What alignment is God?

Preface::

First, please don’t get turned off because I’m referencing some Dungeons & Dragons stuff at first. It’s not much, and you’ll be past it eventually.

Second, this post has been a long time coming. The matter has been on my mind for weeks if not months, and I’m still not settled on the matter. It’s a bit of a mind dump.

Third, because of that, I’d really like your consideration and input. Comment below and let me know what you’re thinking, even if you just agree or disagree. This is one of the theological subjects I’m really wrestling with and curious about right now.

Moving on::

For those of you who haven’t played D&D before, or maybe have only played the latest edition (the 4th), you may be unfamiliar with alignments. In general, there are two axes, as seen below.

The 3.5 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook lists nine alignments as options for a player character, because in addition to the four labels you see above, there is also Neutral. Someone might be Lawful Good or Chaotic Good, but they could also be Neutral Good, or Chaotic Neutral.

With that established, let’s talk a bit about God, Christianity, and myself. For my part, I have finally reached the conclusion that I am Lawful Neutral. This is kind of a Big Deal for me, mostly because it’s not what I expected. When I was younger, I liked to think of myself as Chaotic Good: I didn’t always follow the “rules,” and I didn’t always listen to “the man,” but I generally strove to do good things and help people. Robin Hood is Chaotic Good, as is Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly.

When I was a kid, my heroes were the knights in shining armor from the fantasy stories I read, but I bucked authority a lot of the time. I didn’t care much about school or grades, or what my parents thought or wanted me to do. I tried to do good, but I did it my own way. Now, though, my outlook seems different. I don’t know if it is that I have changed, or if I was always this way but just idealized “Good” and strove for that… but it’s not me. I’m not Robin Hood. I’m not even Mal.

Lawful Neutral is generally referred to as the “Judge.” Wikipedia has a good definition of Lawful Neutral:

Characters of this alignment are neutral with regard to good and evil. This does not mean that Lawful Neutral characters are amoral or immoral, or do not have a moral compass; but simply that their moral considerations come a distant second to what their code, tradition or law dictates. They typically have a strong ethical code, but it is primarily guided by their system of belief, not by a commitment to good or evil.

In regards to D&D, you generally see Lawful Neutral characters on the side of Good, because Evil has a tendency to go against the law. The important point is motivation: where a Good aligned person would uphold Good for its own sake, a Lawful aligned person upholds it because it is the law. If a law is unjust or not “good,” someone who is Chaotic Good may choose to not uphold that law and will make their own code–a course of action that would be practically anathema to a Lawful Neutral person.

My work has forced me to the analyses of my own alignment and motivations because we do have some policies and ways of doing business that I don’t particularly like or agree with. Because it’s my job, though, I have to follow through regardless of my personal feelings… but I have found, over the last couple of years, that my personal feelings strongly uphold the following of these rules for the mere fact that they are the rules. I’m an INTJ, so inefficiency and poor work angers me, and within the bounds of the system I will do everything I can do improve matters, but as a Lawful Neutral, I have found that I won’t break the rules ((As the above linked definition of INTJ states, I will sometimes “implement critical decisions without consulting my [sic] supervisors or co-workers” and I have little respect for anyone I perceive to be slacking, even if they are higher ranked than me. But I don’t break any rules, which is the key.)) to do it. Not anymore, anyways.

So my first question becomes, “How does being Lawful Neutral square with being Christian?” Jonny and I were on our way to a conference a few weeks ago and the topic of alignments came up–we were discussing why certain things in our jobs have gone as they have, and I replied that I do what I do, how I do it, because I’m Lawful Neutral. He was surprised; a Christian should by default be Good, he said.

This really set me to thinking: if God is Good, then should all Christians be Good? The more I thought about the classical, humanistic definition of Good, though, the less God seemed to fit into the assumed alignment.

From Wikipedia:

Lawful Good is known as the “Saintly” or “Crusader” alignment. A Lawful Good character typically acts with compassion, and always with honor and a sense of duty. A Lawful Good nation would consist of a well-organized government that works for the benefit of its citizens. Lawful Good characters include righteous knights, paladins, and most dwarves. …

Lawful Good characters, especially paladins, may sometimes find themselves faced with the dilemma of whether to obey law or good when the two conflict – for example, upholding a sworn oath when it would lead innocents to come to harm – or conflicts between two orders, such as between their religious law and the law of the local ruler.

If God is Lawful Good, then, how do we account for the suffering we see in the world? For centuries philosophers and theologians have attempted to address the problem of pain in the world: why do bad things happen to good people; why do children die; why do natural disasters wipe out civilizations; do those who have never even heard of Jesus to go hell, etc. If God is all powerful and all Good, would He not then save these people? Why would He not wipe out all disease, death, and pain?

In short, the answer is generally, “Adam and Eve sinned and now we live in a fallen world.” When asked why God doesn’t just fix it, the answer is generally that God is either waiting for more people to be reconciled to Him through Christ, or that some other plan is at work. We, as Christians, work very hard to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with God’s goodness.

Before I was Christian, I believed strongly in the “rules” of this world. I believed that angels and demons, while powerful, were only able to interact with this world and shape its events within certain restrictions, and that the deities were likewise limited, not due to a lack of power but due to some cosmic agreement. At the time, I considered it a dualistic issue: the gods of Good and the gods of Evil had made an armistice to prevent the destruction of the world over which they fought. Skirmishes occurred, but outright war was avoided.

I no longer hold that dualistic view, but the more I think about the world and God’s interaction with it, the more I come back to the idea of there being some sort of cosmic rule at work, or a self-limitation by God. Jesus is a good example of this: we uphold that he was entirely human and entirely God, yet there seemed to be times when he didn’t know exactly what would happen next, and he went so far as to ask that the suffering to come be put away from him. In taking on mortal flesh, limitations were put in place, and since I do affirm that God is all powerful, I can only conclude that these limitations were self-imposed to provide a better teaching example to Christians. ((Or for some other reason–the conclusion stands regardless.))

What if God was closer to Lawful Neutral than Lawful Good? Our concept of Lawful Good is someone who protects the innocent without hesitation, works and fights always on the side of Good, does whatever he or she can to protect and benefit others. I don’t propose the Deistic concept of a clockmaker God, who set the world into motion and then stepped back to watch silently, but I do perceive restraint that contradicts what we think Lawful Good should be. Could a Lawful Good deity who was all powerful watch as Haiti was torn apart and innocent children died in the streets? Could a Lawful Good deity sanction the genocide in Darfur or the ongoing civil wars in Sri Lanka and the Congo? We wonder at the horrors inflicted upon the Hebrews in the Hebrew Bible, and it is hard to reconcile them with our concept of a Lawful Good God, but they make more sense if we consider God to be Lawful Neutral, a God who has made certain laws that must be upheld.

By this, I do not mean that God is not generally good, but I do question our concept and the assumptions we make about God’s goodness. If you ask me, “Is God compassionate?” I will reply, “Yes, yes, God is compassionate.” And if you ask if God is forgiving, I will say, “Yes, yes, God is forgiving.” He is kind and loving and awesome. But if you ask, “Is God good?” I will wonder at your definition of “good.” If by good you mean that God is our servant and sworn benefactor, I say no, God is not these things.

We assume that actions follow nature, and so if God is compassionate, He must act upon that compassion. Likewise, too many look upon suffering and conclude that God must therefore not be compassionate, and since the Bible teaches of God’s compassion, many take it a step further and conclude that there is no God. These conclusions do not follow; God can be compassionate without always acting upon that compassion.

Let us consider Jesus who, as I referred to earlier, displayed adherence to the rules (if such do exist) throughout the gospels. There are numerous stories of Jesus healing someone, but he heals relatively few of the people around him. In one such story, Jesus actually delves into a great crowd of the ill and infirm, and finding a particular man at the center, asks him if he wants to be healed. ((John 5:1-18)) The man states that he has been seeking healing but has been unable to find it, and Jesus heals him.

Why does he heal no one else in all that crowd? Why pick that one man out? Some have wondered whether the issue is that Jesus’s power is limited, using Luke 8:40-48 as indication that he not only had limited power but the use of that power depleted his reserves. What if, instead, Jesus was limited by a set of self-imposed rules, a guiding plan, and was loathe to deviate from that course? The man at the well was healed for some purpose, and we can only conclude that an all powerful God would not heal those He didn’t want to heal, so Jesus must likewise have had some reason to heal the woman who touched his cloak (though he seems surprised when the event occurs).

Perhaps Jesus only healed those who would have the greatest impact on his mission–it certainly makes sense in a Lawful Neutral way. I wonder as well about the mystery of faith. In Luke 8, Jesus states that the woman’s faith has healed her, and it seems to me like that gives us a clue in itself. No one healed by Jesus is recorded as temporizing or rationalizing away the miracle, but I have seen miracles occur to people who have done just this. I believe that, in the stories recorded in the gospels, those healed had the faith to believe, and subsequently they kept that belief. I might conclude, then, that faith is one of the components necessary for a miracle. ((As Jesus himself seemed to state in Matthew 17:20.))

We have read that the door to heaven is narrow and few will enter, ((Luke 13:22-27)) but we all believe we will be part of that few. Just as I questioned our definition of “good” above, I question as well our concept of “faith.” How many Christians in the Church are there because they want something, rather than because of their faith? What they want might be all good things: to serve others, to join a community of like-minded individuals, to find belonging or love, to find peace or healing, etc. But how many are involved in the community of Christians purely because they believe in Jesus and the truth of the Bible? All those good things follow faith, but I wonder for how many faith is the primary motivator and factor.

It would be Lawful Good for God to let everyone into heaven. He indicates in Luke 13 that this is not the case. One could argue, though, that the “Lawful” balances the “Good,” and that God is indeed Lawful Good in this respect: God wants everyone to enter heaven (Good), but must turn away sinners (Lawful).

Back to the earlier question, rephrased, I ask, “If we consider God to be Lawful, then who’s law?” The previous paragraph feels more like temporizing to me. ((To be honest, I’ve reached the same conclusion in regards to Calvinism as a whole.)) I feel like we’re attempting to cram God into the Lawful Good alignment because we want to believe that God has our individual best interests at heart and will always take care of us. In looking at the world and at the Bible, particularly in light of the verses above (as well as countless others I’m not relating here because I don’t feel like taking the time to look them up right now), that conclusion just doesn’t seem to fit. It seems more like God has created a world and an order and we have deviated from it. It is now our job to get back in line, and God has aided us in that by providing the sacrifice of Jesus. We still have to accept that sacrifice ((A la Arminianism)) and follow God faithfully to get back within the boundaries accorded by the cosmic rules.

I’ve got another branch of thoughts on this topic brought up by the book I’m reading, but I’ll end the mind dump here because those veer off into spiritual warfare territory. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it, and please comment to share what you’re thinking. I’d really like to read it.

First J.D. Sallinger, now this…

Last week I was marveling at how spot on this article in The Onion was. It was acerbic, witty, and incredibly appropriate. It was just right.

I enjoyed Catcher in the Rye, but Sallinger’s passing wasn’t incredibly meaningful to me. That’s the only work by Sallinger I’ve ever read and he hasn’t done much for a while, so I quietly mourned and quickly moved on. I hadn’t expected to be mourning again so soon.

The man who played a large part in teaching me about Jesus, who contributed greatly to my converting to Christianity, and who was an admirable and appreciated father figure for the last half of my high school years and the beginning of my college career, died earlier today. I hadn’t expected to be too emotionally broken up about it–we’ve spoken only rarely in the last five years since they left Springfield, and his health has been declining for the last fifteen years or more. He is with Christ now, at peace and freed from pain. Yet I wept at church this morning, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t sobbing. My heart was nearly uncontrollable.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve harbored some bitterness since they left Springfield. They left the church I had gotten saved at soon after I became Christian, and called me only once since they left this town. I called occasionally, but with less frequency as the years passed and I realized that they had… I don’t know. Moved on. In both cases, I felt abandoned, and myself grew more and more distant.

I confronted that bitterness during worship this morning and forgave Melvin, let it go. I knew he was going soon, and the thought was… sad. I don’t know, it wasn’t devastating, because I’m not really devastated. Maybe I’m letting my commitment to the accurate use of words get in the way of emotional expression, but I want to be accurate here. I’m not devastated, but Melvin was someone I relied on. Regardless of the time and distance, I knew I could pick up the phone and call him any time, any day, and he’d be there. He was always willing to talk and always happy to hear from me. My bitterness was… inconscionable. Now I am sad.

Melvin was a great man, and I thank God that I had the opportunity to know him. I can’t understand God’s grace in bringing Melvin into my life, in fact–I have trouble comprehending why God has been so good to me. Anyways, the funeral’s on Wednesday and we’re going to go. The town looks like it’s about 3-4 hours away in Arkansas, so we’ll be trying to come back that night.

Thanks be to God, who gives us victory in Christ. I know it, and presumably it lessens the sorrow. But the sorrow still remains. It always remains.

Moral Evolution

Last month, April and I joined FnC in watching the movie Expelled (I would have linked directly to their site, but it’s an atrocity of Flash and nothing else). During the movie, Ben Stein conducts an interview with a historian at a concentration camp, and is essentially attempting to link Darwinism, or the concept(s) of survival of the fittest, to the Nazis. The movie acknowledges that Darwinism is not to blame for Nazism, but it does make the claim that Hitler’s mission was based strongly on the concept of “survival of the fittest.” That the Rom, Pols, Jews, et. al. were weaker than true Germans, and that by allowing them to exist, we were harming the human race by weakening it through interbreding. Therefore, such peoples must be exterminated to preserve the human race, ensuring that the fittest survive.

Hitler argued that we had been violating the natural laws of Darwinism, and must forcefully reverse such mistakes. As the movie progressed through this argument, I began to wonder about what constituted “fitness.” There are obvious traits one might note, such as physical strength, stamina, or mental acuity. A genius will more likely survive than an ignoramus, just as a track athlete has a greater chance to survive than a parapalegic. Despite this, most humans would not argue in favour of the extermination of those who are not as “fit” as other people; we recoil at such horrors, and maintain that “all people are created equal.”

Obviously, not everyone feels that way, or someone like Hitler would neither have arisen nor would have gained support. The same goes for some of the programs of the early 1900s. It made me wonder about what separates humanity from other animals, though, and whether there might be more traits than just physical and mental when considering the evolutionary stepladder.

What I’m getting it, if I may be brief, is the consideration of a moral code common to all humanity. This isn’t a new idea, by any means, but it was the first time I really thought seriously about why we don’t abandon the weaker to their fate. Why do we protect those weaker than us?

I have religious answers of obligation, mission, and duty, but without my faith and the words of my God, I don’t know that I could come up with a feasible answer. The best I can come up with, without resorting to religion, is to fall back on the foundational concept of our social contract, and the recognition that everyone is weaker than someone. Therefore, we agree to protect the weak so that someone stronger will agree to protect us in a somewhat feudalistic way. I find this answer a bit of a stretch though, especially because our thoughts and responses on this subject seem to be unconscious. No one really consciously agrees to this structure, but we also don’t steal or beat the poor just because we can.

And the idea of morality gaining primacy through survival of the fittest doesn’t seem to work either. Outside of fairy tales and Bible stories, the immoral often win the day through backstabbing and trickery. If one person is honour-bound and attempting to not hurt the other, the other will probably win because their job is simply easier. Then again, if there is some sort of “morality gene,” it would make sense that members of the opposite sex would be attracted to those who treated them well, thereby increasing morality’s prevalence… but there’s no real evolutionary reason to justify morality, that I can see.

Regardless, I find the subject challenging and worth further consideration. What are your thoughts? Plesae join in the conversation by commenting.