by Matthew Tingblad
Probably the greatest need in Christian apologetics today is to help others understand that God is good. This can be a challenging prospect because God does many things in the Bible which do not appear to be good.
For instance, God commanded the Israelites to drive out the people of Canaan (Deut 7). God flooded the earth in Noah’s day (Gen 6–8). God struck down the firstborn sons of Egypt (Exod 12:19). Moreover, there are challenging doctrines such as hell, and difficult questions such as how God could be morally right to forgive sinners by having his innocent Son killed.
Thus, the Christian apologist seeks to show that these challenging aspects of God in the Bible are appropriate and even proclaim the goodness of God. But does this mean we come to the text of the Bible with a bias? Is this really an honest, objective approach to biblical interpretation?
In the musical Wicked, the Wizard of Oz sings a defense of his questionable morality:
A man’s called a traitor or liberator;
A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist;
Is one a crusader or ruthless invader?
It’s all in which label is able to persist!
These lines show that with enough equivocation, you can spin almost anything whichever way you want. Does the Christian apologist fall into the same error when defending the goodness of God?
It is certainly possible for the apologist to take a difficult passage and force a “good God” interpretation that does not fit. This does no service to God, Scripture, or our message. All biblical interpretation should be done with integrity. But that does not mean we are wrong to approach these difficult texts with an agenda to reveal God’s goodness.
Biblical grounds for hermeneutical bias
If the Bible is true in all that it teaches, then the goodness of God is not in question. After all, the Bible teaches explicitly that God is good. Nahum 1:7 (ESV) says, “The LORD is good.” Psalm 25:8 says, “Good and upright is the LORD.” Dozens of other verses could be provided. So any attempt to reveal the goodness of God in difficult passages or doctrines of Scripture is, in reality, an attempt to use clear passages to make sense of less clear passages—a perfectly sensible hermeneutical approach.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s perfectly clear that, for example, God ended Uzzah’s life for touching the ark in Second Samuel 6. But the narrative never explicitly says that God is bad or evil because of it, and there is no contextual reason to think that the author of Second Samual was trying to convey this negative view of God.
So, in light of other passages which explicitly proclaim God’s goodness, we are reasonably justified to seek out an understanding of Uzzah’s death which upholds the goodness of God. The same could be said for virtually any other difficult passage of Scripture.
Likewise, the atheist or skeptic has no ground to conclude that the Christian view of God, according to the Bible, is bad or evil. At best, they could claim that the Bible contradicts itself by arguing that it teaches God is both good and not good. This would be an attempt to show that the Bible cannot be trusted, which is a different issue entirely.
But for the Christian, when we find compelling evidence that the Bible is trustworthy, then we are logically motivated to tie up the loose ends by finding solutions to seemingly contradictory passages. This would apply to issues of God’s goodness, as well as other apparent contradictions across the Gospels and elsewhere.
A reasonable bias to biblical interpretation
We may not be totally satisfied with every solution we propose. But that does not mean we lack hermeneutical integrity. It means we are committed to the infallibility of Scripture, which itself is a doctrine that can be reasonably defended through Christian apologetics. If this is a biased approach, then it is a reasonable bias, grounded on our persuasion that the Bible is right in all that it teaches.