4 Reasons why goodness without God is not good enough

I was listening to William Lane Craig, professor at Talbot School of Theology debate Paul Kurtz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The topic was, Is goodness without God good enough?

‘Interesting question,’ I thought. Where does good come from?

How or why would we be good if God didn’t exist? Would we be good? Could we be good? The question lingers in the air as I ponder the thought.

Among the many arguments apologists use for the existence of God, the moral argument intrigues me the most. Both Christians and atheists alike struggle with the problem of pain & suffering, and the problem of evil.

From human trafficking and the exploitation of children all the way down to Lions killing gazelles, the existence of pain and suffering doesn’t sit well with us. And the thought of God permitting evil is downright offensive.

So, what do we do with the moral argument? Let’s take a closer look.

I am very much a amateur apologist, however, there seem to be four themes that emerge from the moral argument.

1. All Morality and rules come from a higher authority

Morality is a biological adaptation no less than our hands and feet and teeth . . . . Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, and any deeper meaning is illusory . . .
~Michael Ruse, philosopher

My oldest daughter has her permit and is learning to drive. Teaching your kid to drive ranks right up there with potty training and explaining the birds and the bees! Let’s just say . . . . I don’t love it!

Sitting next to her in the passenger seat, I say things like . . . 

  • you don’t have the right of way, you must yield
  • slow down! you can’t go over the speed limit
  • use the left lane to pass someone on the freeway

Are the ‘rules of the road’ innate? Were we born knowing them? Or, can we just say that we do them because it is the right thing to do? Of course not! The government makes the laws, and we are expected to follow them.

All rules that we must follow come from a higher authority.

Why did we have to be home by 11 when we were teenagers?
Why did we finish our homework before we played with friends?

because of a higher authority –> our parents

Why do kids have to get a hall pass to go to the bathroom?
Why do kids have to do physical education testing?

because of a higher authority –> the school

Why do we have to take a class to become members at church?

because of a higher authority –> the church

Why do we have to be at work by 8:30?

because of a higher authority –> the boss

Why do we have to wait until we are 21 to drink alcohol, or until we are 18 to vote?

because of a higher authority –> the government

The rules that we follow are given to us by a higher authority. Whether they come from parents, schools, churches, the government, or a boss, they come from somewhere. And they come from something higher than us.

Does God have to exist for moral values to existWell, yes! All of the rules that we follow come from a higher authority.

Why can’t I sleep with someone that isn’t my spouse?
Why can’t I just ignore the neighbor that needs help?
Why do I have to live by the golden rule?
Why should I support a child in Africa?

because there is a higher authority –> God

And, much like the universe, moral values and duties must have a cause. Everything comes from something. Nothing can exist uncaused or uncreated, except God.

2. We take care of ‘the least of these’

A friend at a local ministry recently told me that in Ethiopia, in order to control the number of homeless kids that roam the streets, or “street kids” as they’re called, they drive through the city and shoot them. How horrific! How could anyone shoot children?!

Without the existence of God, without the existence of objective morals values, this action might be the best for the community or the species as a whole.

Yet we find the thought of it reprehensible. Why?

As part of the Darwinian Theory, the idea of survival of the fittest is widely accepted in the scientific world and beyond. In other words, those that are better equipped for survival will survive and those that aren’t, won’t.

Yet, we intervene in this process, and help the ‘least fit’ to survive. Why?

As a purely scientific description, disabled people are not ‘the fittest.’ So, why should we help them to survive if morals are merely a biological adaptation? If there is no God who tells us to love and care for ‘the least of these’, then why do we do it?

‘We just know it’s the right thing to do’ is a painfully insufficient answer. It doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

The reality is that we do feel compelled to take care of disabled people. Many government agencies and nonprofit organizations are dedicated to bettering the lives of those with disabilities. We spend a lot of time and resources helping the weakest of our species.

Thank God that we care for these precious people. They make life so much richer.

3. The necessity of pain, suffering and evil

I always wonder why people have such a problem with the existence of pain and suffering. And, why do we assume that evil should not exist?

According to William Lane Craig, evil may be necessary for a world with the greatest amount of good, and one in which there is the greatest number of people who know God. 

Take the 1998 movie Pleasantville. A brother and sister are thrust into the perfect world of a 1950’s sitcom. Like Leave It To Beaver, everything is just swell. Though there is no color in their world and every day is exactly like the one before, it is safe and perfect. There is no violence, pain, hunger or injustice.

However, there is also no adventure, no love, no romance and no passion.

Another movie that illustrates this is The Giver (yes, I’m a movie junkie!). After a tragedy destroys most of the earth, a self contained, isolated, utopian society is created. One in which there is no disease, hunger, or war. Citizens take daily injections of a substance that gets rid of emotions. And memories of how the world once was, have been taken away.

Once memories are returned to them, they see the triumphs of man; love, compassion, and cooperation. And, they see the darkness of man; war, terror, and injustice. Tears of joy are shed as memories of the real world flood their minds.

A real world is better than a perfect one. The world that God created is much richer then a perfect world ever could be. 

4. The existence of purpose and meaning

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Does God matter? How important is a purpose driven life?, human beings are why creatures. We not only seek to know what, and how things work, but also, why we are here and why things happen. We want to know there is a reason. And whys lead to purpose and meaning.

And, if there were no God, and therefore, no meaning or purpose in life . . . .

Why would we want to better ourselves?
Why would we pursue happiness?
Why would we go on a mission trip to feed the poor?
Why would we write a novel or a song?
Why would we love?

None of these are necessary for health or survival.

Without meaning or purpose, human beings would simply be the most advanced primates; the top of the food chain. As humans we may have awareness, and advanced cognitive abilities, but beyond that, without God, we’re just animals outside of the zoo.

It is not merely a question of ‘Is goodness without God good enough?’ It is that there would be NO goodness without God.

There would be no morality. There would be no one assisting people in need. There would be no color, passion, or love. And, there would be no purpose or meaning to our lives.

Without God, goodness would simply not exist.

Having eyes to see; taking the scales off

After a time of great trial in my marriage, my husband and I were talking in a small group with some friends.  We shared how God’s presence had been so evident in the midst of our crisis.

Great suffering opened our eyes to the enormity of God. And, His presence had never been so real.

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   -CS Lewis

As we were talking about this, someone protested by saying,

“What if I haven’t experienced a major crisis? What if no one close to me has died or has a disease or I haven’t experienced any tragedies? Does that mean that I can’t experience God like you have?”

I remember my answer,

“Well, no, God wants everyone to have a close relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t experienced suffering, loss or tragedy. God wants everyone to experience His presence.”

Looking back, I realize the naivete in my response.

If I were asked that same question today, I would have a much different answer.

Does a person need to go through peril, danger, crisis, pain or suffering in order to really see God and feel His presence in the most profound way?

I think the answer is yes. Crisis and tragedy in life can take the scales off our eyes so we can truly see Him. There is something about the presence of God in the midst of great trial or suffering that we can’t get in the midst of comfort.

You might say that seems unfair. Pain and suffering are not equally distributed among us. Many of the awful things that happen in this life are seemingly accidental or random.

To that I would respond by asking this question.

‘Are you living like Christ did, or are you comfortable?’

The other path to experiencing God in the most profound way is to suffer in serving. You may not necessarily have experienced tragedy or crisis in your own life, but when you serve others, you can experience it second hand.

Loving and serving others is the very picture of Christ. And, people who live like Christ WILL experience more of Him than people who don’t.

God promises us in scripture that if we follow Him 1) we will suffer, and 2) He will always be with us.

though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;  Psalm 23:4

Being with the lepers, ministering to the lowly and unclean, loving and feeding the poor, visiting those in prison and walking where there is great danger and great need was Christ’s ministry on earth.

If you walk with lepers, minister to the lowly and unclean, love and feed the poor, and walk where there is great danger and great need, you WILL experience the overwhelming power and presence of Jesus Christ. And, most likely you will suffer.

If you don’t do those things, you may or may not.

I mentor a young mother of three kids and her boyfriend who live in the inner city.

When I began doing this, I was uncomfortable. Having always lived in the suburbs, the downtown neighborhoods scared me. Being the minority didn’t feel good. And, I didn’t understand the culture. I very much felt like a fish out of water.

Even though the city is only 30 minutes from where I live, it is a completely different world.

I would pray on the way to pick them up because I didn’t and still don’t know entirely what God is doing with this family. I didn’t have the right words to say. I wasn’t a social worker problem pensive girl at window profile sad black and whiteor a psychologist. And, on the way home I would wonder, ‘Am I making a difference? Am I doing anything at all?’

My husband got involved as well to help the boyfriend finish school and get a job. There were many evenings when he and I would be in our kitchen talking about this couple.

Whenever I am downtown whether it is in government assisted apartment buildings, the WIC office, the social security office, or the hospital in the ‘bad side of town’, I am in the midst of the poor, the oppressed and the needy. I am in the midst of parolees, thieves, domestic violence perpetrators, and drug users. I am among the lost. And, this is exactly where Jesus would want me to be.

Being in a hopeless, depressing, and dangerous environment is unpleasant. It’s burdensome. But, we are called to love and care for the hopeless, the depressed, and even the dangerous.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me . . . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”   Matthew 25:35,36,40

My point is that it is hard. I wouldn’t dare say that this constitutes pain and suffering for me. But it is one small example of how we should be putting ourselves where Jesus would be. It is an example of going into the mess with the ‘messy’, and suffering with those who suffer.

Who did Jesus spend much of His time with? Where was He during His ministry on earth?

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31-32

My sister-in-law goes to Africa two or three times a year to do ministry for women in Bigstock: 63818828 - AMBOSELI, KENYA.jpgZambia. They love and care for women and children who, without this ministry, would not be loved and cared for.

The more trips she goes on, the harder it is to return to the states. She feels deep sympathy for the people of Africa she has to leave behind. And, she has become ‘different’ as a result of following Christ to help the needy, and therefore, experiences loneliness and isolation when she comes back.

She has allowed God to break her heart for what breaks his. And, she is often heartbroken.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.   1 John 2:6

We are to be a light in the darkness, which means that we sometimes have to GO TO the darkness in order to be the light. The light shines the brightest in the darkest places.

“let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”   Matthew 5:16

As we go into these dark places, He will make His presence known. God will always be with us . . . . . always! And, if we follow God where He leads, His glory will blow us away!


Jesus Wept: Allowing God to break our heart for what breaks His

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  Romans 8:22-23

One morning I spent time on my knees crying out to God. I was filled with sorrow and anguish. My soul ached within me and I was heartbroken. I don’t understand what you are doing, Lord. Should I be over this by now? Please tell me. Am I causing my own pain and distress? Is it me, Lord?

I anguished and I groaned in prayer.

I sometimes feel like the people in the bible who tore their robes and beat their chests. I anguish about my wretchedness, I anguish about the state of the church in this country, I anguish about my kids and the next generation, and I anguish over brothers and sisters in Christ who are thoroughly beaten down.

Why do I feel so utterly anguished about certain things? I ponder this question. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. What society and the current thinking tells me is that76569 there must be something wrong with me.

If I told people about my anguish they would probably look at me like I had three heads. They would probably be horrified and maybe call a priest for an exorcism.

God doesn’t want us to anguish does He?

With these questions came a crisis of faith. Not in the sense that I doubted God. I didn’t. I knew that God was who He said He was. I knew His promises were true and His Word was life and breath to me. No, my crisis wasn’t about God, it was about me.

It centered around these two questions: 1) Why do I experience such deep anguish? and 2) Is something wrong with me?

I haven’t really known what to do with my deep sorrow that I experience from time to time. In a society where pain of any kind is unacceptable, I feel weird and alone. It is more socially acceptable to avoid pain by any means possible than to walk through it.

Some common reactions to a person who experiences anguish might be

  • trying to talk them out of it, “it’s not that bad”
  • seeking to cheer them up, “come on, look at the bright side”
  • telling them how they are being too negative

Some might start avoiding that person completely. Nobody likes a ‘Debby-downer’.

A few weeks ago I saw a friend of mine from college. We went out to dinner and she filled me in about her life in the last 10 years. It was fraught with trials, difficulty, conflict, and trauma. Having known her a long time, I also knew that she had a less than ideal childhood. She never had much of a support system, and I felt bad for having lost touch with her through the years.

After the evening was over, I went home and collapsed on the couch. I was exhausted, almost heavy. It was like she unloaded some of her burden onto me. And, I physically felt it. I felt a little heavier and she probably felt a little lighter.

As the next few days passed, I continued to think about our conversation. I thought about how she was in such a difficult and confusing time. I thought about her experiences that caused her to feel unworthy and unimportant. I thought about how she had been treated so unlovingly by those around her. I thought about the drama in her family that she faced on a regular basis.  And, it filled me with sorrow.

At that moment, I realized how similar my friend and I were. We were both messy people who experienced anguish.

What do we do with messy people?

  • What do we do with people who have serious baggage?
  • How do we handle those who have had a hard life where things haven’t always worked out?
  • What do we do with people who aren’t always happy and upbeat?
  • What do we do with those who don’t have and may never have a strong family or support system?
  • What do we do with people who frequently wrestle with God and experience uncertainty?
  • What do we do with people who are in the storms of life?

When we aren’t avoiding them completely, we tend to say flippant things reflecting a spirit of ‘turn that frown upside down’. We suggest things like, the power of positive thinking. In other words . . . . Get over it!

We don’t want to hear the messy, sad stories. We don’t want to hear about complex problems that don’t have easy solutions.

We tend to embrace joy and reject sorrow. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Are we rejecting people, God’s beloved children, because they don’t always fall into the joy category?”

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  Luke 10:33-34

Scripture says that the good Samaritan:

  • took pity him
  • went to him
  • bandaged his wounds
  • poured on him oil and wine
  • took him to where he could get more help

This beaten, bloodied man would not necessarily have been pleasant, upbeat or positive. What if the good Samaritan had responded like this to the man on the road instead?

  • You’re not really hurt
  • Think positively
  • Turn that frown upside down
  • Shake it off

troubled-womanWhat if the good Samaritan would have said something cliché and walked away? Obviously, he wouldn’t be considered ‘the good Samaritan’, and the man on the road would never have gotten the help and attention that he needed.

Some people are just luckier in this life than other people. Some are valued, talented, loved by many, lucky in love, supported and generally have many successes. And, there are some that aren’t or don’t. The majority of us live somewhere in between.

Who is willing to fight for my friend? Who is willing to get in the mess with her and share in her anguish? Who is willing to be burdened with a complicated situation when they don’t have to be?

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  Isaiah 61:1-3

Who will anguish for a tortured soul? Am I willing? Are you? Will we leave these messy people outside the gates while we are within?

So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus.  Hebrews 13:13-15 (The Message)

I decided to do some research on anguish in the scriptures. I wanted to know who experienced anguish in the bible and what God had to say about it. As I did, I realized that those who have anguished are in good company.

David anguished.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.  Psalm 22:1-2

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise  Psalm 51:10

So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.  1 Samuel 30:4

Nehemiah anguished.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Nehemiah 1:4

Elijah anguished.

He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” 1 Kings 19:4-5

Hannah anguished.

So Hannah ate. Then she pulled herself together, slipped away quietly, and entered the sanctuary. . . . . . Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried—
inconsolably.  1 Samuel 1:9-11

Paul anguished.

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race.  Romans 9:2-3

Even Jesus anguished.

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Luke 22:41-44

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Matthew 26:38

Jesus wept.  John 11:35

Could experiencing anguish be a part of becoming more like Christ?

I also found a blog post that stunned me called, A Call To Anguish by David Wilkerson. It was written by Natalie Nichols on the Shades of Grace Ministries website, http://www.shadesofgrace.org/2009/10/29/call-to-anguish/.

There, I found this 7 minute clip

This clip was based on a powerful sermon by an evangelist who passed away in 2011. He is the author of The Cross and the Switchblade. This clip moved me like nothing else has in a  long time.

I have listened to this clip several times and I still weep. And I ask myself, why? Why does it move me so much? Then God speaks to my heart.

The picture of someone so anguished, and burdened for the heart of God that they walk in heaviness like David Wilkerson in this clip is so beautiful. Preachers that speak with such anguish and emotion don’t really exist anymore.

There is nothing as beautiful to me as someone like my friend in complete anguish because their heart is aligned with the heart of God. It is an awesome thing when a person is willing to suffer for their God.

I started to think that maybe being in anguish was not weird or wrong. Maybe I was being more obedient to God than if I didn’t anguish. Maybe anguish should be a part of the life of a disciple of Christ.

So, maybe . . . .

When we allow God to break our heart for what breaks His, we are the very picture of Christ

Let’s consider getting into the mess with people, because Christ did.

Below, I have written out this clip from David’s Wilkerson’s sermon. Please excuse the grammar as this was originally a sermon not a text.

“I look at the whole religious scene today and all I see are inventions and ministries of man and flesh. It’s mostly powerless. It has no impact on the world. And I see more of the world coming into the church and impacting the church rather than the church impacting the world.

I see the music taking over the house of God. I see entertainment taking over the house of God. Obsess with entertainment in God’s House, a hatred of correction and a hatred of reproof. Nobody wants to hear it anymore.

Whatever happened to anguish in the house of God? Whatever happened to anguish in the ministry? It’s a word you don’t hear in this pampered age. You don’t hear it. Anguish means extreme pain and distress; the emotions so stirred that it becomes painful. Acute deeply felt inner pain because of conditions about you, in you, or around you. Anguish. Deep pain. Deep sorrow. Agony of God’s heart.

We’ve held on to our religious rhetoric and our revival talk but we’ve become so passive. All true passion is born out of anguish. All true passion for Christ comes out of a baptism of anguish. You search the scripture and you’ll find that when God determined to recover a ruined situation He would share His own anguish, for what God saw happening to His church and to His people. And He would find a praying man and He would take that man and literally baptize him in anguish.

You find it in the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem is in ruins. How is God going to deal with this? How is God going to restore the ruin? Folks, look at me . . . . Nehemiah was not a preacher, he was a career man. This was a praying man. God found a man who would not just have a flash of emotion, not just some great sudden burst of concern and then let it die. He said ”No. I broke down and I wept and I mourned and I fasted. Then I began to pray night and day.

Why didn’t these other men, why didn’t they have an answer? Why didn’t God use them in restoration? Why didn’t they have a word? Because there was no sign of anguish, no weeping, not a word of prayer! It’s all ruin!

Does it matter to you today? Does it matter to you at all that God’s spiritual Jerusalem, the church, is now married to the world? That there is such a coldness sweeping the land? Closer than that, does it matter about the Jerusalem that is in our own hearts? The sign of ruin that is slowly draining spiritual power and passion. Blind to lukewarmness, blind to the mixture that is creeping in.

That’s all the devil wants to do is get the fight out of you. And kill it. So you won’t labor in prayer anymore. You won’t weep before God anymore. You can sit and watch television and your family go to hell.

Let me ask you . . . . Is what I just said convicted you at all?

There’s a great difference between anguish and concern. Concern is something that begins to interest you, you take an interest in a project or a cause or a concern or a need. I want to tell you something I’ve learned over all my years, of 50 years of preaching. If it is not born of anguish, if it had not been born by the Holy Spirit, where what you saw and heard of the ruin that drove you to your knees, took you down into a baptism of anguish where you began to pray and seek God.

I know now . . . . . oh my God do I know it. Until I am in agony, until I have been anguished over it. And all our projects, all our ministries, everything we do . . . where are the Sunday school teachers that weep over kids they know are not hearing and going to hell?

You see, a true prayer life begins at the place of anguish. You see, if you set your heart to pray, God’s going to come and start sharing His heart with you. Your heart begins to cry out – oh God Your name is being blasphemed! Holy Spirit is being mocked! The enemy is out trying to destroy the testimony of the Lord’s Faithfulness. And something has to be done.

There is going to be no renewal, no revival, no awakening, until we are willing to let Him once again break us. Folks, it is getting late, and it’s getting serious. Please don’t tell me, don’t tell me you’re concerned . . . when you’re spending hours in front of internet or television. Come on.

Lord, there’s some need to get to this altar and confess ‘I am not what I was, I am not where I am suppose to be. God, I don’t have your heart or your burden. I’ve wanted it easy. I just wanted to be happy. But Lord, true joy comes, true joy comes out of anguish.

There is nothing of the flesh will give you joy. I don’t care how much money, I don’t care what kind of new house, there is absolutely nothing physical that can give you joy. It’s only what is accomplished by the Holy Spirit when you obey Him and take on His heart.

Build the walls around your family. Build the walls around your own heart. Make you strong and impregnable against the enemy. God that’s what we desire.”

A Call To Anguish clip by David Wilkerson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGMG_PVaJoI

A Call To Anguish, the complete sermon, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayYizi9TZAQ