The Christian sense of omnibenevolence

While the argument from evil demolishes the most naive or unreflective sense of “omnibenevolence” (doing every possible good, or all goods that a human being would be bound to do) it does not touch the most properly Christian sense of omnibenevolence. Just as we would call a being all-powerful if he performed an act of infinite power (even if he only did it once) so too we would call a being omnibenevolent if he performed an act of infinite benevolence. Again, the measure of benevolence is the greatness of the gift, and whoever gives a gift greater than any that can be thought has a benevolence greater than any one that can be thought. But Christianity consists in believing that God gave the world a gift-than-which-nothing-greater-could-be-given.

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5 Comments

  1. March 20, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I’m somewhat worried because, although it may be naive to say that God’s omnibenevolence consists in his doing all goods that a human would be obligated to do, we do think that God loves us (or rather, God *is* love). As Thomas says, love consists in willing the good for another. But if there are evils which *could* have been prevented, i.e. gratuitous evils, then this seems to indicate a defect in God’s love, showing it to be at best only finite rather than infinite. So gratuitous evil is just as much a problem for the classical theist as the open or weak theist.

  2. March 21, 2011 at 5:46 am

    You certainly didn’t get the idea that God loved you from looking at the world and seeing that there were no evils in it, so where did you get it? If you got it from natural theology, you formed the idea from some inference like “existence is good, and God causes it” or “the order of the world is good, and God caused it”. If you got it from Christian theology, you got it from some notion like “God gave himself to die for my sins.” On any of these, God will be truly not just benevolent, but omnibenevolent, and not just to creation in general, but even to you in particular. But none of the senses requires that he do away with all evils, or this-or-that evil that could have been prevented.

  3. March 26, 2011 at 1:18 am

    I think that’s certainly correct. However, we can accept that all of this is true, and yet deny that God is *omni*-benevolent, can’t we? You’re right; we infer that God is good because we see that existence is good and that God causes it. Yet all we can conclude is that God causes some good, and is in some sense good. But it’s a long-shot from that to “God is *all* good” isn’t it? In fact, for the reasons I gave before, we might conclude that there is some lacking in God’s goodness, because we find that he created some goodness but did not manage to actualize the rest, no? That would seem to indicate a defect in God’s goodness, showing it’s finite.

    I’m most interested by the way in what we can conclude from natural theology. I think you might be right that we can infer God’s all-goodness from Christian Revelation; though even in that case, if God gave the greatest gift to mankind, and later did something evil or allowed some evil, we would say he can’t be all-good, can’t we? Thanks.

  4. March 26, 2011 at 5:15 am

    The whole point of the post was to show omnibenevolence, or being “all loving”. All of the arguments conclude to omnibenevolence, and not just any sort of good will.

    God does not actualize every goodness, and so if you mean by onmibenevolence or love “actualizing every goodness” than God is not omnibenevolent, and for all I know it might be a sort of perfection to not be omnibenevolent in this way- in fact, for all I know omnibenevolence in this sense involves contradiction, since many goods are possible in themselves but incompossible with the actualization of others (life and martyrdom, for example; or in general every instance of having your cake and eating it too).

    At any rate, the whole point of the post is that there is more than one sense of being all loving or omnibenevolent. To give two true senses different from yours, what else would we call the one from whose will every possible goodness proceeds and/ or a giver of a gift that was infinitely good?

  5. Edward said,

    March 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    James, I was wondering if you see a parallel between God being called most good or supremely good in the same way that He is called the supreme being.

    We call God the supreme being or, more accurately, being itself, because He is the cause of being in all other things. We do not call him this because he actualizes every possible being. In the same way, God is goodness itself not because He actualizes any and all potential goods, but because He is the cause of goodness as such in all things.

    Perhaps this reveals a severe flaw in the argument from evil. It does not treat goodness as a transcendental, i.e. convertible with being, one, something, etc. Instead, it treats goodness as a univocal term predicated of both God and man.


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