Updated: Sep 22
I recently saw a Facebook post about The Problem of Evil where the poster had a particular view of the word “omnibenevolence” that seemed… off. In one of his comments he said, “God by his very nature has to be All-Good and All-Loving to every Person if He is to be Omnibenevolent. He can’t be partial.”
What is “omnibenevolent”? What does that word mean? The Cambridge Companion to Atheism defines it as,
“the property attributed to God of being all good.”
Just so you know, the reason why I’m using a book from atheists is because they are the ones who dominantly use the word. You won’t find “omnibenevolent” in very many systematic theology textbooks (I couldn’t find it in one). And you won’t find that word used in any of the classics. Augustine doesn’t use it. Aquinas doesn’t use it. Neither do any of the church fathers. You will often find the words omnipotent, omniscient and even omnipresent. But you might only see “omnibenevolent” once or twice, if that.
Dr Craig only uses it when responding to other people using it. Really, the only person I could find who actually uses it is Dr Douglas Groothuis. He uses “omnibenevolent” to say that, “God is perfectly good”.
The word that theologians use is simply “benevolent” and they will often say that benevolence is just a part of God’s goodness. For example, Charles Hodge says, “Goodness, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. By benevolence is meant the disposition to promote happiness; all sensitive creatures are its objects.”
In the past, whenever I saw “omnibenevolent” used online, I thought it was being used to convey God being “perfectly holy.” Which is apparently not the case. So, since “omnibenevolence” is a property primarily attributed to God by atheists, I’m now hesitant to use it. Especially since I don’t think it accurately captures who the Christian God is when it’s defined the way they define it. Personally, I’m just going to reject“omnibenevolent” whenever I see it and simply prefer to use “perfectly holy” in its place. And when I say “perfectly holy” I mean something like what Henry Theissen says,
“By the holiness of God we mean that He is absolutely separate from and exalted above all His creatures, and that He is equally separate from moral evil and sin. In the first sense His holiness is not really an attribute that is coordinate with the other attributes, but is rather coextensive with them all. It denotes the perfection of God in all that He is. In the second sense it is viewed as the eternal conformity of His being and His will. In God we have purity of being before purity of willing. God does not will the good because it is good, nor is the good good because God wills it; else there would be a good above God or the good would be arbitrary and changeable. Instead, God’s will is the expression of his nature, which is holy.”
I know that the word “Holy” also encompasses God’s omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent attributes. But I can’t seem to find a word that better expresses how God’s righteousness, justice, love, benevolence, integrity, veracity, faithfulness, genuineness, mercy, grace, patience, persistence, truth, peace (or order), jealousy and wrath work together to express God’s character. I’m open to suggestions. I also think that R.C. Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God, should be a must-read for anyone who wants to champion The Problem of Evil and/or The Divine Hiddenness arguments.