The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Defending God as the Maximally Great and Perfect Being

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In my last post, I argued that God as the bearded guy in the sky should be rejected. I have no interest in God as the bearded guy in the sky or any deity who is fundamentally human-like or finite. So this means I have no interest in a God who is an exalted man who has populated the planet with his spirit children, as in Mormonism. I also don’t have an interest in a God who extends mercy and the reward of 72 virgins only to those who follow his legal system, as in Islam. Allah is certainly a bigger conception of God than the bearded guy in the sky conception but it still falls very, very short.

I am interested and do affirm the existence of God as the greatest conceivable being. This is a God who has all great making properties in a maximal way. Being moral is a great making property and God, on this conception, has this property maximally. This means not only that all and every action is morally perfect, but also that God is the very ground of morality. Having knowledge or creative power and being everywhere present are also great making properties that God has maximally.

This is a God truly worthy of worship and our devotion.

God exists

What is more, the existence of God as the maximally great and perfect being is eminently defensible and reasonable. God, on this view, stands behind reality and all that exists. God is the first cause (in the broadest of senses) of all that exists. God then explains the existence of its peculiar features such as the universe itself, the design and fine tuning of the universe, moral facts, consciousness, beauty, human value, etc. In fact, I believe God is the best explanation of the most important facts aspects of life.

Is this the God the Bible?

I am a Christian theist precisely because I believe the God of the Bible is that being.

Now I can already envision the memes and GIFs being readied that highlight how heinous and morally reprehensible the God of the Bible is, especially the God of the Old Testament. If I thought the God of the Bible was heinous and morally reprehensible, then I would not believe in him either. I don’t. In fact, I don’t think there is anything in all of Scripture that contradicts thinking that the God described is the greatest conceivable being, perfect and maximal in all of his ways.

Let me first say, I definitely do see why some people think the God of the Bible should be rejected. When certain passages of the Old Testament are taken in isolation, it can be very difficult to see a morally perfect being. I get this and I don’t make light of these passages. They are difficult.

How do we see God?

But this issue, for me, comes back to how we see God. Let me illustrate.

Is it wrong to physically assault someone?

Well, it depends actually. Boxers physically assault each other all the time, but that’s not morally wrong. I may physically assault (or try to) someone who is breaking into my house with intent to harm my children. But that would not be morally wrong. In fact, it would be morally praiseworthy. There are lots of scenarios in which it would be completely wrong to assault someone, but it depends one who is in view and the context of the action.

How about this? Is it wrong to cut someone open with a knife?

Well, again, it depends. If it is a surgeon performing a lifesaving operation, then it is morally appropriate. If it is a sociopathic deviant, then it is, of course, morally wrong.

Is it wrong to order the killing of someone?

If it is a judge vested with the legal authority to do so and does it in a legally just way, then it seems morally appropriate. If it is a mob boss looking to take out a business owner who hasn’t paid his dues, then of course it’s very wrong.

The authority of God

An important question one has to ask in considering whether the God of the Bible is morally perfect is whether he has the authority, especially as judge, to order or to cause the death of people. It seems very difficult to see any reason that God, as the bearded guy in the sky, would have this authority. However, God as maximally great and perfect being who stands behind the universe as the metaphysical first cause would indeed have the authority to move in judgement on people. It seems clearly part of the notion of moral perfection to bring about justice on lawbreakers and those who do evil. On the Christian view, that’s all of us. God has the right to move in judgement against ALL OF US.

I don’t think this solves all issues, of course, as we grapple with various Old Testament passages. But, for me, it goes a long way in working out the apparent tension between seeing the God of the Bible as the maximally great and perfect being.

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4 Replies

  1. Beth Burns

    My faith in God and Jesus disappeared, against my will, following learning about predestination. This started in summer of 2016 and all my efforts to correct my disbelief have not helped. Is there any way I could discuss this with you. Grateful for your attention, Beth Burns

  2. Robert C Campbell

    Even if we accept your assertion that God has the legal right to execute judgment against people, what about infants? Surely an infant has not had the opportunity to break the laws of God or man, unless just existing is a violation of the law.

    1. Travis Dickinson

      That is a very fair point. I also think this is one of the more difficult issues. I do not think that infants have violated any moral law and are in need of punishment. Some strong Calvinists do think this but I think that’s wrong. However, I still think seeing God as the maximally great being gives him the authority to give and take life as he sees fit. I think that many times this happens in judgment. But other times, for whatever reason, it fits within the broader plan of God. On my view, an infant, as morally innocent, would go to be with God for eternity. So it might even be thought that God is saving that, say, Amalekite infant or the Canaanite infant from a life of warfare and brutality. Now, again, this is difficult and it is not an issue to take lightly. I don’t have all the answers, but thinking of God as maximally great seems to help try to understand this tough issue.

      1. Robert C Campbell

        I appreciate your taking the time to respond. That was very kind. I also appreciate your humility and willingness to say that you don’t know everything. I often run into the opposite attitude.
        I keep running into the issue that God commits obviously immoral acts (like genocide) but Christian apologists are quick to jump up and say “Oh, God did it so it’s ok.” And they make up words like “maximally” to try and make their arguments sound more impressive.
        I’m of the opinion that genocide is a horrendous evil no matter who does it. If God is so “maximal,” then why aren’t his actions maximally loving and forgiving? Why do Amalekites behaving badly require genocide? Surely a maximal being could come up with something better. Yes, I understand all about Jesus and a once for all sacrifice for the whole world, but it doesn’t seem to have done anything for our Old Testament friends.
        Well, thanks for listening.