George Thomson Knight.

The goodness of God in view of the facts of nature and the supernatural online

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Georrfe X Knigh t


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Professor of Theology in Tufts College Divinity School





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Published December, 1904.

Stanbope press

b O S T O N, U.S.A.


It is the opinion of the compiler of the
following pages that the times can make good
use of whatever truth there is in the philoso-
phy of Optimism.

Acknowledgment is due James Sully,
whose History of Pessimism (Henry King &
Co., London, 1877) is so thoro, clear and
fair, both in the record of facts and in the
treatment of them, as almost to discourage
other attempts at any part of the subject.

I am also under obligations to my asso-
ciate, Professor W. S. Woodbridge, for wise
and kindly suggestions, in the preparation
of this volume.



INTRODUCTION, and outline of course of


i. ITS HISTORY: Theory of an Evil Fate, excusing
God. Plato and his Intractible Matter. The
Stoics' Denial of Evil, and Showing it to be useful.
Hindu theories of Illusion, and Transmigration.
Persian Dualism. Gnostic Dualism, and the idea
that Evil is Negative. The Old Testament : Satan
tempted Eve, and Job endured in faith. The
New Testament: Faith again, and the idea that
Moral Evil is man's choice, and Physical Evil is
not always a punishment of sin, but is essentially a
means of discipline. The Church has had all the
old theories, especially: Inherited Guilt, Absoluteness
of God, Negative Evil. Leibnitz's Limited God.
The newly preached Sympathetic God. Pages 3-25


stated by its advocates.

The witnesses are Solomon, Job, and the Chris-
tian Church generally — it would be universally but

v i Contents,

that memory and hope naturally misrepresent the
facts in favor of optimism. Witness also the Facts :
The nature of life is want; Pain exceeds pleasure;
The world is constructed for pain; The mischief is
increasing, by intensified sensibility, and nature's
attack on it; Sin is necessary; Sympathy multiplies
pain, and the Church says it is to be so forever, and
worse; The real character of nature; The custom-
ary defenses of optimism are so weak as to really
confirm pessimism. — A final witness, according to
Job and Isaiah Pages 25-53


1. It must be admitted that much of the case is
established beyond dispute : There is pain. It is
by the will of God. The innocent suffer (in many
instances) by the very act of God. It is He also
that made sin possible and provided enticements.
From all which we must infer that God is limited
either in goodness or in power: in other words, The-
odicy as usually held is disproved.

2. The errors of Pessimism : — A partizan quotation
of the facts. Fallacy of massing them. Fallacious
claim that words are inadequate. Misunderstand-
ing of the nature of want, and of life and the preva-
lence of pain. A false a priori assumption "The
Absolute God" underlies the whole argument of
pessimism. Some specification of "reasoning"

Contents, vii

that must be given up by both sides, to clear the
ground . Pages 53-70


1. Deductive: The First Cause is a Mind. — So
say Conscience, the "Christian Consciousness" or
Disposition, our Mental Constitution, and many
authorities. — Optimism is a good working theory.

2. Inductive : A general law, with a decreasing
number of exceptions. The utilities of pain.
Pain is decreasing. Tendency of things toward
good Pages 70-78

5. THE THEORY OF OPTIMISM elaborated in
some directions. — The natural man was to be-
come a spiritual man. Quantity of life must first be
secured. Pleasure might lead him on for a while,
but not far enough, nor fast enough. Pain must be
used to drive him. Quality, next, is to some ex-
tent, conditioned on pain and grief, and the high-
est attainments on social relations. Hence these
had to be provided for from afar, in law necessity,
conscience, constitution, instinct. The Central
Difficulty of Theodicy is Innocent Suffering — which
is unavoidable, but utilized. The New Prophets
say that love must have pain in it, now and always.

Pages 78-94

6. SUMMARY of the study of the works of God as in-
dicating his character Pages 94-97

viii Contents.


Definitions. — Righteousness — Justice — Holiness
— Goodness — Love.


/. Is God* s Love different from ours ? (a) In that
it is infinite. — Momerie's reply, (b) In that it is
wise. — But there is also wise love among men.
2. Is divine Love finite ?

(a) " Limited to itself." — Nonsense.

(b) " Lacks self-sufficiency." — Ditto.

(c) " Unlovely objects are a limitation." — Yes, in
one sense, but not within our present meaning.

Pages 99-106

(d) "Love and Justice are opposed in their very
nature (and the world so indicates)." — In reply
refer again to Theodicy which sees no proof of antag-
onism. Justice can be opposed to a foolish love, not
to a wise one. Besides, Reason rejects all limita-
tion of God, and Conscience especially rejects the
idea of a limited goodness. We have no right to
any theory that involves "war in the members" of
God Pages 106— m

(e) "At least there are Practical Limitations" — No
doubt we may say (with reference to some things)
" God would if he could," implying that he cannot,

Contents, ix

and is therefore limited. But this would be of
power and not of goodness. Observe that some of
these alleged practical difficulties are temporary, and
are merely stages in the process of development.
Others are regarded as "eternal" — but they do
not exist at all, so far as we can see. Pages 1 1 1— 1 19
SUMMARY of the study of the moral character of
God as indicated in the nature of the divine attri-

Appendix, addressed to those who still cannot ac-
cept the optimistic reasoning. Another course is
open (by modern science and reason too) leading in the
same direction Pages 1 21-126




The substance and course of thought in
this book may be stated as follows :

The doctrine that God is entirely good
has been disputed on two grounds — first,
his works contain an element of evil, and
secondly, some of his attributes are not in
every respect consistent with goodness in
the ordinary meaning of the term. We
wish to examine these grounds and ascertain
their full significance.

The consideration of the first ground
gives rise to what has long been called the
problem of evil. Its question is, How can a
good God be the author of this world, in which
evil is so large a part ? Many have under-
taken to answer the question by some theory
or view of the world, by which they think
its Author may be defended. Any such

2 The Goodness of God.

theory or proof of God's goodness is techni-
cally called a theodicy^ or justification of

In order to understand the best thought
on this great subject, and to clarify our own
thought, it seems well first to study the his-
tory of the problem of evil, or rather of
men's solutions of the problem ; in short, the
history of theodicy.

After a brief survey of that field, we shall
gather all the strength of pessimistic theories
of the world, all that can be or has been
said against the character of nature in one
indictment against God's goodness — let the
worst be said.

Next we shall try to estimate the actual
value of this indictment, and shall offer some
considerations in rebuttal, and thus set forth
the particulars of the latest theodicy. This
will constitute the defenses of optimism as
conceived in the most advanced reasonings
of the day.

Secondly, in studying the remaining
ground of objection to the goodness of
God, we shall observe the subject in relation

The History of Theodicy, 3

to the divine attributes, in its general theo-
logical setting. The whole we believe to
be not only a true view of the divine char-
acter, but a real support and confirmation
of Christian faith hope and love.




Hesiod gave expression to one of the ear-
liest speculations which have influenced the
thought of men in their attempt to solve the
problem of evil. He represented the course
of human history from the Golden Age,
through the Silver and Brass to the Iron
Age, as a decline caused by an evil fate which
somehow constrained both gods and men.
— But to attribute evil to fate is to acquit the
gods ; and such was, to some extent, the
intention of the very early Greeks. In this
was a beginning of theodicy.

According to the Prometheus Legend, the

4 The Goodness of God.

Titans were rude nature spirits, and the gods
were upholders of world-order and reason.
The two races were at war, and man, weaker
than both, had scant consideration until Pro-
metheus, a demi-god, took man's part, and
procured for him the divine fire as a means
of contending against the powers of nature.
That made Zeus angry, and he punished
both Prometheus and man with many evils ;
until Hercules arose and set free Prometheus,
but did not release man. — This, in the opin-
ion of some critics, is a way of saying that
evil is incident to civilization and to the
ambition of men ; but men at length obtain
divine help, and themselves grow up to
great power, and at last are able to conquer
many evils, though not all of them.

Plato and Aristotle saw in matter or " not-
being " the material of which the world was
made ; but the material is intractable. God,
who is altogether good, does as well as can
be done with the stuff he has to work with.
Plato had perhaps the first clearly intended

The Stoics had two theodicies. They some-

The History of Theodicy. 5

times denied the existence of evil. Aurelius
said: "All events turn out justly, and — if
you will but observe nicely — there is a sov-
ereign distribution of justice which gives
everything its due." Accordingly many in
all times have thought to destroy evil by
boldly facing it, to annihilate it by the magic
of words or the power of will — and to some
extent they succeed, for many evils (not all)
are in our thinking so.

Secondly, they sometimes conceded the
existence of evils, but justified them as use-
ful or necessary means, or unavoidable inci-
dents, in the accomplishment of a good pur-
pose in the world.

One conception of the Stoic has become
the stock in trade of all theodicy of later
times. He thought of evil as having that
relation to the perfection of the world, which
the discord note has in the perfection of
harmony, or which the shadow has in the
picture to bring out its brightness. Thus
evil by itself, as it is not, is evil ; and taken
in connection with other things, as it is, it is

6 The Goodness of God.

The Hindu cosmology represented this
world as an evil dream of Brahma, or again,
as a waking fancy with which he amuses
himself for a while. — But an evil principle
in Brahma manifestly destroys all theodicy.

Philosophers, however, must have a the-
odicy; therefore they called attention to the
transitory nature of dreams and to their un-
reality, and so tried to say that evils are only
in imagination after all; they are only illusions,
they do not really exist. But, as if they per-
ceived the shallowness of such reasoning,
they offered an additional explanation of evil
fortune of men as due to a former state of
sin, and as exactly proportioned to our de-
serts acquired in that former existence. This
was a theodicy again.

According to Buddha this life is evil. There
is in his scheme no theodicy, because there is
no God to be justified. There is, however,
Karma (fate or justice), which metes out to
every man the exact measure of his deserts
in a process of transmigration or metempsy-

The Persians said, "In the beginning was

The History of Theodicy. J

a pair of twins " : Good and Evil. The
works of Ahriman are always evil, and the
works of Ahura Mazda (or Ormuzd) are
always good. This is dualism. — Were it
not for certain signs of unity in the world,
which philosophy and science have seen, the
Persian must be regarded as the perfect
theodicist. But, in later times, the followers
of Zoroaster have themselves seen the neces-
sity of monotheism, and have found them-
selves obliged to give up essential dualism.

The Gnostics were of two kinds, one dual-
istic and not essentially different from the
Persian dualists, and the other monotheistic.
According to the latter, the original One is
perfect in all respects and overflowing with
goodness. But this very overflow going
forth in all directions and moving away from
its original source becomes thereby weaker
and less perfect in proportion to its distance
from the center. So it is that the activities
of those farthest away and most defective are
evil and the source of evil. In their theory,
God is not evil, but our being away from him
is evil. Many of them also foresaw the time

8 The Goodness of God.

when all should return to the One and dwell
with him in righteousness and light forever.

They also supported their faith with the
doctrine of transmigration of souls — a doc-
trine which seems to have lived on its con-
venience for theodicy.

Other pagan theories have had so little in-
fluence on modern opinions that they may be
omitted from this account, unless we should
include the Norse cosmology, in which the
origin of evil is attributed to the evil will of
some god (Loki) or of the giants who are
the enemies of the gods, while the great gods
are regarded as predominantly good, and one
or more of them as altogether good. Among
Norsemen, also, the time is foretold when
evil shall be destroyed and all (the living)
shall dwell with Balder the Good.

The Old Testament. — In the Genesis nar-
rative the beginnings of evil are in the malice
of the Serpent or Satan who led our first
parents to sin and thus brought all evils
upon the race of men. This account seemed
to leave God free from blame, and has been
the pith of most of the- Christian theories
unto this day.

The History of Theodicy. 9

The original simplicity of the theory had
to be modified when men came to see that
the individual fortunes of men (which are
subject to the will of God) are not justly and
equitably distributed. As early as the books
of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, there was further
thought on the subject. A great epoch in
the discussion was the didactic poem of Job.
Scarcely has another mind perceived so clearly
and stated so courageously and justly the
difficulties of the problem, and set forth so
largely and wisely the struggles of the human
mind towards a solution.

The author of Job beholds the inequality
in God's dealing with men, and that, in an
extreme case, even a wise and good man faith-
ful and pious toward God, is yet grievously
afflicted, "deprived of his right," "persecuted
with the strong hand " of God. But Job's
faith and virtue are so great that he endures
even injustice with patience, though he cries
out for an explanation, and in the end attains
a kind of triumph of fortitude, and a bless-
ing. But his very reasonable prayer is not
answered, except that God is great and con-

io The Goodness of God.

trols all things, and man is small and cannot
receive the desired explanation.

Job does not furnish a demonstrated or
reasoned theodicy ; he has only an assertion
that God is good, contrary to the evidence
which is candidly seen and stated.

Observe also that this candor is apparently
commended by God (see the last chapter),
while the less sincere and lame defenses of
God by Job's friends (the professional theo-
logians) are condemned and rebuked, and the
authors of them are told to go and make
their peace with God through Job. Are we
not also to infer that his prophetic function
is attained in part by his bitter experience
faithfully endured, and that when, in the per-
formance of that function, Job prays for his
friends, he is thereby himself perfected or at
least restored to the favor of God ?

Job's wisdom, however, to which he had
come, was " dumb resignation," he " lays his
hand on his mouth." But men will not con-
sent to that, and therefore the " Preacher "
bursts forth into words again, and the pessi-
mists and the optimists are with us to this

The History of Theodicy. 1 1

day. Because miseries are ever new, men
either despair, or if hope be not dead they
cry out, like Job, to be enabled to perceive
the justice of God.

The New Testament. — The Man of Sor-
rows, acquainted with grief, fully recognized
the existence of evil, and at last submitted
to it unto death. Yet he also did not venture .
to explain it so that we might see that God
is good, and thus have a theodicy. He did,
however, advance the theory some definite
steps in clearness at least. First (a lesson
the world very much needed to learn, and
which it still refuses to see clearly) calam-
ity is not primarily the punishment for
sin (though secondarily it may become so in
many instances) ; but its primary purpose
is discipline, that man may see God. Of the
blind he says : " Neither did this man sin,
nor his parents, that he should be born blind,
but that the works of God might be mani-
fest in him." Therefore Jesus proceeds to
work the works of God and to heal the
afflicted — whereby at the same time the
carping critics are judged, the blind receives

I 2 The Goodness of God.

his sight, bodily and spiritually, and many
are converted or confirmed in the faith.

It is rather by his authority, by example of
absolute faith, and by works, that he affirms
the goodness of God in spite of evil, and de-
clares the ultimate triumph of righteousness. 1

In Paul, evil is somehow connected with
Adam's sin ; and specifically, moral evil is
man's choice, and physical evil is a divinely
appointed means of discipline by which God
will accomplish a greater glory, and all evils
shall in the wisdom and love of God be over-
ruled unto his gracious and saving purposes.

In the Church. — The Bible, as we have
seen, bases theodicy on faith and authority.
But men were not satisfied, they demanded
to walk by sight, the sorrows of this world
were so great. So the Fathers sought to re-
lieve the strain by enlarging the vision of the
" future life in which all wrongs shall be
righted." Neither did this satisfy them, for
it confessed that there are wrongs after all,
and they are unexplained.

The Fathers also resorted to pagan phil-

1 Caird, Evol. and Relig., Vol. II., p. 1 1 1.

The History of Theodicy. i 3

osophies. Origen thought he saw light in
the doctrine that evil is negative in its
metaphysical nature, and is therefore not
so serious a thing to deal with as it might
be if it were positive. Why a good God does
not at once dispose of evil by a miraculous
fiat is explained by transmigration and the
free choice of man, who insists on being evil
for a while. Therefore, said Origen, the
ills we endure are merely the just punish-
ment of the sins we have done here or here-
tofore. God is entirely just.

Theodore of Mopsuestia thought evil a
practically necessary incident in the evolu-
tion or education of a race of free moral
beings. It is, however, a temporary con-
dition out of* which, and by means of which,
the individual will at length be raised to a
permanent righteous life.

Augustine used several devices, inconsis-
tently. Like Origen, he taught that evil is
only negative anyhow ; and supported by
authority as he supposed, he said our ill-
fortune is merited not alone by our own sin
in a former transmigration state, or in

14 The Goodness of God,

Adam, but by inheritance from Adam.
Thus man (primarily Satan) was the author
of sin, and all other evil is natural conse-
quence or due punishment of sin. Then,
by throwing some metaphysical dust into the
air, the remaining difficulties were concealed ;
and so God was supposed to be justified in
the sight of men.

One other principle is used more or less
in nearly all theodicies since Augustine,
though often unconsciously. Indeed, it was
to be found also among the pagans. It was
derived from the relations of the absolute
monarch among men to the laws of his em-
pire. Thus, the human maker of laws is,
of course, above them, and can unmake
them at his will. He makes them for his
inferiors ; he himself is not responsible to
them. So the pagan myths often represent
the gods as doing what is forbidden to men,
yet without crime or guilt, because they
have a privilege or divine right above law.

Similarly the Christians came some day to
the thought of an " Absolute God " who is
above moral laws, for he cannot be subject to

The History of Theodicy, 15

any ; and what he does is right, because he
does it and wills it to be, and to be right.
This doctrine appears in various forms in
Duns Scotus, Calvin, Grotius, Edwards, and
Emmons; and if I mistake not, is the sub-
conscious justification of God in much that
common Christians say and think about

In modern times, with advancing intelli-
gence, men are struggling all the more with
the problem of evil. All the old devices,
and some new inventions of men are put in
requisition that we may be able to say with-
out a blush, that God is good. Dualism
still has influence in the doctrine that Satan,
not God, is the responsible author of all
evil ; but the works of Satan are now less
prominent in theology than of old. To a
limited extent also, we still hear that evil is
merited by men, on the theory of transmi-
gration or of heredity, or that men have no
rights at all, being quite worthless : Man is
but a worm, or a bubble, or dust.

Still less often, perhaps, do we hear that
" God, to be sure, is the author of all evil,

1 6 The Goodness of God,

but he is above morals, and whatever he
does is right because he does it." Yet the
shadow, at least, of the old doctrine remains.
Men are accustomed to hold, as a general
proposition or first principle, that God is
wholly good ; and therefore what he does,
though it seem to men wicked beyond com-
pare, is somehow certainly right and good.
Such is the confidence in this thought and
the peace in its possession, that men often
refuse to discuss whether that which they
have said of God is not really foolish and
blasphemous, because as they repeat, we are
sure of one thing : " God is good, and that
is enough."

Others, perhaps more solicitous for the
honor of God than for truth among men,
point out that in one part or another of
theodicy as it is, all manner of evil is said
against God falsely and wickedly. They
are moved therefore, in the interests of piety
and of human welfare, to cry out against
attempts to think about God. So, more
than ever as light increases, it would seem
that a rational defense of God is needed.

The History of Theodicy. ij

Many of the would-be theodicies are
based in an attempt to minimize evil. Great
men have tried to argue evil out of exist-
ence, or even to talk it out of existence.
Some still declare that evil is negative.
Others get a clue from Spinoza, who
taught that the ideas of good and evil are
merely subjective, merely our way of look-
ing at things, and the distinction between
them does not exist in fact. It may be
noted that this theory does not form a the-
odicy, for, since by its assumptions^/ is an
unreal notion, God cannot be called just in
the very fact. The theory may, however,
deny that he is unjust, which is to say that
he is neutral : moral notions do not apply
to him.

A similar theory was put forward by
Dr. Hodge, and many others. They have
taught that pain is an illusion, that all evil
is simply in our point of view, it is really
good ; and when we see things aright, we
shall see that all is good. Royce quotes
from Lanier a happy illustration of the
doctrine, that he who has love in his heart

1 8 The Goodness of God.

can find no ill : " Love is like an electric
light going about in search of a shadow."

But to follow further in this line would be
to study mental pathology rather than the-

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