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Religion: Classical Theism, Part 5 (God’s Goodness and Justice)

People often say that God is good, and that God is just. But in what sense is God good and just? This video presents an argument from Classical Theism that God’s goodness and justice do not, as Theistic Personalists, think, count as *moral* goodness; rather, they follow from seeing God as the fullness of being.

Speaker: Dr. Elmar Kremer, Emeritus Professor, University of Toronto.

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Video transcript

Hello. My name is Elmar Kremer. I'm a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Toronto. This is the fifth in a series of talks on classical theism. In the last two talks I explained how the difference between classical theism and theistic personalism leads to different understandings of God's power and knowledge. In this talk I want to continue that line of thought by showing how classical theists and theistic personalists are led to quite different understandings of God's goodness and justice. For theistic personalists, God's goodness is a simple maximum of the goodness of persons. Just as some things move faster than others, and the speed of light is the greatest speed around, so also, some human beings are better persons than others, and God is the best person around. Since the overriding good of a human being is moral goodness, theistic personalists conclude that God's goodness is that of a morally perfect person. And, like a morally good human being, God is justified, made just, by the agreement of his actions with what is morally right. Classical theists have a very different view of God's goodness and also of his justice. They deny that God's goodness is /moral/ goodness because moral goodness is something /earned/ by a being who could possibly fall short of perfection. But God, according to classical theists, is good because he is the fullness of being. Classical theists also deny that God is just because his actions agree with what is morally right. Rather, they think that God is just because his creation is in agreement with his knowledge of his own goodness, a point I will be explaining momentarily. To understand this position, it is important to note that not all goodness is moral goodness. There is a broader and deeper sense of "good" in which to be good is to be desirable -- not to be attractive in a passing, superficial way, but rather to be and end or goal which fulfills and perfects things when they possess it. Examples of such goods in human life are friendship, knowledge, and the experience of beauty. For creatures, what is good in this broad sense, is always the actualization of what the creature has the potentiality to be. As I mentioned a moment ago, classical theists hold that God is good because he is the fullness of being. Consequently, he is perfect and good simply by being there. But classical theists hold that God is, in addition, the goal of all created things. First, every created thing is fulfilled if and only if it gives glory to God. Second, every created intelligence is fulfilled if and only if it possesses God in knowing and loving him. Because God is the fullness of being, he can satisfy the desire of every intelligent being. Although classical theists deny that God's goodness is moral goodness, they do recognize that God is just. In their view, however, God is not just because his actions agree with the moral standard of justice, Rather, God is just because his will is his love of his own goodness. Aquinas expresses the contrast succinctly. Quote: "What God does according to his will, he does justly: as we do justly what we do according to law. But whereas law comes to us from some higher power, God is a law unto himself. That does not mean that God's will is arbitrary. On the contrary, God's creative will is in agreement with his knowledge of his own goodness. That's why God's will is just: it couldn't be otherwise. I have explained how classical theists conceive of God's goodness and justice, but how is God's justice expressed in the created world? Classical theists would say that God's justice is present in the perfect order of the world. The world is perfectly ordered because it is a composite in which the existence of every part and whatever happens to it contributes to the coexistence of a variety of creatures each of which imitates God's goodness in its own way. The great variety of creatures itself makes the world a good world because the variety better reflects the goodness of God and gives greater glory to God than any one creature could do by itself. The expression of divine justice in a perfectly ordered world requires an addition that all intelligent creatures have a chance for happiness and that they never receive a lesser reward or greater punishment than they deserve. Indeed, according to Aquinas, God's justice is always accompanied by mercy so that intelligent creatures always receive more good and less punishment than they deserve. It is far from obvious that the word is ordered in that way, but in writing about God's justice, with respect to intelligent creatures, Aquinas assumes that there is life after death.