Thursday, October 31, 2013

Is God good? - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"At this stage some rise up, saying that the Lord, by reason of the rod, and threatening, and fear, is not good; misapprehending, as appears, the Scripture which says, 'And he that feareth the Lord will turn to his heart;' and most of all, oblivious of His love, in that for us He became man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Clement is beginning a refutation of those who claim that a judicious God, one who disciplines, corrects, judges, and threatens, cannot be a good and loving God. Clement asserts that those who hold such beliefs do so through a misapprehension or misunderstanding of the scriptures. While God at times may appear harsh and exacting in the scriptures, this does not contradict His goodness or negate His love for us. Over the course of this chapter (chapter 8), Clement will argue this point in greater detail, but first, he sets out to establish the point that in all ways and in all times God is good.
"For more suitably to Him, the prophet prays in these words: 'Remember us, for we are dust;' that is, Sympathize with us; for Thou knowest from personal experience of suffering the weakness of the flesh. In this respect, therefore, the Lord the Instructor is most good and unimpeachable, sympathizing as He does from the exceeding greatness of His love with the nature of each man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Perhaps the greatest demonstration of God's love for mankind is that He became a man, lived among us, died for our sins, and was resurrected to secure for us new life in Christ. God is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He too was once a man and experienced the same struggles and temptations that we face, although without sin. Thus God showed Himself to be good in that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves; He gave us salvation when salvation was quite beyond our reach. For us, He became both the just and the justifier. "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." (Hebrews 2:14-15)
"'For there is nothing which the Lord hates.' For assuredly He does not hate anything, and yet wish that which He hates to exist. Nor does He wish anything not to exist, and yet become the cause of existence to that which He wishes not to exist. Nor does He wish anything not to exist which yet exists. If, then, the Word hates anything, He does not wish it to exist. But nothing exists, the cause of whose existence is not supplied by God. Nothing, then, is hated by God, nor yet by the Word... If then He hates none of the things which He has made, it follows that He loves them. Much more than the rest, and with reason, will He love man, the noblest of all objects created by Him, and a God-loving being. Therefore God is loving; consequently the Word is loving." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Clement quotes from the Book of Wisdom, "For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned." (Wisdom 11:24 NAB) It must be remembered that such books were not yet considered apocryphal by the church at that time. Also, it's good to remember that many of these early writers were trained in logic and philosophy which can be seen in the construction of their arguments.

Clement's basic point is that nothing exists without God having willed it to exist therefor nothing exists that was not wanted and willed by God. Consequently, nothing created by God is hated by God rather loved by God for why would God create what He hates. Consequently, both God and the Word are loving. God loves all that He has made, especially man, which is the zenith of His creation.
"But he who loves anything wishes to do it good. And that which does good must be every way better than that which does not good. But nothing is better than the Good. The Good, then, does good. And God is admitted to be good. God therefore does good. And the Good, in virtue of its being good, does nothing else than do good. Consequently God does all good. And He does no good to man without caring for him, and He does not care for him without taking care of him. For that which does good purposely, is better than what does not good purposely. But nothing is better than God. And to do good purposely, is nothing else than to take care of man. God therefore cares for man, and takes care of him. And He shows this practically, in instructing him by the Word, who is the true coadjutor of God’s love to man." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
To love something is to wish it good. God, therefore, not only loves us but wishes us good and, in wishing us good, does good to us. This good that God does for us is seen in how takes care of us. God not only cares for us but practically shows His care by caring for us. Caring for someone is purposefully doing of good for the one whom you care for. For God, this care for us is shown, in part, in His instruction towards us; His teaching, guiding, directing, and correcting of our lives. It is a care that is practical and visceral not merely theoretical and mental. In all these things it is right and true to say God is good.

More to come...

David Robison

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