The goodness of God
Is God the ‘bully’ portrayed by Dawkins and others?
Darwinist Richard Dawkins’ favourite quote from his own book1 is that the God of the Old Testament is “a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”. This may seem over-the-top to some, but his books are best sellers and have been translated into over thirty languages.
Others are joining the attack. One Norwegian writer2 says she cannot understand how people can read the Bible and still believe God is good. The Old Testament is full of violence, and the Gospel, she feels, is no better for it is unjust of God to punish the innocent in place of the guilty.
This same Bible once formed the basis of our Western society, so what has brought about the drastic change in attitude? The clue lies in the fact that when there was a Christian consensus on morality, there was also a general acceptance of the Bible’s account of origins. Compromise on the first chapters of Genesis means that both are now lost because God’s moral authority is linked to the truth of His Word. The best argument for God’s goodness is still in these chapters of Scripture when taken seriously, as we shall see.
“Why do you call Me good?”3
What can Christians say to Dawkins’ allegation? One leading evangelical group that accepts the evolutionary view of an old Earth tells us in a recent publication that the Bible’s answer to our questions about God’s goodness (as shown in Job and Romans) is merely “God is God and you are not, so pull your head in, you worm”.4 But is that really so? If it were, one would have to ask, why does God speak to us at all if not to draw us to Himself in praise and contrition? The first thing God’s Word says is that He made us and a beautiful home for us to live in. Then before He tells Adam to obey Him, He points out all there is for him to enjoy.
Before God gave His people the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), He reminded them that He brought them out of slavery (Exodus 19). The Sabbath represents life under His reign, so they are to recall how He made the world and blessed it. Jesus answers even unvoiced criticism with signs and words that He is this Creator God5. It is when He multiplies the catch of fish that Peter is convicted.6 And for His hearers, that would have come with the intrinsic knowledge that God made a good world at first. So He is identifying Himself as the good Creator God.
This is also why Job repents. Given God’s goodness from the beginning, as shown in Genesis, Job can afford to trust Him. Job is not rebuked for asking why he suffers. That would make God a bully. Rather, he is reminded that God made the world7 and sustains it8 because of His plan9 to rid it of evil10 and rescue those like Job.
Likewise, Paul’s appeal to the Jews in Rome, that God is righteous else “how could He judge the world?”,11 is not a cop-out but a reminder of all that they have been taught. Underpinning Paul’s other points, such as that salvation is of God alone, is the fact that God is Creator. This is the foundation for all his preaching,12 and implicit in Paul’s understanding, and that of his Jewish and proselyte audiences, was that His creation was of an originally good world. God’s judgment is righteous because He is the good Creator. But the prevailing idea today is that the earth is millions of years old, which undermines all that. The long ages notion comes from the belief that the fossils (which show evidence of death, suffering and disease) were laid down millions of years before man existed. And death before Adam’s Fall makes the atonement (Christ’s death to overcome the curse of death instituted due to Adam’s action) meaningless.
The Genesis link—still more
Paul argues in Romans 3:26 that God is just—He punishes the guilty—and yet at the same time He saves the guilty and makes them righteous. How can this be? Paul is speaking of the righteousness that comes by faith, and faith is being joined to Jesus. When Jesus died on the Cross, he took not only our punishment but our guilt, by becoming one with us. This is the incarnation. Even when He returned to the Father He kept His human body. Believers are united with their Lord in such a way that Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ in me”.13 This union is described by Paul as being like the first marriage.14 Adam and Eve were joined as one flesh because Eve literally came from Adam, who was direct from God.15 By faith we are joined to Christ so that He takes our guilt and punishment and shares with us His righteousness.
Yes, the Old Testament is violent in places [but see box below at end of article—Ed.]. One of the reasons God’s Word gives hope is precisely because it is realistic on both good and evil. We can argue that what God says is good is good because God says so—He is the Creator. But the reason we recognize His moral authority in the first place, and trust Him, has a lot to do with the fact that we like and identify with the Bible’s description of Eden—the place where God ruled, a picture of the restored creation to come and the way things were created to be. In an old Earth view, this paradise disappears and we lose the foundation for believing in God’s goodness.
Gospel love in the OT
Contrary to the allegations of many such as Dawkins, God’s primary purpose in the Old Testament is not the punishment of sinners but their reconciliation to Himself, as seen in the following:
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 33:11 NIV)
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, Bantam Press, London, 2006. Return to text.
- Margaret Skjellbred. Return to text.
- Mark 10:18; Atheism and the “Euthyphro Dilemma”. Return to text.
- The Briefing, Matthias Media, October 2009. Return to text.
- Mark 2. Return to text.
- Luke 5:8. Return to text.
- Job 38:6-7. Return to text.
- Job 38:27 .Return to text.
- Job 42:2 .Return to text.
- Job 38:13; Job 41:34. Return to text.
- Romans 3:6. Return to text.
- See also Acts 14:15; Acts 17:25. Return to text.
- Galatians 2:20. Return to text.
- Ephesians 5:25–32; Genesis 2:24 .Return to text.
- Luke 3:38; Christ is the last Adam; the Church, His bride. Return to text.