When you come into the presence of God, do you assume God is just like us – liable to terrible and merciless wrath, but also capable of amazing grace? That’s not what the passion of Christ tells us. We’re a mixture of good and bad, but God is good all the way down, all the time, all the way beyond forever and back. Holy Week is the story of what happens when our mixed-up lives come in touching distance of a goodness that goes beyond forever, and what happens to that goodness, and what happens to us.
There is much that philosophy could learn from the Bible. To the philosopher the idea of the good is the most exalted idea. But to the Bible the idea of the good is penultimate; it cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the holy is the summit. Things created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy.
The supreme good that makes human beings truly happy - in my terminology, the proper content of a flourishing life - consists in love of God and neighbor and enjoyment of both.
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
The essence of religion, in my view, is the thirst for an end higher than natural ends; the finite self’s desire for, and acquiescence in, and self-rejection in favor of, an object wholly good and wholly good for it.
C.S. Lewis, “Religion Without Dogma?” (via invisibleforeigner)
And this is why I’m more of a German than an Englishman—or, I guess, Lutheran than Anglican—-when it comes to theology. I don’t necessarily believe that the “finite self,” as Mr Lewis calls it, necessarily has a desire for an object wholly good and wholly good for it. I don’t think one can look at human nature and know anything about the nature of salvation. That is what comes from divine revelation, which can only come from Christ. We know about humanity nature only insofar as we look to Jesus’ human nature. Which, in fact, may the point Lewis is making here—by making a distinction between “religion” and Christianity. Or, to borrow an old cliché, it is not humanity’s reaching up, but a God’s reaching down.
I went back and looked at the context of the original quote (It’s an essay in God in the Dock, if anyone wants to looks it up.). I think he’d actually agree with your point. In the essay, C.S. Lewis responds to a professor’s assertion that the essence of religion is “belief in God and immortality.” The professor basically argues that because science has made belief in the soul a ludicrous idea, the idea of religion is therefore indefensible.
C.S. Lewis rejects that definition of religion, saying that the Jewish Sheol isn’t really about immortality and Buddhists don’t believe in a God. He says that immortality can function as a sort of bribe, so it should not be made central before people have enough knowledge of the self-denial aspects of Christianity. And those aspects we get from the revelation of God. C.S. Lewis here compares God to a rich lover who pretends to be poor and doesn’t reveal his true wealth until after he has won her. A “certain spiritual level” needs to be reached before immortality can be anything other than a bribe. Our natural human natures will definitely not desire higher ends or want to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. Religion is here defined as something highly contrary to our natural impulses, and we can’t really understand what Christianity is without the divine revelation that allows us to mature to “higher spiritual levels.”
This, to me, is part of the scandal of the Incarnation and the scandal of the cross: that God, when God shows up in Christ, doesn’t take control. God in Christ doesn’t institute “martial law.” Nor does God in Christ unilaterally eliminate all that we call suffering and evil. Nor does God in Christ cause any additional suffering and evil. He doesn’t fly into Jerusalem on angel’s wings or a fighter jet, nor does he ride in on a white steed or tank, nor does he enter with well-armed guards or even sticks and stones.
Instead, we see Jesus going quietly from town to town, confronting suffering and evil, calling people to repentance for inflicting suffering and evil on one another, and healing and liberating people from suffering and evil at every turn. He doesn’t unilaterally impose even this healing on them though: he allows their faith, whether great or small, to make room for it. Finally, in Christ on the cross we see God’s ultimate way of dealing with suffering and evil: to bear it with endurance, to suffer it with tears and agony, to take it into God’s own heart, and to heal it utterly, not by avenging it, but by forgiving it. The kingdom or sovereignty of God that Jesus proclaims, then, doesn’t come with the power of unilateral control but with a radically different kind of power: the gentle power (Paul dares call it “weakness”) of love.
I think it is fair to suggest that Dr. Piper sees Jesus’s suffering on the cross in the same light he sees the suffering of the Japanese in the wake of their triple catastrophe: God has inflicted this suffering and so we must accept it as God’s will and that trust God had a good reason for choosing to do it this way. I suppose for some that is more hopeful than saying evil and suffering occur with no reason, no purpose, or no meaning at all.
To me, as I reflect on the Scriptures and on the jagged history of our planet, it is better to say that God’s sovereignty is not totalitarian. God isn’t the kind of king interested in absolute control. God wouldn’t create that kind of relationship with the universe because God isn’t that kind of God. Instead, God creates space and time for a universe to be, to become, to unfold in its own story, its own evolution. God’s kingship is God’s absolute commitment to be with us, whatever happens, always working to bring good from evil, healing from suffering, reconciliation from conflict, and hope from despair. This is the God I see imaged in Jesus, born as a vulnerable baby, growing as a vulnerable boy, living as an unarmed man with courage and kindness. This is the God imaged as a king who washes the feet of his subjects, a king whose power is revealed not by killing and conquering but by suffering and dying … and rising again.
Nonviolence seeks to ‘win’ not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing [the adversary] that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over [them], but to turn [them] from an adversary into a collaborator by winning [them] over.
The point [of Job] is that the man who accepts our ordinary standard of good and by it hotly criticizes divine justice receives the divine approval: the orthodox, pious people who palter with that standard in the attempt to justify God are condemned. Apparently the way to advance from our imperfect apprehension of justice to the absolute justice is not to throw our imperfect apprehensions aside but boldly to go on applying them.
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil… . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?