Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, California and leader of a worldwide healing ministry has just released a new groundbreaking book whose purpose is to further understanding on the topic of the goodness of God and, if his estimation is correct, hasten the conversion of souls worldwide.
It is Johnson’s belief than one of the great obstacles to people in our modern day responding to the good news of Jesus is a low, tainted and even unorthodox opinion of God’s goodness held by the church. According to Johnson, people cannot receive the good news of Jesus Christ because they cannot see a good God.
Perhaps you have heard of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church, and perhaps you have not. Either way, this post will be of interest to you.
I plan to explore the topic of God’s goodness in light of the ideas put forth by Johnson. God’s goodness is a topic worthy of discussion, because the truth is, we often hold a low opinion of God, whether it pertains to His goodness or His greatness. And any opinion inferior to the truth never serves us. It is my conviction that the more we are aligned with what is true, the more successfully we are at living life, and this certainly is no truer than on the topic of God and His goodness.
The best starting point perhaps is to point out that Bethel Church of Redding has never shied away from controvery, and Johnson’s latest book is no exception to this rule. Bethel has been at the forefront of modern church movements including its embrace of the reality and practice of miracles, signs and wonders and also what has been dubbed “dominion theology.”
I will make no attempt to explain these things in great detail here; allow me to just say that Bethel has led the charge in what many worldwide have embraced as a new and emerging theology concerning God’s intention not only for souls to be with Him for all eternity by accepting Jesus but also to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth, just as it is in Heaven.
God is in a Good Mood
At the heart of Johnson’s message however has been the simple but revolutionary idea that God is good. He is known for declaring often that “God is in a good mood,” and for Johnson, this declaration is more than just a feel-good expression: It serves as a framework for the presence of God’s miraculous activity upon the Earth in our day. That is to say: The reason God performs miracles, signs and wonders is because fundamentally He is a good Father who loves His children.
The belief in God’s goodness also serves, in Johnson’s view, as a vital function for God to do great things in our lives. For if we do not fully embraced the goodness of God, our faith is diminished, and so is God’s ability to do great things is also. To believe God is good, therefore, is not only appealing but necessary.
The importance of knowing God is a good Father in Johnson’s theology extends beyond the doctrine of the miraculous. An uncompromising belief in God’s goodness, he would attest, is essential to the Christian life as a whole, if it is to be ultimately successful. Uncompromising belief in God’s goodness establishes and fortifies the Christian life, whereas a belief in God that is less that good ruptures the Christian life and drains it of both strength and victory, and ultimately our ability, as a people, to accomplish the church’s mission.
So far so good — until we fully understand what Johnson means by an uncompromising belief in God’s goodness. This will be the focal point of our discussion.
Before we jump head-long into the exploration of Johnson’s views and the broader topic of God’s goodness, I should perhaps point out to my readers my own denominational background and church leanings. I attended Bethel for seven years till a geographical change moved me on, and in many ways still consider myself part of the “Bethel culture,” one I am deeply thankful for. So I am by no means an enemy of Johnson, Bethel or the broader culture it represents.
I also embrace what seems today to be a rather minority view that the church should be a forum for the free exchange of ideas, not an environment where individuals and movements should be denounced because they believe differently than I do. No one is perfect in their theology, and we stand to benefit from one another’s viewpoints. Dare I say that we in the Body of Christ need one another.
That said, I take the authority of Scripture very seriously, and like Johnson I am convinced that what we believe has serious consequences to how we live out our lives.
In this spirit, therefore I submit the following review (which will most likely span a few blog posts).
God is Better Than We Think
Let us return then to Johnson’s definition of what believing in God’s goodness without compromise looks like. In his opening chapter, Johnson makes some rather sweeping and bold statements concerning God which will serve as the foundation for his book. He says:
If I were to do to my children what many people think God does to his children, I’d be arrested for child abuse. People say God is good, yet they credit Him with causing cancer and natural disasters and even blame him for terrorist activities.
These statements alone are not too controversial. But he continues:
Some try to escape the pain of such shameful reasoning by stating, “He allowed it” instead of “He caused it.” In my way of thinking, there is little to no difference. If I abuse my children, or “allow/approve” a neighbor to do it, it’s obvious I have a very serious problem. And when we sweep the abusive misdeed under the carpet called God Works in mysterious ways, we add insult to injury.
As believers, we can all agree with Johnson that God the Father is in no way a child abuser. But what Johnson is saying here, though it may not be obvious at first glance, goes far beyond this. What He is actually saying is that God is in no way responsible for the suffering we see in the world today — not even for allowing it.
Furthermore — and most provocative of all — Johnson claims that if God were responsible for even allowing it, He would be nothing less than a child abuser.
Just in case the point is missed, he states that to hold such a belief is shameful, and he will later go on to say it is “to attribute evil to God” and to “[reject] the clear revelation of the nature of God that is seen in the person of Jesus Christ.” These are rather strong words.
God the Untouchable
I commend Johnson for his passionate attempt to build a case for God that puts Him so far on the “good” side of the equation that the presence of human suffering simply cannot touch Him. And don’t get me wrong: Some need a large dose of the message of God’s goodness to awake them from their unbelieving slumber.
But here’s the problem: When I read my Bible, I find that God, though undoubtedly supremely good (and revealed as such), is nonetheless integrally involved with human suffering from the first page to the last. In fact, any attempt to put God in so good a light that He simply is in no way responsible for human suffering is to make Him no longer God.
To see why this is so, let’s begin by returning to Johnson’s first argument and facing it head on:
Some try to escape the pain of such shameful reasoning by stating, “He allowed it, instead of “He caused it.” In my way of thinking, there is little to no difference.
So according to Johnson, whether God causes or allows human suffering makes no difference (a point by the way I happen to agree with: more later on this). And this seems to be a rather airtight argument against the notion that a good God could not possibly allow let alone cause any form of suffering.
The problem, however, is that this argument cuts both ways. Namely, it applies just as equally to any situation where someone, having become the object of suffering caused by someone else, is not immediately delivered from that suffering. In such a situation, one could just as easily say: “What’s the difference? Me abusing my children, or refusing to come to their rescue when they are being abused?” The answer is: There is no difference. God’s failure to bring deliverance at any point in human suffering implicates Him just as equally as Him causing it in the first place.
So now we have a problem: It makes no difference whether God causes or allows human suffering; to the extent we suffer at all and He does not deliver us from it, He is an accomplice to child abuse.
Too Good to be God
Let me be clear here: I do not in any way think God the Father is a child abuser. The problem is, Johnson has lumped together any and all forms of human suffering together and called it abuse.
Consequently, the only way now to distance the God and Lord Over All Creation from that label is to remove Him from the picture entirely. We must make Him not aware of it, not present, or incapable of relieving it. In short, to make God perfectly good, we must make Him untouchable, and to do that, we must make Him less great. It is our only option.
But all of this is unnecessary. We shall continue our exploration of God’s goodness and Johnson’s views in our next post. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts on God’s goodness and human suffering. I would love to hear from you.