Might Makes Right

Is God good? When we say “God is good”, we have to understand that that is true in a different sense than we usually mean “is good”. This gives me yet another opportunity to quote Slick Willie: “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is“. When we say “God IS good”, the verb ‘is’ gets a rare opportunity to serve an active role. ‘God’ is the subject, ‘good’ is the direct object, and ‘is’ describes God’s act of bringing into BEing. God is not good as compared to any standard of ours; He defines the standard.

And He is good despite having many qualities we would not consider good in a person. He is jealous, He is judgemental, He is self-promoting, He hates. How does God get away with it? One answer is because He is perfect, so He has every right to be those things. Indeed, God is the only reasonable egotist (that’s a phrase of mine I’m hoping to get into circulation; help me out and tell a friend!). But just like ‘good’, the word ‘perfect’ is unhelpful, since it means total conformity to a standard. “God is perfect” is only useful as a means of illustrating that we are not perfect, i.e. we are not like God.

God is what He is — again in an active, not passive sense. He is self-determining; and this is why our attempts at self-determination are the ultimate sin (which none of us can deny). If God is self-determining, then by definition, nothing else can be. As the omnipotent, omniscient creator and judge, He is able to make the rules, to set the standard. And He is able to have qualities we would find despicable in ourselves because He has the authority and power to back them up. Might MAKES right. God IS good. Same thing.

So how can we apply this lesson in the domain of human existence? Basically we can’t. For us fallen mortals, any puny might we might have does not make right. More might does not make right; only All might can make right.

It is for this reason that I think The Office (or The Office, original BBC-style) is a great show. The theme of the show is the way in which Michael Scott (David Brent) and Dwight Schrute (Gareth Keenan) continually attempt to pridefully be something they are not. This is why the show is funny; their pretensions (Michael/David is funny, and a beloved boss, Dwight/Gareth is “Assistant to the Regional Manager”, a killing machine, etc.) are always shown to have zero backing. Their incessant attempts to claim validity/usurp authority are ridiculous and thus hilarious. However, the humor is often discomforting; I think this is because they are but an exaggeration of ourselves. We also think ourselves what we are not; we are reminded that we cannot live up to any meaningful standard we profess.

Hence my tagline up there: There are three kinds of people: hypocrites that admit it, hypocrites that don’t, and people whose standards are too low. You know it’s true (you hypocrite)!

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24 Responses

  1. Hmm – maybe you were diappointed the palaver had died down.

    You seem to be defining God there. Is He really limited to something you can describe? Even in my view, a description of God, which centres on a desire for closure on the part of dissatisfied mortals, requires a descriptive range which is beyond our capability to close succinctly. The human psyche is an evolving meta perception, maintained by asynchronous communicating individuals, with stiff systems (churches, the literature) and slow, weakly correlated background effects (default spirituality, a desire to inquire).

    Your attempt to describe God might be hypocritical?

  2. You seem to be defining God there.

    Not comprehensive enough for a definition. Merely describing.

    Is He really limited to something you can describe?

    Absolutely not. But like any other blind man, I can describe a subset of the elephant. Even the Bible is not a complete description nor definition of God, but it is much better than anything we could come up with ourselves.

  3. So, like the blind man, you’ve grabbed the trunk and decided He’s a snake?

  4. Did you reach out, miss, and decide the elephant’s not there?

  5. Indeed, if I had to rely on myself, I could come up with only an insufficient description of the elephant.  But the elephant gave me a book (written in the mysterious language of analogy-braille). I am happy to believe what the book says about the elephant; regardless of whether the elephant's intentions towards me are "good" or "evil", I might as well do what he says, because it is self-evident that it is only his grace that prevents me from becoming elephant toe-jam.

    Might makes right.

  6. You seem to be defining God there

    Also, to clarify, although “God IS good” looks like a definition of God (“Think of good. That is God”), I mean it in the exact opposite sense (“Whatever God is, that is how good is defined”).

    In yet other words, I am not calling on you (people) to understand something new about God by associating him with what you think is good. I am calling you to understand something new about good by realizing that it is not us, but God, that has the authority to set that (or any) standard.

  7. a description of God, which centres on a desire for closure on the part of dissatisfied mortals…

    Why? Where did this desire come from? (And what is a “default spirituality”?)

    …requires a descriptive range which is beyond our capability to close succinctly.

    How about this:

    Q: What is God?
    A: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
    Westminster Shorter Catechism, #4

    Or how about this:

    I AM WHO I AM
    God

  8. Forreseter – nice one, but the metaphor has broken. I could suggest that you are hanging on to a white elephant, and I’m checking out the rest of the stall. Not very helpful.

    Default spirituality – everybody has a spiritual-feeling moment at some point in their lives. It’s a chemicals thing. We rely on intelligence to see through it, to bother working out how to fix the problem, or optimize the joy.

    Might makes right. That’s utterly hateful. Let the subdued rise up against the tyrant. Tyranny is not good.

    Wait, you’re acceding tp scripture because you’re scared of God? OK, a valid reason to worry like that would be if you thought we had a soul. Hell and all that. That could relate to not thinking consciousness is not physically represented.

    Do you spend any time wondering what consciousness is, or do you attribute it to a gift from God?

  9. There were too many “not”s in the penultimate sentence.

  10. Might makes right. That’s utterly hateful. … Tyranny is not good.

    You've missed the point. You're still thinking in the finite, human realm. Absolutely Hitler's might doesn't make right. Saddam Hussein's might doesn't make might. Not even America's might makes right. And that is why tyrrany is evil — the wrong "right" that it tries to establish with its finite might clashes with right right which is established by infinite might. Which is why I said we cannot "apply this lesson in the domain of human existence."

    Let the subdued rise up against the tyrant.

    Good luck rising up against omnipotence. But that's what we all do, really, when we try to live autonomously, rejecting God's Lordship.

    Wait, you’re acceding to scripture because you’re scared of God?

    It only makes sense to respect the authority of an omnipotent being. How ridiculous would it be to shake your fist at the omnipotent being and yell "I don't accept your authority!" Accept it or not, the authority is there. So I accede to scripture because I believe it to be the means by which omnipotent God chose to reveal Himself to man.

    And yes, we are commanded numerous times in the Bible to "Fear the Lord."  (Here's 34 times) Scared:fearful::tomato:tomato? Not really. Biblical "fear" is mostly about respect and awe (dare I say "shock & awe"?). For those under God's grace, that respect and awe is accompanied with gratitude for merciful salvation, and for others, yes they should be scared.

  11. Gratitude and fear: I understand that’s coherent with belief in God, if you already believe in Him. I get the gratitude thing – I always have a sense of gratitude when things go well. I think I’ve mentioned my religious oops when I hooked up with my wife. That was a very strong sense of gratitude, and I guess I wanted to be able to point it at something. That must be hard wired in. That would equate with humans wanting religion.

    You think I should be scared because I don’t respect God. Fair enough. A lot of people with my beliefs would laugh at that. But, I know you mean it, and you’re deadly serious. You might even be saddened by my attitude. Probably much more than I’m saddened by yours. I’m more saddened by Forrester’s and Howard’s, which are less contemplative.

    As regards salvation – I’d love to be saved from this mortal toil and anguish. But I have to do it myself with the help of fellow human beings. The idea of an eternal paradise is great – but I won’t be there. I won’t be in hell either. I just won’t exist any more.

    I think we must constantly work to explore the concept of right. This is entirely consistent with a presumption of selfishness, because errors reflect back on us through society. This isn’t perfect feedback – ask OJ’s lawyers – but we have to work with approximations and update them. So, Howard’s asserion of man’s moral partiality works (I hadn’t spotted this angle ’til now).

    I know you believe there’s more to it than that. Why don’t I?

  12. You think I should be scared because I don’t respect God

    I think that, given your beliefs, your lack of fear is eminently reasonable. As a fairly logical guy myself, I don't expect you to be scared of something you don't believe exists.

    Maybe this is going out on a limb, but it could be that it's not possible to be justifiably scared; the only way to be scared is to see the gulf between self and God; and the only way to see that gulf is if God shows it to you; and God is only going to show it to you if he is graciously giving you the faith to also accept salvation.

    Howard’s assertion of man’s moral partiality works

    That's not ringing any bells…

    I know you believe there’s more to it than that. Why don’t I?

    That may be a deeper question than you know. I can argue until I'm blue in the face, but only God can truly open eyes. Maybe the only answer is the underlying (and unsatisfactorily mysterious) reason for everything: for God's own glory

  13. Interesting passage. to an atheist reading of that, the lead character comes across as a bit of a manipulative berc.

    I imagine we’re back to a point where I’ve insisted that the place the inspiration was hormonal. I think it’s a more interesting question than you appreciate. And you can’t argue against hormones.

    Howard spends a lot of time insisting that man can’t be morally neutral – there’s an example in seedlings:why seven?.

    I’ve remembered a thing from my childhood at school. A friend came out with a bizarre response to the potential for a French test. “I haven’t revised, in case there isn’t a test.” I tried to expliain to him how absurd that stance was. The fact that this doesn’t shake me under the present discussion tells me for sure that I don’t believe I’m going to be judged in some arbitrary manner at the end. I’m constantly being judged, and I’m constantly revising.

  14. how wide is the definition of god?

    i have a conception of god, and of something for want of a better word i would call ‘spirituality’ – that, i would argue, christian theology has come closest to explaining… after all it has encompassed and integrated immense bodies of knowledge, from plato through aquinas to its current state…

    but i don’t really see the point in continuing with a narrow definition that will only alienate non-christians.

    i believe that only a truly religious/spiritual revolution will be able to heal the world – but i’d say the different religious language itself is one of the problems that is getting in the way…

    eg: you identify yourself as a christian and people are already not listening to anything you have to say…

    anyway – that’s kind of what i’m attempting with my new website – a new religious sensibility, drawing on the history of western culture without alienating non-believers… http://www.simplyconnect.org

  15. eg: you identify yourself as a christian and people are already not listening to anything you have to say…

    Yeah, I’ve never found Ruberad worth listening to. If only he were more contemplative …

  16. Read simplyconnect – it’s hilarious!

  17. i don’t really see the point in continuing with a narrow definition that will only alienate non-christians.

    I don't really see the point in widening to a false definition that allows non-christians to think they are not alienated from God.

    It's not necessarily wrong that Christian language alienates. The bible describes the cross as an "offense", and "folly to the unbelievers", and "a stumbling block to the Jews". If you remove these qualities from the gospel, then you're preaching a different gospel.

    I gotta say that I haven't read simplyconnect. I tried, and I was thwarted by — guess what — your language! Right out of the gate, I was swimming in a vat of nebulous platitudes. My advice, ditch the simplyconnect thing, and reinvent it as a book about a new philosophy of business management. You'll make a killing! Or why not become a minister in the Universalist Unitarian church? They'll love your message (but then again (by definition) they love everything)!

    So I'd like to wish you the best, but not if you're going to be watering down the gospel.

  18. Mr. S. Connect: you claim that your "new worldview" "owes much to christian theology", and yet

    simplyconnect believes that alienation from our true nature and each other is the root cause of all the suffering in the world.

    Which demonstrates that you are fundamentally opposed to Christianity, which believes our fallen, sinful nature is exactly what is wrong with everything. The only solution lies in the crucifixion of self, in recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

    At this point, I am done with you. You can post more comments if you want, and I might not delete them, but I won't engage you on the topic of your worldview anymore.

    Here is my final offer; if I made a donation of $20 to simplylconnect.org, would you use it to buy a keyboard WITH A WORKING SHIFT KEY?

  19. […] Recently limejelly asked the very honest and profound question: I know you believe there’s more to it than that. Why don’t I? […]

  20. When RubeRad says, "We also think ourselves what we are not…," I am reminded of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet.
    That sentiment is beautifully expressed in his poem, "To a Louse," where he says:
    "O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!" [sic]
    If God (the "giftie" in the poem)would let us have that power, we would be better people…or would we?

  21. Amen! (except I think God must be the Power in the poem). When God gies us the giftie to see ourselves as He sees us, we have no option but repentance, whereupon we become a New Creation, certainly much better.

    I think from now on I don’t want birthday presents. I’d rather get some gifties. That would be niftie.

  22. Ruberad suggested I read this older post to fill that “Rube shaped hole in my heart.” He was right, I feel better already.

    I have some questions for Lime regarding his question #8:

    How do you know that the spiritual feeling thing is a “chemicals” thing?

    And, if the spiritual feelings thing is ‘chemical,’ then why isn’t the so-called by you “intelligence” just a ‘chemical’ thing.

    And, if we are all just bags of chemicals anyway, what is tyranny? Why be offended with it? Seems to me in your world (seems like a materialistic one to me) that there are no real ‘feelings,’ ‘intelligence,’ or ‘morals.’

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  23. I thought you might like to know that “might makes right” is right at home with the medieval position known as “nominalism” – championed by William of Ockham -and opposed by St. Thomas Aquinas. Nominalists argued that God could, if he so willed it and requiring no justification for it, decide to make all the elect reprobate and all the reprobate elect on the last day just because he can. Aquinas argued conversely that God’s will is “tethered to his nature” and thus is limited in power. There are some things that God is not able to do.

    The link between nominalism and the “might makes right” theory comes from the idea that naming (willing things to be what they represent) takes precedence over the essence of a thing. In other words God could if he so willed it make right wrong and wrong right.

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