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Can man be good without God?

I don’t really follow these things, but I was reading about how a comedian, Ricky Gervais, mocked God during the Golden Globes awards. Gervais was subsequently interviewed by Piers Morgan, and this is what he said in part:

[Christians] don’t have a monopoly on good is my point, I’m not a Christian but I live my life in a good way.

Some people say “who says what good is?” But you know what I say? ‘I do’. I’m good to people because it’s the way I want to be treated. And I don’t believe I’ll be rewarded in heaven, I will be rewarded now.

The subject Morgan was trying to get to was Gervais offending Christians, so let me say at the outset that I’m not offended by Gervais. A bit saddened and amused, yes, but no real offense taken. God is big enough to handle this without too much of a problem.

The ironic thing here is that, up to a certain point, Gervais’ “theology”, if you will, is pretty darn good. If you examine what he says, he is expressing a concrete faith that certain spiritual dynamics rule Creation. He believes that good exists. He believes that he has an inner witness as to what that good is, and what it isn’t. He believes that if he does good he will be rewarded. That’s all very solid indeed.

What Gervais fails to consider, however, is that an orderly universe – and never mind the mere physical order that’s readily apparent, as awesome as that is, we are taking here about the moral order that Gervais referred to – points to a moral Creator. Does he really think that all these principles that he acknowledges happened by accident, or that they somehow developed through some insufferably long evolutionary process? The plain fact is that it takes more faith to believe either of those possibilities than to give credit to a God with moral character.

Gervais is correct in believing that if he does good he will tend to be rewarded in kind. But then, evil is in the world, and if all we consider is payback in the here and now, our reward can be overridden by evil at any given time. It comes with the fallen territory. What does Gervais do then? The plain fact is that most lives are going to encounter evil.

The perennial root question at play here is whether man can be good without God. The answer is no, but we will never really see proof of that in this life. Here’s why. The Bible is clear that God has left a witness to Himself both in the order and grandeur of nature and in the inner nature of man’s soul. Whether he acknowledges it or not, the sense of right and wrong, love and hate that Gervais feels inside is part of that witness. For that reason, Christians shouldn’t argue against what people like Gervais say. They instead should affirm the truth of what has been said and then question where they think their inner witness came from. They should argue that they haven’t taken their logical thinking far enough.

If I’ve got my eschatology right, some day the Holy Spirit will be pulled completely from those who refused God’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation. Then we will see, all too terribly, the answer to the question of whether man can be good without God. But for now, whether it’s an atheist or a believer that does good, it is God who is the author of all the good that is in the world. And it is very shortsighted, and quite wrong, for man to take final credit for it.


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