would allow suffering, or remain hidden, or bring about judgment.
We need to consider that if the Christian story is true, then evil has tampered with the starting evidence of our experience, as God’s good world has been corrupted.
Where the struggle often lies is in taking the time to carefully consider these responses, especially when our own pain is wrapped up in the questions.
As with our own systems of justice, where innocence is assumed until proven otherwise, it only seems fair that when God is in the dock (on trial), we carefully weigh both sides of the case before making any decisions. And we need to consider that if the Christian story is true, then evil has tampered with the starting evidence of our experience, as God’s good world has been corrupted.
This should at least give us pause before reasoning upward from the ground of our experiences to bring charges against God, for if the ground itself is cursed, then those experiences are not a sure and reliable eyewitness to God’s character. And if the evidence against God turns out to be weaker than first believed, or if the Christian story offers a unique perspective that exonerates God’s goodness, then the final verdict should overturn any original suspicion, ending with our trust in God being restored.
Beyond philosophical arguments and defensive answers, though, the best positive case for God’s goodness is undoubtedly Jesus. Whereas the various events that make up the scenes of the Christian story give ample evidence that God can be trusted in his intentions toward us, none are so clear and concentrated as when God became human in Jesus. There we glimpse exactly what God is like, and the sublime moral calibre of Jesus is something impossible to capture in words, for his life was poetry in motion. Never before or since has anyone in history been so universally admired, exerting so deep a redemptive influence on hearts and minds as to transform the souls of entire civilizations.
Jesus’ energies were singularly directed at loving God and neighbor with all of his being. He confronted evil, sought justice, embodied compassion, extended mercy, and humbly served humanity from the cradle to the grave (and beyond). If ever there was a person who earned our trust and admiration, it was Jesus. And if Jesus is God, then when we stare at Jesus, we are staring at God. When we are drawn toward Jesus, we are drawn toward God. God’s ultimate answer to questions about his character is not a bunch of words, but a person.
Jesus is heaven’s response.
Questioning Christianity: Is There More to the Story?
By Dan Paterson, Rian Roux
$19.99 Moody Publishers, 2021
Available at Koorong.