Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My Goodness, What a Paradox! Part 2

We're looking at the paradox presented by some Biblical statements concerning the goodness of God and man. On one hand, we have statements from Jesus declaring that only God is good. On the other hand, we have Luke describing two different people as “good.” Let's look at four common responses to paradox as they relate to this issue:


The Skeptical or Agnostic response: “There! That proves it! The Bible contains contradictions and cannot be trusted. Throw it away.”

The Imbalanced response: "Jesus said only God is good. His testimony is greater than Luke's, so we can ignore Luke's mistaken perceptions." One finds this type of imbalance in those who would pit the words of Christ against Paul, or the New Testament against the Old Testament. Such an approach assumes the Scriptures to be unreliable. Alternately, an imbalanced approach might say, "Of course people are good. We're all God's children and there's nothing wrong with any of us. Isn't that what the Bible says?"

The Rationalistic response: "There is a very simple explanation. A word can have more than one meaning. When referring to a human being, goodness means one thing. When referring to God, it means another. There's not the slightest bit of contradiction or paradox in this!"

The Faith/Paradox response: “There is an underlying principle here. The Holy Spirit allowed this apparent contradiction to get our attention and point us to something deeper. God wants us to meditate on this, search the Scriptures and discover His wisdom in the matter. Since God does not lie or contradict Himself, and since He is not reckless with His words, there must be an explanation that is reasonable but not overly simplistic. And one that will affect our hearts by revealing God's glory.”

Embracing paradox doesn't mean the rules of logic no longer apply. Instead, it forces us to realistically face the limits of logic and humbly accept God's wisdom in place of our own

NOTE: In this case, the rationalistic response does have some validity. There are instances where semantic variations in a word's meaning create a false contradiction. However, in this case I believe that explanation falls short. The danger is, in our pride of "knowing the answer" we often jump to conclusions and settle for an easy explanation. In this way, we sometimes miss things that can only be found by searching further in the Scriptures.

Let's start by affirming both sides of the paradox without equivocation. God alone is good. Some people are also good. This the undeniable testimony of Scripture. So how do we handle it?


Ultimately, I believe this paradox points to our dependence on God, and to two categories of goodness: primary (or source) goodness, and secondary (or reflective) goodness. These categories describe separate manifestations of the same goodness. In other words, there is ONE goodness – God's - and sometimes it exists in people. Whatever goodness a person may have is actually God's goodness in him. Jonathan Edwards describes the way in which all of man's good - and by implication, man's goodness - depends on God:

The several ways wherein the dependence of the one being may be upon another for its good, and wherein the redeemed of Jesus Christ depend on God for all their good, are these, viz. That they have all their good of him, and that they have all through him, and that they have all in him: That he is the cause and original whence all their good comes, therein it is of him; and that he is the medium by which it is obtained and conveyed, therein they have it through him; and that he is the good itself given and conveyed, therein it is in him.” (God Glorified In Man's Dependence, Jonathan Edwards – Representative Selections, edited by Clarence H. Faust and Thomas H. Johnson, New York: Hill and Wang, 1962) The moon makes a great illustration, and this is an illustration of it. Can you see the light yet?

Man's goodness is reflective, secondary, and dependent - not primary. Our goodness relates to God's goodness in the same way that moonlight relates to sunlight. To the extent that the moon receives and reflects the sun's light, it too is a light. But the moon bears no light on its own. Apart from the sun, it would be completely dark. At its best, the moon is fifty percent darkness. “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night...” (Genesis 1:16)

The moon is almost always half dark and half light, but it rarely appears this way from our perspective

In the same way, man's goodness is nothing more than a reflection of God's goodness. You and I, at our very best, are “lesser” lights. When sin gets between us and God, it effectively eclipses His light and leaves us devoid of good. That is depravity. But when we come into the light of God's goodness, we receive and reflect His goodness.


When God created the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain, he noted several times that what He created “was good.” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). At the end of the 6th day, the day on which man was created, He said it was “very good.” This has been construed by some to mean that man has a special goodness not shared by the rest of creation. But let's look at Genesis 1:31 and see what it says: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” This is not singling out mankind as the best of the best, for the “very good” encompasses all that God created. Nevertheless, man was a unique creation with a special status. Adam and Eve were certainly created “good” and were part of what was “very good”. But the reason for man's special status is found in Genesis 1:26, where God says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Man is good only to the extent that he bears the image of God.

Image” is a reflective term. An image is merely a representation of something else. I have a picture of my wife, which I cherish, but I am not married to that picture. The picture is beautiful only because it conveys the image of a beautiful person. The paper on which it is printed is common stock – worth nothing at all compared to my wife. Likewise, we are not the source of God's image, only bearers of it. The fall removed that image from us, but in the lives of Christians it is being restored because Christ is in us and shines through us.

God is good with a goodness that is measureless and incomparable. He is infinitely, intrinsically, and inherently good. Believers begin to be good the moment they are united to Christ. We display His goodness as we show His characteristics through our attitudes, words and deeds. Our goodness is real, but it is never independent. God's goodness can exist apart from ours, but ours cannot exist without His. In this way, God alone is good, but believers are also good in Him.

In part 3, we'll delve deeper and look at some specific ways in which man reflects the goodness of God. Then in part 4, we'll wrap it up with a consideration of some key Scripture passages. Now that we've started exploring the paradox in detail, feel free to comment, agree/disagree, offer your own explanation, etc.


  1. Derek,

    It was nice of you to leave a comment on my blog (I've just responded there too). Like you said, it is neat to hear that there are other Christian bloggers building on the theme of paradox.

    I really like your blog and the way that you are wrestling through deep theological issues. I really, really like your "4 responses to paradoxes"; it is neat to see how you applied these 4 responses to this post on GOODNESS.

    Pax tecum,


    I've made it out to your blog, and I really like it.

  2. Stephen,

    Great to hear from you, and thanks for the encouraging words. Your blog is very cool! I especially like the outreach and missions aspect, as my "theologically oriented" blog tends to be light on this ESSENTIAL part of Christian life. And the fact that you blog with your brother is most inspiring. I hope my kids will one day share a blog to the glory of God.


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