Is “good” good because it’s inherently good, or because God says it’s good?
It’s a question C.S. Lewis raises in his book “Reflections On The Psalms”, and I think our answer to this question has significant implications towards the way we see the world and the way we live our lives.
If “good” is only good because God declared it so, it’s possible that what we consider “evil” might instead have been named “good” by God. Instead of extolling the virtues of faith, hope and love, Christians today might laud hate, anger, and selfishness. Perhaps the “holiest” among us would be sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s really not a far stretch to imagine a world like this, if God is the one who declares and defines “good”. This leads to relativistic world views where what is “good” is defined by what we believe “good” to be. It means each system of belief can define for itself what is “good”. It means you can justify hurting people who don’t follow your system of belief because they are against what is “good” according to your worldview (think: ISIS).
On the other hand, if “good” is good because it’s inherently good, then it is good independent (if such a thing were possible) from God. This means that even if there were no God (if such a thing were possible) then those things we consider “good” would still be good. It also means that any “god” or system of belief which espouses anything other than what is inherently “good” must be wrong, but we are not released to attack those who follow such beliefs lest we risk contradicting what is “good” ourselves. If “good” is good regardless of God, then it never changes; it is eternal. Who I believe God to be today will not influence what is “good” if “good” is independent from God.
I think this is why the Bible says things like, “God is love.” It is not possible to separate the Creator from the Created, but if it were, love would be the preeminent virtue of what is “good” in this world. And because love is inherently “good” regardless of which faith system I fall into, God must be love because love is inherently good, and God cannot be “evil”.
If I follow this thought down the rabbit hole a bit further, I see that by affirming the inherent “goodness” of certain things I must simultaneously relinquish my monopoly on God. If “good” is good independent of God, then those people who fall outside my belief system, even those who don’t follow my God (or should we say ‘MY god’), may still be “good”.