OT Proofs for God’s Perfect Goodness Part II

The combination of perfection and goodness gives one in search of an enhanced understanding of God, extensive sources for reflection. The remainder of this chapter will focus on God’s nature, creation, and his law as examples of God’s perfect goodness.

God’s creation is good. “God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw it was good” (Genesis 1:10). God’s first creation of the earth he saw it was good. “And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was good” (Genesis 1:31). God having completed his creation, saw it was good. Only God created out of nothing (Genesis 1:1). God brought all things into being and his creation was good. John Damascene stated, “God therefore is both Creator and Provider, and His creative and preserving and providing power is simply His goodwill.”[1]

God is the ultimate good. It is impossible for God to act in a way that is anything but good. “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalms 119:68). God is not good because he does good, but for God to actualize any other would violate his nature of perfect goodness (1 Chronicles 16:24).

The problem of evil in the world is a strong constraint to unbelievers. There is evil and God punishes evil. How can God be good and his acts be good? Charnock insists, “God’s judgments in the world do not infringe his goodness; for the judgment of God is a part of the goodness of his nature.”[2] If a man were walking down the street and saw someone in trouble, he should respond. To not respond to evil is evil. God’s response to judge and punish sin does not diminish his goodness. Charnock lays out his reasoning for this position:

It is a property of goodness to hate evil, and, therefore, a property of goodness to punish it: it is no less righteousness to give according to the deserts of a person in a way of punishment, than to reward a person that obeys his precepts in a way of recompense. Whatsoever is righteous is good; sin is evil; and, therefore, whatsoever doth witness against it, is good; his goodness, therefore, shines in his justice, for without being just he could not be good.[3]

However, it is not God’s intention to punish mankind. God’s purpose from the first day of creation has been to reward humanity.

“The law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalms 19:7). God is perfect, and therefore everything God does is perfect, “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalms 119: 68). This use of good (tob) here carries the same weight as perfect (namim) in Psalms 19:7. The perfect goodness is not only an attribute of God but is a necessary attribute. What does it mean to call God’s goodness a necessary attribute?

Leibniz, as noted above, believed God was an absolutely perfect being.[4] Leibniz believed, because God was perfect, God created the best world possible. Leibniz proposed what he called, all possible worlds. Leibniz stated, “This might be enough, but in order to make myself better understood, I will add that I think there were an infinity of possible ways of creating the world according to the different plans which God might have formed and that each possible world depends upon certain principal plans or designs of God that are his own.”[5] According to Leibniz’s belief, God, had first to decide to create, and then second to decide what world he would create. For God’s attribute of perfect goodness to be necessary, it must be present in all possible worlds God could have created.

The alternative is an attribute that is contingent. A contingent attribute is one that possibly would not have happened. These types of attributes are what Aristotle called accidents.[6] An essence must be an essential or necessary trait and neither an accident or contingent. Jay Wesley Richards speaking of traits of necessity stated:

Contingencies are those possibilities that are not necessary. Possibilities include both contingent and necessary states of affairs, since a necessary truth is also a possible truth. So the set of contingent truths is a subset of all possible truths. Incidentally, a contingent truth can be expressed by p & -p (possibly p & possibly not p), but no truth can be expressed by a simple p & -p, which plainly violates the law of noncontradiction.[7]

For God’s trait of perfect goodness to be true, it must exist as a necessity. Richards continues his discussion defining a necessary trait:

To get to essentialism from modal logic, we first have to understand logical necessity. We may understand truths that possess ‘broadly logical necessity’ as all those truths whose denials are not self-consistent (whether we can determine self-consistency is another matter). That is, if a proposition p is necessarily true, then denying p will produce a proposition that denies its own truth. Given the plausible premise that any self-denying proposition cannot not be true, come what may, then the denial of p will never be true; so p will always be true. Regrettably, this explanation amounts to little more than the claim that a necessary truth is just any truth whose denial is logically impossible.[8]

Since God and the existence of God exists as truth, then the fact is God’s perfect goodness not only exists in all possible worlds but is a necessary attribute. John M. Frame declares, “It is also the case that God must exist if there is to be any meaning to the world. In a biblical worldview, God is the basis for all reality, and therefore for all rationality, truth, goodness, and beauty.”[9]

Richards concludes his discussion, “Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). Not surprisingly, he develops it in his reflection on the doctrine of creation, in which he imagines God in the creative act as having before his mind an infinite set of worlds which he could have created, choosing-as befits his perfect goodness-to create the one best in total.”[10] God not only freely chose to create, but because of his perfect goodness, he created the best world possible.

Murphy agrees similarly with Richards that God’s perfect goodness is a necessary attribute and not a contingent one. Murphy declares:

One might think that an absolutely perfect being must be essentially perfectly good, for a being who is perfectly good in all possible worlds is better than a being who is perfectly good in only some worlds. This is the standard thinking behind the idea that the divine perfections are exhibited by God not only contingently, but necessarily: a perfect being is not only omniscient, but necessarily omniscient; a perfect being is not only omnipotent, but necessarily omnipotent; and so forth. As it is better to have a perfection necessarily rather than only contingently, if having some feature is a perfection, then having that feature necessarily is a perfection as well.[11]

Dale A. Brueggemann states, “God is the standard of perfection in the Bible. Although the Old Testament does not explicitly describe God as perfect, it does describe His work (Deuteronomy 32:4), way (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalms 18:30), and knowledge (Job 36:4) as perfect (תָּמִים, tamim).”[12]

Anselm of Canterbury communicates about God and who he is, “And, indeed, we believe that thou art a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.”[13] Descartes speaks to the immensity of God’s perfection, “Thus, because we discover in our minds the idea of God, or of an all-perfect Being, we have a right to inquire into the source whence we derive it; and we will discover that the perfections it represents are so immense as to render it quite certain that we could only derive it from an all-perfect Being; that is, from a God really existing.”[14]

God is perfect, he has an attribute of perfect goodness, and that attribute is a necessity, not a contingent attribute. Perfection is the essence of the Holy One of Israel (Psalms 71:22; 78:41; 89:14; Isaiah 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30:11, 12, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14).

[1] John Damascene, “An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” in St. Hilary of Poitiers, John of Damascus, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. S. D. F. Salmond, vol. 9b, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1899), p. 41.

[2] Charnock, p. 864.

[3] Ibid., p. 865.

[4] Leibniz, Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics Correspondence with Arnauld and Monadology, p. 3.

[5] Ibid., p. 124.

[6] Aristotle, vol. 8, p. xv.

[7] Jay Wesley Richards, The Untamed God, A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), Kindle Edition (Loc 449).

[8] Ibid., (Loc 452-456).

[9] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2002), p. 231.

[10] Richards, Kindle Edition (Loc 477).

[11] Murphy, “Perfect Goodness,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition).

[12] Dale A. Brueggemann, “Perfect,” ed. John D. Barry et al., in The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).

[13] Deane, p. 7.

[14] Descartes, The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, p. 307.

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