Goodness Will Lead You to Truth

goodbeautifultrue

I’m a rational, hard facts kind of person, but I didn’t question complementarianism because it seemed like poor Biblical exegesis or because I heard a great argument for egalitarianism. In fact, I was convinced there was no other interpretation of those hot button verses but the complementarian one. “I do not permit a woman to teach.” Bam. An obvious sentence, if I ever saw one. To be honest, I thought egalitarians were a bunch of angry liberals who ripped the Bible out of context to satisfy their feminist agenda (not that I knew any egalitarians, but strawmen sufficed).

For the first time in my life, I questioned a seemingly-obvious theological teaching on the grounds of morality. God gave women the same gifts as men and forbade them from using them for no other reason than they’re women? That’s the definition of sexism. Sexism is discriminatory. Discrimination is unjust. If that’s how God operated the universe, fine — but I refused to honor a sexist, discriminatory, unjust God.

Did I mention I have a strong sense of justice?

Since I wasn’t a fan of cosmic rebellion, I worked up enough courage to Google egalitarian interpretations of Scripture, hoping there was some sort of explanation for these sexist passages that weren’t kooky or liberal. I, the nitpicky theological geek who had long ago made feminism my personal enemy, was blown away by the egalitarian exegesis. It honored Scripture; it made sense of the historical context of each passage; and it assured me that God was just as grieved at sexism as I, his image-bearer. I was expecting a struggle. Instead I found healing. Egalitarianism salvaged my belief in God’s goodness, and that ended my cosmic rebellion…for that issue.

I’ve struggled with many questions about God before and even more questions after that experience, but I noticed a difference in my questioning. Before, I questioned mainly the logic of Christianity. Does it hold together? Does this make sense of the world? Does this seem plausible? After, I questioned the goodness of God. How can a good God allow such disturbing, disgusting, and totally unnecessary suffering? How can a good God send people to hell when he makes truth so dang difficult to know? How can a good God order not one but multiple genocides? Why did he zap Uzzah for steadying the Ark of the Covenant when it fell? Doesn’t God’s behavior go against Christian morality itself?

After my encounter with egalitarianism, I allowed my sense of justice to pursue these questions and to reject pat answers that excuse monstrosity on the grounds of God’s divinity. My experience with the gender issue taught me that logic and reason weren’t the only factors in discovering truth: goodness was an indicator too.

I think many Christians rely solely on “rightness” when searching for the truth. Arguments about morality, love, justice, and equality can ring hollow with Christians because using anything but literalism and logic sounds like a slippery-slope to being wrong. Christians are willing to say, “The Bible says it; I believe it” or “That’s the truth; tough luck for you” whenever anyone asks a question on the grounds of goodness. They’re so caught up with figuring out what’s right that they forget to ask, “Is this good?”

I used to think this way too — figuring out if something “made sense” or “fit with the Bible,” and never asking any questions beyond that. It’s a normal way of pursuing the truth, and pursuing the truth is an admirable thing. But I don’t think truth and goodness are separable. It’s not possible to have an unjust truth (speaking of truth as a transcendental, not as a fact). And it’s not possible to have an untrue good. If a “Biblical truth” is grating against my soul, I start looking for a new answer.

Now, whenever I’m evaluating a new issue, “Is this good?” is my go-to question. I’ve found more peace, challenge, and mystery by asking this question — because goodness, like truth, is the nature of God.

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6 thoughts on “Goodness Will Lead You to Truth

  1. Bethany C

    Oh wow, another great post, Bailey! I really resonate with the questioning of God not on logical grounds, but on moral grounds. That was totally me too–first with patriarchy, then (when that one seemed pretty well ironed out by an egalitarian interpretation) with hell, genocides, and doggone Uzzah with the Ark! (Although I never remembered his name and always referred to him as ‘the Israelite who was trying to do the right thing and protect the Ark from dishonor, but GOT SMOTE ANYWAY’)

    …’GOT SMOTE ANYWAY’ might well read as the tagline for much of the Old Testament :P

    I imagine you have read some Rachel Held Evans–this puts me in mind of her Huck Finn post in which she recounts the scene in which Huck refuses to do the ‘good’ ‘godly’ ‘moral’ thing for his day by turning in the escaped slave Jim. He very plainly realizes that if this means he is going to hell, so be it. He doesn’t even have a veneer of his perceived moral rightness in the face of an unjust society, the way I do: he flat-out believes he is doing the *wrong* and sinful thing. But he can’t betray his friend.

    For me, this question has led me away from Christianity. I applaud people who are able and willing to do the hard work of examining Christian teachings within the framework of human (some would say, divinely inspired) morality. I know a lot of Christians would say all the predictable things about how ‘we can’t let our own flawed, human morality dictate to God’. Maybe they’re right. I am absolutely aware that I could be wrong and totally off-base. But I feel that in the end, we really only DO have our own sense of morality and justice to keep us from doing and accepting horrible things in the name of God.

    Huge props to you for being willing to do this. It is very scary sometimes. Thank you for sharing.

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    • Bailey Steger

      “Got smote anyway.” Yep. That was an awkward realization. I’m with Origin and the early church fathers who were like, “Sooo, I think the Israelites kind of got God majorly wrong, so we’re going to allegorize the OT.” To be honest, the early church was super uncomfortable with many things today’s church preaches as incontrovertible truth. Have you heard the Eastern Orthodox view of salvation, atonement, and heaven/hell? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on them! If that tradition of Christian thought didn’t exist, I’d probably be doing the painful thing of exiting Christianity too.

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  2. Daniel Abbott

    When I get to heaven, I am going to look for the people I’ve known here. I will be heartbroken if you’re not there. I’m told every tear will be wiped away, but I don’t know how.

    If discrimination is unjust, then discriminating against injustice is unjust. That seems unlikely.

    This is an echo chamber. Inside one only hears their own words bouncing and rebounding back again. It bolsters the self-esteem and confidence. But we grow and change by our encountering contrary positions, real people (not straw men) with real different views (not straw men.)

    We, humans, are able to perceive good and evil. When we observe pain and death, we perceive this to be evil. When we observe some creature or person suffering terribly and dying in that suffering, we perceive this as greater evil, than a creature or person dying without much, or any, suffering. Is this true? How can we determine its veracity?

    If we were omniscient, we could verify our determination of greater or lesser evil. As it is, we are not omniscient. Since we cannot, even, verify the degree of evil, how do we think ourselves capable of discerning the end of a matter whether it is good or evil? And of what quality that good or evil is?

    God is omniscient, according to the Bible: “Knowing the end from the beginning.” He can judge good and evil rightly, if, as the Bible says, he is omniscient.

    The Bible asserts that God is the arbiter (not arbitrator) of good and evil. He is the lawgiver. Christianity hangs on the assertion that God is the lawgiver and the only perfect judge of good and evil.

    Christ lived here without violating God’s law, and he continues to live according to God’s law. I have done evil, willfully, in violating God’s laws. I deserve death and an eternal hell of torment. Christ didn’t die for his sins, he died for mine. This is Christianity that God’s law is perfect and good, and I am a sinner, clad only in the righteousness of Christ.

    When we attempt to use our acknowledged imperfect perceptions of good and evil to judge the morality of God, we make ourselves into gods of God. “The clay saying to the potter: ‘Why do you make me, thus?'”

    When I get to heaven, I’ll look for Uzzah. He may be there. Why we assume that, because God killed him, he won’t be there. I don’t know.

    ***

    If you ever want to look at a similar situation to the female/male debate. Look at the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, their argument, to me, seems rational and logical. What differentiated Korah from Aaron? I mean, other than the obvious, that Korah never made a gold calf for the Israelites to worship, instead of God.

    ***

    I have known many people, who have decided to judge God, on the basis of their perception of God’s morality. I am praying for you, Bailey Steger.

    ***

    I am sorry, if you can’t follow this. I often struggle to stay on topic. There are so many other lines of thought that I want to pursue. And I can’t follow all of them, but I often try.

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  3. Korie

    appreciate your conclusion here. Similarly (but not, really) when I look at my life, instead of asking myself, “Is this a sin?” I ask myself, “Does this produce the fruit of the Spirit in my life?” Reframing can be so helpful.

    Anyways, I enjoy your posts! I’m coming here as an egalitarian Christian who never really thought this topic was a big deal until I married an egalitarian man from a patriarchal family. It still never seemed like a big deal until now, when my husband is staying at home with our 6 month old and I am working full time. Yikes.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Wow, that’s a GREAT reframing! I need to start using that on a regular basis.

      That sounds like a situation that wouldn’t fly so well with patriarchal notions. ;) I hope you and your husband continue to find peace with your lifestyle decisions!!

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