What Good Is God?

In his New York Times bestseller Good Without God, Greg Epstein points out a fascinating statistic: “Even if we exclude the approximately half of non-religious people who say they believe in some form of ‘spirit’ . . . there are still more than half a billion people in the world who live without belief in God.”

Good Without GodImpressive, but not surprising. Particularly in modern Western society, a growing contingent no longer affiliates with traditional religions, instead preferring science as an alternative and—dare we say—superior source of truth and knowledge. The question “Does God exist?” is no longer as relevant as it used to be, and a new default question takes its place: “Since God doesn’t exist, how should we live?” Such an environment simply assumes deep and abiding skepticism regarding the Bible’s authority and truthfulness, and therefore, its applicability.

At the forefront of this movement are the humanists. According to Epstein, “Humanism is being good without God,” which, at the core, is about “taking charge of the often lousy world around us and working to shape it into a better place.” It’s a tantalizingly compelling rally cry for our generation, and countless individuals inspired by this vision of a just society for us and by us have been working tirelessly for goodness, human flourishing, the end of suffering, and equal rights worldwide.

But none of these goals is new to Christianity; in fact, many humanist and Christian aims are in complete agreement, and it’s quite feasible for the two groups to work in tandem to find solutions to the myriad problems facing our world. Which begs the question: “If we can be good without God, why do we need God at all?” Might as well get rid of the redundancies.

Light of the World

Before we throw out the baby with the bathwater, however, we need to recognize that “good without God” is not a statement about the existence of God; it is an indictment against Christians. Such ideologies gain popularity in part because Christians so often fail to turn the other cheek or go the extra mile or love our neighbors as ourselves. Unless accompanied by compelling examples of Christ-like behavior, apologetics or theology will not convince many people that there is indeed one true and living God who will some day make all things new.

But what a difference it would make if they would see the fruit of the our faith, evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As the fragrance of Christ to a lost world, followers of Jesus diverge from the ways of the world as we live with a mission and purpose informed by the gospel message.

And so we find that Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:14-16 ring ever so true in our day and age:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

The light will only shine if our hearts have been transformed by the love and grace shown to us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Gazing upon Christ, his work in our place, and our justification before God, our hearts melt with gratitude and joy and we devote our lives to spreading the gospel as we await Jesus’ return, when he will renew his creation.

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Join Redeemer Presbyterian Church on Sunday evening, November 17, as Greg Epstein talks with Tim Keller about the implications of C. S. Lewis’s classic essay, “On Living in an Atomic Age.” A time of questions and answers will follow. This event commemorates the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death. Prior to the conversation, Max McLean (Listener’s BibleThe Screwtape Letters) will perform a dramatic rendition of “On Living in an Atomic Age.”

You can watch this special event via live webcast on Sunday at 7 p.m. EST.
  • JoseRoberto

    Dear Ed, Chris, and Daniel,

    “Good without God” isn’t necessarily an indictment of Christianity so much as an excuse for unbelief. If someone thinks they’re doing just fine without “religion”, they have no need of a Savior. You say Christians need to live better so our light shines, etc., and indeed we do. But those whom you’re speaking of will reply that your religion is good “if it works for you, but this non-religious human goodness works for me.”

    So what do you tell them then? If you don’t tell them there is judgment coming, and their goodness won’t save them from it, and the only way is repentance and faith in Jesus, then you have not told them the true Gospel. The free offer of salvation in Jesus isn’t good news to anyone until the Holy Spirit first convicts them of the bad news and their need for a Savior. But as Jesus said, there are many who refuse to believe Moses and the Prophets, and they will not be convinced even if someone rises form the dead.

  • http://theoldadam.com/ the Old Adam

    A God that would raise people from the dead and give them new life when they don’t deserve it in any way, shape, or form…is a good God.

    We have no other evidence of God’s goodness, apart from the fact that He gives us life and provides for us.

    Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus and atheists can all do good works, so what does that prove?

    We walk by faith and faith alone. And even that ability to trust in God and our Lord Jesus is a gift from Him and not something that we can muster up on our own.


  • Kenton

    Good article… except “good without God” isn’t an indictment against the lack of Christian love. Rather, it comes about precisely because of those “redundancies”. Christians have been using love as an evangelistic tool for decades. But what we fail to realize is that we live in a “post-Christian” culture, one that has inherited and reapplied Christian morality to a secular, humanist mold. This is precisely why “good without God” exists. And frankly, the above article doesn’t actually answer the point.

    Christians should always be Christ-like, but that’s just a matter of integrity. To fully address this humanist maxim, however, we’d have to answer three questions:

    1) What does it mean to be good?
    2) What is the purpose of human existence in relation to God?
    3) What is the purpose of divine existence in relation to human beings?

    The first question is the main question, but it can’t be answered unless the other two are answered. This isn’t simply apologetics. This has everything to do with what it actually means that there is a God whom we follow.

    The point that we need to make through these answers is that there is no such thing as good without God, because to be good is to be in right-standing with Him and to live according to His ways. While humanists and Christians might seem to share a moral sense – one that comes from God – only one group actually fulfills the good, which is to reflect the goodness of God in our good deeds.

  • David

    C.S. Lewis addressed this very question in his essay, Man or Rabbit?, found in the collection, God in the Dock. Very succinct and insightful. Given that it was written somewhere around 1946, it is helpful to remember that this discussion transcends time and place. In fact, it is THE timeless issue human beings must answer. And Lewis properly focuses the discussion on the central issue: Is Christianity TRUE? In this postmodern age, such a question may seem quaint. It may even seem sterile. But Lewis’ reasoning is not mere intellectualism; it is cogent and compelling both rationally and experientially. Thus, he implicitly combines the exhortation to Christians to BE good (something impossible to us without Christ), while at the same time refuting the notion that “goodness” has any real or ultimate meaning apart from Christ.

  • Nathan W.

    People are still grabbin’ for that fruit of the tree of knowledge and good and evil, not knowing it’s poison for the soul. The God of the Bible is the only god who says, “Stay away from that tree!”

  • Bryan

    Seriously? I don’t see “Good without God” as an indictment against Christians… it is Romans 1 in action. This is the result of turning away from God, not the result of reacting against “bad Christians”. This is exalting human good works, without exalting God…it is the ultimate expression of rebellion and unbelief to think men can make humanity better without the need to acknowledge their Creator, and their need for a Savior. We should absolutely evangelize the lost and let our light shine before men by proclaiming the Gospel in words AND by the way we live…but I fail to see how that is the cause of the rise of secular humanism.

  • Jason

    Just watched the webcast with Keller and Epstein. While Epstein seems like a pretty good guy and humanist, I felt that he most of his statements and points, were really light in general. His premise of “experience” being the main driver for us for doing good did not seem cutting edge and myopic. I don’t think anyone who agnostic, atheist, or theist would say Epstein had some amazing points. Just my opinion.