Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Good God by Lucas Miles

Miles' book is a defense of his concept of a good God. For me, it just left too many questions unanswered.

Several verses in the Bible describe God is good. But how do we define “good”? Who defines “good”? Miles seems to identify a good God as one who would never cause us to suffer. He writes, “...suffering is never for a specific God ordained purpose.” (69) That is, God would never allow our suffering so that something good might come of it.

How we define “good” makes all the difference. Suppose this scene: A father sees his toddler running to a busy street and manages to tackle him just short of the rushing cars. In the process, knees and elbows get skinned. The child wails, “You hurt me! You're not good!” Or, suppose the toddler is getting a life saving shot from a doctor. As the needle pricks the skin, the toddler cries, “You hurt me! You're not good!” Do we accept the toddler's definition of “good”? Is there a higher definition of good that has a more comprehensive viewpoint?

So it does make a difference who defines “good” and how it is defined. Joseph's story and his conclusion in Genesis 50:20 does seem to indicate that what we would generally consider harmful and painful might, in fact, be part of God's intention for “good.”

Miles writes, “Ironically, the reality of the existence of hell actually gives evidence to the goodness of God.” And, “If hell is not real then God is much worse than we thought.” (187) Does that mean that somebody's suffering is part of God's goodness, as long as it is not we Christians suffering?

Finishing the book, I was left confused. What does it really mean that God is sovereign? Miles believes God is sovereign. “He holds supreme power and he operates in supreme authority.” (54) But, apparently, that does not mean that God has supreme control, that He controls everything. He says that idea of sovereignty is not biblical. Miles labels that belief “extreme sovereignty” and writes, “The extreme sovereignty of God doctrine is the most harmful message that has evolved out of the church in recent history.” (51)

Miles uses the example of a “sovereign” nation. The nation is sovereign over those within its borders but not those in other nations. So, God has the ability to rule Himself...but not others? The analogy breaks down because in Miles' example, there are other nations, other sovereigns. With God, there is no “other.” If a sovereign is sovereign over all within the kingdom, in God's case that is everything as we know it for God created it all.

Is God sovereign over nature? Miles notes that in the Old Testament God used nature for judgment. Now we are under grace and God no longer uses nature in that way. Now natural disasters are the result of the laws of nature, Miles says, implying God is not sovereign over nature or chooses to restrict His sovereignty over it.

First of all, I question whether God no longer does acts of judgment in this era of grace. In Acts 12:23, Herod was struck down by an angel, eaten by worms and died because he did not give praise to God. Then there is Elymas, struck blind by the word of Paul because he was perverting the ways of the Lord. (Acts 13:11) And, lest we think such judgment comes only on unbelievers, there is the incident of Ananias and Sapphira, struck dead because they lied to God. (Acts 5) So it would seem that God still does acts of judgment in our era of grace.

Second, I question whether God no longer exhibits control over nature. Jesus calmed the storm. After the resurrection, Jesus provided for a miraculous catch of fish. The disciples healed various diseases, through the power of the Holy Spirit. So God has control over nature in this era of grace. God could stop a deadly storm. God could heal diseases. So why doesn't He, if He never wants us to suffer? Miles writes, “I believe that the absence of God's power in the lives of many believers today boils down to a lack of knowledge regarding the true heart of God.” (192) Does that mean God does not heal us because we do not have an experiential knowledge of Him?

Miles indicates that some of the suffering we experience is because of our choices. I understand that – the life long smoker suffering from lung cancer. We might suffer because of other's choices – a woman raped because of the choices of another. But there is suffering from “natural disasters,” such as a child killed in a sudden and unexpected tornado. Since Jesus stilled the storm with the disciples, He could have stilled the tornado. Why didn't He?

Miles reminds us of the role of Satan in our suffering. But I am left with questions there too. Miles says that Satan usurped man's authority over the earth at the Fall. However, he also says Christ “disarmed” Satan at the cross, ending his regime. (Col. 2:15) Satan would like us to believe that his power is still in tact. So is some of our suffering because we are not recognizing Satan is defeated? Is Satan somehow deceiving us into thinking we are suffering? How do we correct that deception?

Miles encourages us to “...reap the benefits of our great salvation, which, among other things, includes healing.” (105) But then why aren't we always healed when we and/or others ask for it? Is it lack of faith? That can't be since Jesus (sovereignly) raised Lazarus when Mary, Martha and the others had no faith. In fact, they didn't even understand what Jesus was talking about at the time, thinking He meant the resurrection at the end of time. So God will heal (or raise from the dead) when there is no faith involved. How do we realize the healing that is a benefit of our salvation?

Miles calls into question our understanding of God as all-present, all-knowing, and all-powerful, saying the Bible never mentions these terms. (50) Miles admits, “...God has no limits except those that he places on himself.” (55) He adds, “Although theoretically God could know know all things, Scripture clearly indicates that he doesn't, especially as it relates to man's exercise of free will.” (57) That brought many questions to mind. Does that mean God is surprised by our choices? He doesn't know what tomorrow will bring? How does He do prophecy? How does God, “who has no limits” actually limit His knowledge? How can it be said that Scripture “clearly” indicates God doesn't know everything when Christians have understood that God knows everything, past, present, and future, for centuries?

Miles indicates that God's glory and goodness are synonymous. He uses the story of Moses in Exodus 33:12-20. The way Miles tells it, Moses asks to see God's glory, God says He will do all Moses asked and then shows Moses His goodness. Miles concludes God's glory is synonymous to His goodness. However, when God says He will do all Moses asked, that is verse 17 and refers to all Moses asked prior to that. Then Moses asks to see God's glory, God replies that He will cause His goodness to pass before Moses. Linguistically, this is like my asking to see your art collection and you replying that you will show me your Renoir. Just as I could not equate your Renoir with your entire art collection, the goodness of God cannot be equated with His glory. God's glory includes so much more, as implied by Exodus 33:20. There are aspects of God Moses could not experience and live. We know God is light (1 John 1:5). God is holy (Revelation 4:8). How do those and the other attributes of God relate to His goodness?

There are a few other questions I have, especially regarding Scriptures Miles does not address. How do explain that Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but a sword? (Matt. 10:34) What do we do with Job 38:2 which seems to indicate God had “plans” in all of Job's experiences? What do we do with Daniel 2:21 and 4:25 which say God controls the nations, giving them to rulers as He desires? What do we do with (the New Testament passage) Hebrews 12:29, telling us our God is a consuming fire? What do we do with Paul's instruction in Romans 12:19, to allow for God's wrath, that God will avenge? Why would Paul, in Romans 5:3-4, glory in his sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance, then character, then hope? What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 1:5 about abundantly sharing in the sufferings of Christ? Why does James 1:2 tell us to consider it joy when we face trials of many kinds? What do we do with Amos 3:6 where God declares that, if disaster has happened, He has done it? What do we do with Ephesians 1:11 that tells us that God works everything according to His will?

How do we live with Romans 9 and Paul's illustration of the potter and the clay? Paul seems to indicate God shows mercy on whom He wants and not on others. (v. 18) It seems to indicate God had a purpose for the lives of Jacob and Esau, a purpose put in play long before they were born. (v. 11) What do we do with the idea that God shows His wrath to make His glory known? (vv. 22,23)

The old question remains: If God is good and powerful, then why is there suffering? I feel Miles does not sufficiently answer the question. Is Satan causing the evil? But Miles says Satan has been stripped of his authority and now hides behind deception. (79) So is Satan fooling us into thinking we are sick or suffering? Is my pain merely a deception?

Can we ever really figure God out and understand Him? Paul tells us our knowledge is incomplete. It is like we are looking through a smokey piece of glass. (1 Cor. 12:12) Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God's ways and thoughts are very much higher than ours. Can we really understand God and define Him by our own thinking about goodness?

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Lucas Miles is a writer, speaker, life coach, film producer, and pastor. He is the senior pastor of Oasis Granger, a church community he and his wife planted in 2004. He is also the president of the Oasis Network for Churches, a multifaceted church-planting organization, which serves churches in more than ten countries. He is the principal and founder of Miles Media, Inc. He and his wife live in Granger, Indiana.

Worthy Publishers, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an honest and independent review.

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