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Go well with God, go well with good.

By Bruce Spittle in All Sorts

understandings of goodness and God

Go well with God, go well with good.
My invitation to participate in the current Connections roster ended with the short sentence Go well with God. I wondered what it would have been like if it had said instead, or in addition, Go well with good. The relationship between God and good is raised by the enigmatic statements in the Dunedin Methodist Parish masthead: Finding good in everyone, Finding God in everyone. The sentences differ in the central vowel o in three letter word God being doubled in the four letter word good. Words that differ in this way may still have a related meaning, e.g., ten and teen, but usually they do not appear to be related in meaning, e.g., bot and boot, cot and coot, hod and hood, lot and loot, mod and mood, non and noon, per and peer, rot and root, son and soon, tot and toot, and wed and weed. The question arises as to whether God and good have a related meaning. This possibility is raised by the farewell good-bye being, according to the Oxford English Dictionary 1933, a contraction of the phrase God be with you (or ye), For example in 1588 Shakespeare’s Loves labour lost (III, i, 151) “I thanke your worship, God be wy you”. The dictionary comments that the substitution of good for God may have been due to association with such formulas of leave- taking as good day, good night, etc.
The words God and good do not appear to have a common origin. The dictionary notes the origin of God is disputed but may come from the root gheu- and mean an object of worship. Good is considered to be a variant of gad, which means to bring together and to unite, so that the original sense of good was to be pleasing, fitting and suitable.
As with poetry and other cryptic expressions, readers are free to place their own interpretation on the masthead enigmas. Finding good in everyone is perhaps the easiest to find a meaning for. We can have qualities that may be more or less admirable. From both a compassionate and a Christian perspective, we can be accepting and loving to all, to see others as fellow human beings, and respect others for simply being alive. It can be easier to love others when we are recognize them as fellow humans with whom we share much and understand that we all have similar basic needs. Finding God in everyone may be open to more interpretations. In the vision of God used by The United Church of Canada, God is a creator and we live in God’s world, which is presumably the world God has created. God also works in us by way of the Spirit and thus finding God in everyone might refer to finding something that might represent the Spirit of God working in someone. This might show itself by the person celebrating the presence of God, living in a respectful relationship to what God has created, loving and serving others, seeking justice and resisting evil, and proclaiming Jesus as someone who was crucified and then rose. The United Church of Canada sees that God is with us in life, in death and in life beyond death and that we are not alone. Although we might be able to find God in others, as shown by their behavior which could be seen as reflecting the presence of the Spirit of God, this would only be a part of God and that God would also active in other areas such as creativity. In this traditional view of a theistic God, one is able to communicate in prayer with God who is also a separate entity outside of ourselves and who may or may not respond to the supplications made in prayer.
In his 2007 book God is the good we do, Michael Benedict notes that all three of the great Western religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam— rest on the assertion that a single supreme intelligence of infinite power—namely, God—created order in the universe. Before that there was only chaos and desolation. God separated day from night, above from below, ocean from dry land, put the sun, moon and stars in the sky, and put all living things upon the earth. God created “the world,” the home for humankind, in six days and it was good. However, since the sixteenth century, this account has been seen to conflict with natural science and science-educated believers may hold that while God might not have created the universe exactly as the Bible says, God probably, in some way, set off the Big Bang and put the laws of physics in place, setting the values of certain physical constants “just right” for the universe to persist and for life to emerge more or less as Genesis describes. God also devised the process of evolution, a process in which he could intervene but which he prefers to let run on its own. This last, more scientific deist view of God is less personal than the Bible’s theist view, which has it that God not only created the world but watches over it to this day, manages it in every detail, and can be spoken to. In the deist view, God made The Rules, designed some elements, wound it all up rather like a giant clock, and then let it run. The God of deism is, in Benedict’s view, certainly not the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus or Mohammad. But God’s prior and underlying existence as God (or as The Absolute, the Invisible Ground of Being, Creative Principle, or some such abstraction) is not seriously questioned by deism. Nor is God’s immensity. Benedict challenges both traditional theism and deism and describes a theology of theopraxy. He notes that several philosophers have argued that the Biblical God is a reflection of human moral striving, a projection of human virtues onto the figure of an ultimate father cum mastercraftsman and sometime warrior. Benedict’s theology is more radical and understands that God is what we take a good God to want: namely, goodness in deed, our goodness in deed. Benedict asks “Is God in the good we do? and answers “Yes,” but because God is only in the good we do, we can all-but-equivalently say that God is only the good we do. Benedict suggests that God is the good we actually do as we do it, not the good we might do, contemplate, plan or remember doing. Nor is God good in the abstract. God is an activity. God performs “himself” through us and at the same time is performed by us. God exists in many places but not everywhere; as many acts but not all. Theopraxy does not see God as being in acts of goodness (thus leaving us to imagine God being elsewhere too, doing “God knows what”) but as acts of goodness, and therefore here, now, with us, “in our hands” only and always.
Go well with God, Go well with good. - Bruce Spittle