25 July 2012

Not Baby Talk

by Frank Turk

One of the first prayers many of us either learned as children, or taught our own children, is a very simple prayer at mealtime: “God is Great, God is Good.  Let us thank him for our Food.  Amen.”  We do this, I suspect, because we want to teach our children to pray – we want them to understand what is being said when we pray so that it’s not just magic, so that prayer for them is not something they can’t understand.  We want them to know that they can talk to God and understand that He is listening.

I think that it’s a good idea.  In some sense, I wish someone was doing that for us at every stage of our lives so that we can somehow remember that God is listening to our prayers.  I’m afraid that what happens is that as we grow in wisdom and stature and knowledge, eventually we become our own reformed-type people, we get to the book of Romans, and we get overwhelmed by the general Greatness of God – so much so that when we get to Romans 8:26 and we hear the apostle tell us that we don’t even know how to pray, we somehow “grow up” past the place where a prayer like “God is Great, God is Good, let us Thank Him,” sounds like baby-talk.  It sounds like something we have grown up past.

But then we have a week this like last week, where the real world intrudes on our systematically-precise faith.  It’s a week where everyone in his right mind has to ask the question: “If this is the state of the world, how can God be even on-duty – let alone be Good?”  I don’t know where you live or work, but this question came up this week as I talked to the people I know.  The events of the world, the real dreadful tragedies of the world, made this a relevant question this week.  And it made writing a Sunday School lesson about the attributes of God a lot less academic than I expected it would be.

We are studying the attributes of God this summer in this class, and there is quite a list of things guys like Tozer and Pink and Berkhof tell us about the qualities of God.

When we consider this God we are talking about from the Bible, we’re talking about the Omnipotent God whose very words speak the created order into being.

He’s the Transcendent God, the Holy God who is utterly unlike us.

He is the Self-existent God and the immutable God who does not need us for anything, and who has no needs to speak of, and who never changes.

He is the Omniscient God who knows everything, and cannot be taught anything – he’s never surprised or somehow set back on his heels so that he has to resort to Plan “B”.

He is an utterly just and righteous God who cannot abide sin and must punish the guilty.

They say that some attributes of God are incommunicable and some are communicable – that is, some are virtues which God alone possesses, and others are traits or virtues which we can emulate even though we will never get them perfectly right.  And they say that all of these attributes, which are somehow distinct, are also not at all discrete – so you can’t really talk about God’s Just character, for example, without talking about His Long-Suffering.  You can’t talk about his Omniscience without talking about this Immutability, and so on.

But in some sense, then, our expectations of God might be to hope that, at best, he ignores us.   Because when we compare ourselves to Him, He might mean a lot of trouble for us.

Asking God for help could be like being the Tin Man asking Oz the Great and Powerful for help –

Me:  um, God?  May I have a new heart please?


And he’d be right to say that to us – or to say nothing at all to us, to simply leave us to our disobedience, to our trouble, to our ultimate destination of whatever it is he might have decided it to be.

So what hope do we have in this world if the only person or authority who can help me that has all power, all knowledge, and who never changes?  Shouldn’t I only expect him to treat me like the not-much-of-nothin’ that I am?

But one attribute, it seems to me, is the category without which God cannot be God.  And it’s the one which we, sadly, somehow see as the preschool attribute of God – the one we hand over to children because they cannot mistake it or break it.  I'm talking about the Goodness of God.

I'll be talking more about it in the coming weeks.


Call to Die said...

I never could get my four year old son to pray, "God is Great, God is Good." He would always pray, "God is Great, God is Great." (It seems that he had heard that "Great" is better than "Good," and he suspected me of denigrating God with the second phrase.)

More to the point of your post: because we don't trust in His goodness "our expectations of God might be to hope that, at best, he ignores us." I believe that you're right, and that a deep conviction of the goodness of God is basic to the Christian faith. Muslims or Deists can hold firm convictions concerning the other attributes you mention. Christians look at the state of the world-- and at the greatest, most brutal injustice imaginable in Jesus' crucifixion, which was sovereignly foreordained by God-- and then we look to the Resurrection, and we find hope. Hope that God is good, that He has triumphed, and that He will triumph over sin, death, and Hell.

Without the resurrection and the hope of Christ's return to set everything right, trust in God's goodness is senseless.

Mark Lussier said...

Whenever I think about God in relationship to prayer, I'm reminded of the scene in heaven described by John in the 5th chapter of the book of Revelation.

Kerry James Allen said...

Apropo, Frank. I parade one verse before our church constantly which in my mind is foundational to all discussion of God's intersecting with men: "Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes." Psalm 119:68

James Scott Bell said...

Yes, the events of the past week have been on many hearts. I happened to be reading Godforsaken by Dinesh D'Souza, an updating of the classic free will theodicy by way of the Anthropic Principle. The goodness of God is central to the argument.

Looking forward to your posts.

Robert said...

I remember hearing a sermon this week talking about how people can sometimes forget that God actually demonstrates emotion towards us and that He isn't just cold and detached from His creation. God is love, after all. And while love is displayed through work and not just emotion, emotion is involved to some extent. When we read that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life", and then consider that Jesus came from being worshipped in heaven to living as a man, living with the pains and discomfort of being human (yet without sin even in thought), and then dying the physical death of crucifixion and taking on the wrath of God towards sin, it shows how much God actually loves us. The moment we lose our grasp on this love, we risk being in the place of the church at Ephesus that Jesus wrote to through the pen of John. Let us not lose our grasp on the love of God for us wretched sinners. For without His goodness and love, we are all doomed.

Lynda O said...

So true, the simple understanding that God is good. As Mr. Beaver described Aslan to the children in the Chronicles of Narnia, "of course He isn't safe. But He's good."

thepaperthinhymn said...

The fact that God is almost incomprehensibly powerful and fully sovereign is a warm blanket to the soul in times like these. How much more awful would it be if he were not- if he were up there wringing his hands together, unable to stop things and full of angst? That would be too much to bear.

Tom Chantry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Chantry said...

I think this post is a necessary accompaniment to Kerry's post (can we call him "KJ"?) on Sunday. If God is great and only great, then we may walk around with intentionally severe expressions. It is the goodness of God which teaches us to smile, even in sorrow.

Kerry James Allen said...

Tom, DJP has pronounced your comments "value added" so whatever you call me can only increase my value.

Kerry James Allen said...

Or did DJP say of Tom's comments, "Value addled?" BTW, I'm looking forward to your first guest post, AKA "Chantry's Chantings." Proverbs 20:5

Tom Chantry said...

KJ, I only wish your last name were Vanderbilt so that weekends at TeamPyro could be KJV-Only!

Kerry James Allen said...

Tom, your wish is practically granted, since Spurgeon used the KJV almost exclusively. And to the shock of the hypers, Spurgeon preached several sermons from the Revised Version of 1881. Two of the key translators? Westcott and Hort. We better get back on topic or my Pyro career will go up in smoke before it gets off the ground.

donsands said...

Out on the job sites where I work, I bump into many other construction workers who are Hispanic, and i like to say: "hey amigo! Como esta?"
The response is almost always the same: "Bien! Y tu?"

I say; "Bien."

And then my fellow worker, Meir, sometimes will say with boldness and joy, "Oh, there's none good but God!"

I always like to then kick it around a little with amigos, and we chat about Christo sometimes.

Thanks for the post. Made me think how God is with me 24-7, and He is so good to me.

Andrea said...

I am so glad that you are looking at this right now, because I am wrestling with how to answer friends who are dealing with tragedy from an utterly non-biblical framework.

One friend posted a link to a pastor who said that we should not call things "God's Plan," and I read it and thought he made a few good points about not making God the author of evil or the micromanagers of our breakfast menus. But since the bible teaches that God is sovereign I was severely troubled by it, especially in light of the application that she made:

"We DO have free will. But, case in point: I do not believe it was "God's Plan" that 6 beautiful people, 3 of whom were children, were meant to die in a horrific car crash last week. That would never be part of the plan of my God."

So knowing that God is great, and God is good, and God is sovereign, how does one respond to this? "Was too part of God's plan" ???

I mean, it clearly reveals something about my friend which I knew already from her positions on many other things (like gay marriage)-- that is, to her way of thinking, God is morally accountable to her. She reserves the right not to believe in a God who would ordain (or possibly even allow if he had the power to prevent it) such a horrific tragedy.

My thinking (which I hope is based on scriptural principles) is that God does not owe a single human being anything, even "innocent" children who are in fact sinners like the rest of us. Yet he daily blesses us with innumerable good things that we neglect to appropriately thank him for. This we take as a matter of course, as somehow God's job description, so that when the natural consequences of sin, or of simply living in a sinful world, are made manifest, many people simply fly off the handle.

"How could a Good God let something like this happen?!"

And since they conclude that a Good God could not possibly, they either decide there is no God or God doesn't have any actual power in the world.

So what does one say without being a Pharisee (you know those people in the tower must have been really bad sinners) or a Pollyanna (Oh, it wasn't really that bad!)???

I'll be following this series closely. Sure wish I could be a fly on the wall in that Sunday School Class...

Jonesy said...


When I studied the problem of evil, I was told that it can be summed up in the following manner:

Given that

1. God is Good.
2. God is Great.
3. There is Evil/Suffering/Disasters.

then you can reconcile any two of those three statements with each other, but there is not a way to reconcile all three statements at the same time.

In all that I have read as a response to this problem, none of them have satisfied me.

However, I've learned that what is said is just as important as what is NOT said and so, by God's mercy, it dawned on me one day that the problem with "The Problem of Evil" is the way in which it is defined: The many different ways in which people think they have solved "The problem of Evil" always leaves out the fact that God is . . . Wise.

If in dealing with the problem of evil you neglect to consider that God is Wise, you will in nowise see how evil can exist in a world ruled by a sovereign, loving, powerful, merciful, just, righteous and Holy God.

Furthermore, I've concluded that without an understanding that God is wise, you will either impugn God's character or His motives or you will weaken or limit His abilities. In short, you will "kill" God.

To the only WISE God be glory forvever, through Jesus Christ!

Anonymous said...

I've heard R.C. Sproul say that since God is good and God is great, then, while evil itself is not good, it's existence is good.

Because God has decided to allow/permit/determine it.

And God does all things well.

All things.

The doesn't make evil easy to deal with or understand. But it does call us back to letting God defend himself, without my needing to qualify everything that happens that we don't like.

Robert said...


I'd say that the main thing you need to get your friend to do is to take an honest look at what the Bible says, free of whatever personal convictions she may have. Not necessarily in a manner that you say that with regards to this matter she needs to do so, but moreso in a general manner. Until people become Biblically literate (which honestly is a work of God, but He works through means, as Dan points out in GWiP), they are not equipped to reconcile the evil in this world with the perfect, sovereign, good God.

I think that I see more and more each day that this is the problem and honestly, it infuriates me to see Scripture taken out of context or even ignored so that people can defend the god of their own making. Which wouldn't be so frustrating if they didn't try to say that their false god is the God of the Bible.

I know you're probably looking for something more directly applicable, but I think it is best to really start at the root and let people either accept or reject Scripture. At some point that is what it really comes down to as far as what we can see. We know that God causes the acceptance of those who believe, but we can't see that until we see the acceptance and repentance/fruit in the life of the believer.

I can speak from personal experience because this is How God saved me from the false religion of the RCC. I have a childhood friend who is now a pastor and God worked through him to show me the truth of Scripture and how my beliefs didn't align with that. We wouldn't know that God is really good without a hearty examination of Scripture.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Jonesy, I don't see why those 3 would be difficult to reconcile, really, unless people don't understand that we all are the evil ones. What is hard to reconcile (or at least, understand) is why God doesn't allow even more unpleasant, evil things to be perpetrated on us but instead gives us an incredible number of chances to repent and even causes us to do so! If we got what we deserve, we'd all be dead.

Anonymous said...


I'd even go so far as to say that if you can't reconcile all three statements at once, then you won't be able to make sense of Scripture...or life.

FX Turk said...


Consider the statement, "there are 1 million+ abortions in the US every year, and all those babies are babies God could have saved, but didn't."

Now re-read your last comment. You are welcome to revise and extend your remarks.

Robert said...

Echoing Frank's thoughts, if something that God does not (present & future) or has not done, then there is no possibility that He could. He is perfect and doesn't choose between options...He decides and it is perfect. Again, this is something that only becomes clear through the leans of a Biblical worldview and Biblical literacy. Our problem is trying to align our will with His. I remember Sir Aaron correcting me about this once on here and once I really examined the implications of what I said, I saw where I had strayed.

Nash Equilibrium said...

An extension but not a revision: A natural consequence of his letting us, who are evil, have multiple chances to turn would be that we are still free to perpetrate evil on others, some of whom are innocent.

donsands said...

"...perpetrate evil on others, some of whom are innocent."

Like the son of perdition betraying the Son of God.

A great mystery to us, I would think, on this side of glory.

There are things we can not know, that God knows.

Have a great and good time this weekend, with the Olympics and all that! And have a blessed Lord's Day with our Savior in worship and fellowship.

Halcyon said...

DEVIL: "How dare you turn your back to me. Slave! You will tell me your name."

JESUS [takes off helmet and turns]: "My name is Jesus Christ the Lord. Logos of all Meaning. Begotten of the Father. Very God of very God, without confounding the Substance or dividing the Essence.

Creator of a Death-enslaved world. Groom to a Hell-besieged Bride. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."

...just sayin'. 8^)