Some notes as I work through J. L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology (1857) one chapter at a time.
Book 2, Chapter 2: Attributes of God (Part 7 – Goodness)
1. Goodness = God is infinitely benevolent.
2. When Scripture speaks of God’s goodness towards His creatures, it often uses the term ‘love’.
3. “Love is distinguished as benevolence, beneficence, or complacence. Benevolence is love in intention or disposition; beneficence is love in action, or conferring its benefits; and complacence is the approbation of good actions or dispositions.”
4. Goodness when it is exercised toward the unworthy is grace and toward the suffering is mercy or pity.
5. The pleasure which God’s creatures enjoy is a demonstration of His goodness. Humans are able to experience pleasure greater than that of animals because they can get it from “the pursuit and acquisition of knowledge”, “in the proper exercise of our moral powers” and because of our capability of “loving and enjoying God”.
6. “Pain is often experienced, but it never appears to result from an arrangement specially made for receiving it.” No organ of our body was specially designed to give us pain.
7. How do we reconcile the goodness of God with the presence of animals which have organs designed to inflict pain (fangs of serpents, stings of insects, talons and tusks and beaks of carnivorous animals) and the innumerable miseries which human society is filled? This question should not be overlooked.
8. How should we respond to the presence of pain and suffering which threaten God’s goodness?
a) Acknowledge the presence of pain and suffering.
b) Acknowledge that happiness and misery are “entwined with each other, and form parts of the same system.”
c) Acknowledge that our experience is of blessings “poured upon us incessantly; and when suffering comes, we are often conscious that is arises from our abuse of God’s goodness, and is, therefore no argument against it.”
d) Acknowledge that present suffering dos not compare to future good.
e) Acknowledge that the sufferings we experience “become an occasion for the trial of our faith.”
We should “believe in the wisdom and goodness of our heavenly Father, and believe that his ways are full of goodness, even when they are inscrutable.”
9. “It is perfectly conceivable that pain itself may, in some cases, enhance our pleasure, as relief from suffering renders subsequent enjoyment more exquisite; and, in other ways, which we are unable to comprehend, pain may produce a beneficial result.”
10. Sin is the clearly the cause of much of the suffering present in the world. Dagg speculates at this point that the pain which animals experience isn’t only caused by man’s sin. “Unless the order of things was greatly changed at the fall of man, hawks had their claws and beaks from the day they were created, and used them before man sinned, in taking and devouring other birds for food; and therefore, pain and death, in brute animals, did not enter the world by the sin of man.” I’m yet to be convinced by this view.
11. Is happiness the chief good? “When pleasure and duty conflict with each other, we are required to choose the latter… if a whole life of duty and a whole life of enjoyment were set before us, that we might choose between them, we should be required to prefer holiness to happiness.”
12. The miseries of sin are means “used by the great Father of all, in the discipline of his great family, to deter from the greatest of all evils.” Judgments and threatenings are means of sanctification and are a manifestation of God’s goodness.
13. “The goodness of God is the attribute of his nature, which, above all others, draws forth the affection of our hearts. We are filled with awe at his eternity, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence; but we can imagine all these attributes connected with moral qualities which would render them repulsive. But the goodness of God, while it is awful and grand, is at the same time powerfully attractive.”
(Photo: Ben White)