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Can you be good without God? [Sermon Notes]

StNicholas Goulburn


Can you be good without God?
Sermon Notes From Sermon
Presented By The Reverend Ross Hathway
On The 21st of May, 2017

Psalm 34 & 1 John 1:1-10

Rationale:  Christians have accused atheists of being immoral and recently atheists have responded that it is quite possible to be good without believing God.
Christians should recognise that this is true: we are made in God’s image and God preserves good in the world.

We need to thank God for ‘good’ atheists
Bible speaks of the idea of ‘common grace’.
That is, God cares for his world;
He maintains human society far more than any of us deserve.
One way he does that is to preserve something of his image in all people.
One reflection of that image is that people still have a sense of right and wrong and sometimes live from that. 

Paul in Romans 2 > Gentiles who “who do not have the law” but “do by nature things required by the law” (Romans 2:14).

Conscience is hard wired for us.
Paul’s point is not that any Gentiles are morally perfect but that Jews cannot pride themselves that they are better than Gentiles.
Gentiles, without the law of Moses, do the right thing, while the Jews, who do have the law, are often shown up as sinners by that very law (Romans 2:17-29).  

So the Bible doesn’t teach that only people who have proper beliefs can be good.
(The kind of goodness we are thinking of here is not an absolute goodness of lives lived in full devotion to God but the relative goodness of people who show care for their neighbours and act with a recognisable integrity).

But the discussion needs to go to another level.
The question is not whether atheists can be good, but whether atheism is as a worldview offers a vision of real goodness.
Can atheism really make sense of our moral experience or provide satisfying account of ethics/moral principles and values?  

(To put it another way) How do you think about ethics apart from God?

Consequentialism is one attempt to get ethics going without God. It holds acts are good or bad as depending on consequences. Good consequences are those which are preferred by people (or other beings) who are affected by an act.

Evolutionary ethics is another attempt to develop a non-theist ethic.
Human biology has developed a conscious concern for others and from this developed a capacity for making judgements about right and wrong.
The suggestion is that these developments proved to be advantageous for human beings and therefore should be promoted.

There are all sorts of problems with this conclusion.
Most of all: a naturalistic ethic can’t get a hold on the kind of principle of ‘justice’ that our sense of justice wants.
> A really satisfying ethic needs a compelling vision of goodness and justice.

Without God we can’t make sense of goodness (or justice or truth)

That is why God is basic to ethics.
Atheists will sometimes argue that morality was around a long time before religion (particularly Christianity).
Plato, however, thought that goodness, justice and truth existed in a transcendent realm which found a reflection in world we experience directly.
Without knowing the true and living God he had an inkling of a greater goodness which gives direction to life.
That seems to be an example of what Paul was talking about in Romans 1.
(Very different to the atheistic position which rejects any transcendent reality).

Meeting goodness.
We don’t have to settle for an inkling of what goodness is like, because God has revealed himself. The opening verses of 1 John say that in Jesus God has made himself available to be heard, seen and touched so we can have fellowship with him.

This God is “light” and in him is no darkness.
He is perfectly, thoroughly, ravishingly good.
So when we know him we are called to live in His light
He has made that possible through Jesus.
We have a wonderful compelling vision of goodness in Jesus.
We meet a God who is a servant and lover,
He gives up his own rights and power to suffer for his creation;
He loves the truth and is utterly faithful,
He faces lies and betrayal for our sake. > Cross.

When the atheist asks where we get the idea of God’s goodness from we point to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Jesus doesn’t just show us what goodness is like…
He invites us into fellowship with him so we share in his goodness.

It is not easy to describe God’s goodness because it is so wonderfully immense.
Puritan: Stephen Charnock describes God’s goodness:
“A boundless goodness that knows no limits, a goodness as infinite as His essence, not only good, but best; not only good, but goodness itself, the supreme inconceivable goodness.”
The Bible speaks often, and with great delight, of God’s mercy, compassion, grace and patience. Psalm 34 is a wonderful reflection on God’s goodness.

It leads us through a contemplation of the signs of God’s goodness: he answers, saves his people and protects his people (Psalm 34:3-7, Psalm 34:17-20); he provides for his creation (v10); he judges the wicked (vv15-16). It also shows us how we respond to the good God: praising him (vv1-3); pointing others to him (v11); and taking our moral direction from him (vv13-14).

At the heart of the psalm is an expression of the deep joy and satisfaction that comes from fellowship with the good God: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (v8), good in life comes from God (v12). Psalm 34 reflects on Israel’s experience of God. We can takes its words as ours with even greater confidence because of Jesus.
God cares for his people and his world and gives us satisfaction in fellowship with him through Christ

Ultimately an atheistic worldview leaves life barren and purposeless.
At the very best it offers us the chance to impose our own desires onto the world to make our own moral vision.
The reality of God is an invitation to live in fellowship with the Light and enjoy his light, to taste and see that he is good.
Our challenge is not just to show that this makes better sense than atheism but to live it well.