If God is Good… what’s that mean?

Jonny made an excellent point in reply to my last post:

To borrow from Christian Platonists, God is Good in the sense that God = Good. We call other things good for the ways in which they are like God. We do not call God good because He is like something else.

Right, this makes sense. I continue to hold firm to the phrase, “God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” I’ve heard it uttered in both Baptist and Catholic churches, and everywhere in between, and I find truth in it. It is uncompromising and hopeful. God is Good.

So what is “Good?” What does that mean? Extending from my last post, my first thought was that our definition of Good is probably incorrect. I’d like to recognize that Christians, at least some, make an honest effort to align their definition of Good with their concept of God, thereby equating the two, but as a knee-jerk interpretation of the word Good, I doubt we really do that all that often. Jonny states that D&D’s definition of Good is “altruism,” and that this is incorrect when compared to reality, ((He also states that D&D’s definition of “Holy” is shallow, in that all it means is that it does 2d6 damage to evil. I’d dispute that–the reason Holy does 2d6 damage to Evil is because Evil can’t stand the touch of something set aside for and consecrated by deity. It is anathema to them. The damage is just the result.)) but as I look at how a lot of people live their lives with God, I don’t see too many contradicting that view.

Can we say that we do not believe that God is altruistic? I’m not really comfortable with the word “we” in the last sentence, because I’m questioning it a bit, but let’s roll with it. One of the things I was getting at in my last post is that a lot of people in the Church seem to think that God’s purpose is to serve them, or at best to serve humanity. I get that we should ask for God’s help, God’s healing, God’s blessing, etc… but do we recognize the purpose behind God’s actions? If God heals someone, does anyone else wonder why?

It took me a bit to reach this thought, but Adam’s reply gets at what I’m going for. Essentially, I’m calling into question our definition of Good. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely certain who I mean by “our” in that sentence. Partially, I mean humanity in general, but I loathe over-generalization and that’s too far for me. If I narrow it to the Church, that’s still too overgeneralized, though I don’t consider my question irrational in that context. Let’s just say, a lot of the Christians I’ve met seem to have this definition of good: kind, compassionate, altruistic, humble, forgiving, honorable, and honest. They equate Good with Jesus, who washed the feet of His disciples, and so we assume that God will always wash our feet no matter where we tread.

I agree that God is Good, but I don’t think God’s definition of Good and our definition is the same. I think our definition is the list of words I put above. I’m beginning to think that God’s definition is closer to that of Lawful Neutral. So in turn, what humanity considers Lawful Neutral, God considers Good.

Part of the problem, it occurs to me now, is English. After studying a couple other languages, I’m pretty unsatisfied with ours: it’s too limited, with too few words that mean too many things. “Good” can mean a ridiculously broad number of things. Same as “Love” and, apparently, “Companion.” ((By which I mean Eve, who was created for Adam–the English translation of this word is nowhere near its original meaning.)) In my head, I’ve got at least 2 different definitions of Good going, one being “God,” in the sense that Jonny related the definition as God = Good and Good = God. The other is my own thoughts in regards to God’s alignment, that being Lawful Neutral, so if God is LN, and God is Good, that means that our original definition of Good is incorrect and we ought to bring ours more in line with the traditional definition of Lawful Neutral.

Which means that Good isn’t necessarily a humble, all-forgiving, altruistic servant, but is instead a fair, honorable judge, upholding a moral code. There’s a part of me that is revolted by this thought, as a positron revolts an electron. I wasn’t raised in the Church, and fantasy fiction had more to do with my moral upbringing than anything else, but the definition of Good as I related it above (kind, compassionate, altruistic, etc.) is deeply ingrained in me–to defy it and consider something else to be Good is difficult. Yet the phrase, “Does not hesitate to protect the innocent” keeps going through my head, and I look at this world, and I don’t see it. I don’t see our Protestant American definition of Good in this world, and I can’t find a reason for God to not impose that Good if, indeed, God is Good (by the definition of protecting innocents, altruism, etc.).

Here’s how my logic works, then: I know that God is Good. Since God is Good, God would do Good things. My knee-jerk, gut definition of Good would require God to do things that he is not, in all actuality, doing. Therefore, I can only logically reach one of two conclusions: either God isn’t Good, or my definition of Good is incorrect. I have already stated that I know that God is Good, but I am less confident in my definition of what Good is. Therefore, my definition must be incorrect.

If my definition is incorrect, I must find a new definition of Good. And thus far, the concept of Lawful Neutral seems to fit the bill.

The Purpose, Power, and Presence of Design

This post is part of an ongoing series of collaborative conversations. All rights are reserved by the original author, Ryan Burrell.

To say that “design” is all around us would be a supreme understatement. It impacts the very nature of our perceptions, and does so most of the time without our conscious thought or notice. It is a subtle tool, often altering our opinions in ways we can’t really explain or quantify, yet will strongly defend if pressed. Design is a sword with many edges – it can cut deeply, deflect blows, or lead a charge. But, to ask the obvious lead-in question: What is design? Is it art, theory, math, philosophy, or some unholy combination of these areas and more? Is design purely visual, or does it hide a much deeper algorithmic structure?

An Underlying Order

The common view of design, in generalized terms, is to make “something” look “nice”, or “better”, or “pretty”, or [insert ambiguous subjective visual terminology here]. A designer makes shirts, or business cards, or websites, or… branded coffee mugs or something. Newsletters and brochures – that type of thing comes to mind immediately. Yet this is a very narrow viewpoint of what design is and of what the duties of a designer are.

While design’s final products typically inhabit the visual world, a designer is not by nature possessed of a purely aesthetic skill set. The title Designer can better be equated with Problem Solver, specifically within the realm of how information is presented. Design strives to be as much an analytical set of tasks as an encompassing set of visual trends. A graphic designer does not simply make a t-shirt “look nice.” Instead, they deal with a complex set of mental algorithms and practices to determine the best placement of their visual components on the palette, taking advantage of the use of space, color, line, shape, and form to produce the most effective visual result. What the end result appears as is simply a piece of clothing, but to the designer it is a set of guidelines, wrapped in equations, coated in emotions, and finally covered in their own creative spin.

Art and design are similar, yet fundamentally different, areas of expression. Art relies heavily on emotion, highly abstract ideas, and an intense desire to reflect the world around you from an individual viewpoint. Design, while using aspects that make up the nature of pure art, merges these with analytical ideals more in line with science or math. The foundation of all design relies on standards, conformity, rules, grids, and numbers. Margins, measurements, columns, padding, spacing, clearance; these are the elements that make up the essence of design.

An Overarching Chaos

Yet, while the foundations for design are firmly entrenched in the realm of numbers and grids, it is the more ethereal aspects that make it so unique. An intimate understanding of spacing will only work so far; a designer must also understand their audience, the goals of their project, and emotive methods to achieve their intended results. Once the framework of a task has been determined, a designer develops his or her “in the box” thinking. The borders and restrictions have been defined, and this can open up as much or more creative potential than having a boundless field to work in.

A designer’s task is to use the guidelines that have been set and take them to the limits of creativity, while still keeping a sharp eye on how the final result will be usable. It is a frenetic juggling act of limitless creativity within a walled garden. The more artistic core of the designer emerges, yet must be restrained by the warden of practicality that remains in the back of their mind at all times. Visual appeal means nothing without functionality, but usefulness can be dulled if aesthetics are ignored. A designer must be mad – a Jekyll & Hyde combination of control and raw potential.

A Wider Path

Practically, there are many names and titles for designers. Commonly, we think of those that practice design as the people who create calendars, cards, and promotional products. But design is so vast and applicable to so many fields, that the job descriptions are almost as limitless. Interior designers deal with the feel of three dimensional space in architecture – with lighting, mood, and balance. Industrial designers concern themselves with the visual appeal of products as well as their functionality, ergonomics, and practicality. Web designers and interaction designers focus on creating visually appealing Internet interfaces, but all under the aegis of superb usability, accessibility, and optimization. Database designers work only in charts and arrows, but are responsible for laying out the interaction between the vast methods of storage that are now so commonplace.

Nearly any sort of planning that concerns not only the visual output, but how that output is best presented and used involves design. It is a constant and integral part of our lives, evidenced by the fact that we don’t even notice it most of the time. The hallmark of good design is when it slips beneath our conscious radar, instead allowing the user of its final product to easily adapt to its requirements and efficiently bend them to their needs. Poor design is easily noticeable, taking the form of unreadable text, confusing interfaces, uncomfortable chairs, breakable parts, and unexpected reactions.

Few professions require such a variety of skills, interests, knowledge, and the drive to use them effectively. Because of this, design is not typically thought of as a job by those who do it. A job is something you do to pay the bills – design is a way of life, a way of quantifying what we see around us, and still allowing for the vast creative potential that fuels the human spirit.