Of all the Lord's attributes, His goodness is the one I struggle most to understand.
I do not know why this is, because so many of His other attributes are intrinsically related to goodness. Purity is a form of goodness, uncorrupted goodness. Righteousness is a form of goodness, dependable, accurate goodness. Kindness, mercy, grace -- all these things are types of goodness, the goodness of generosity, of mitigating punishment, of extending unmerited favor. It is easy for me to feel the truth that God is pure, righteous, kind, merciful and gracious. Why then do I struggle to believe His goodness? Don't all these other things prove that He is good?
God's attributes fall into two main categories: (1) His goodness, and (2) His sovereign, almighty power.
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
that You, O God, are strong,
and that You, O Lord, are loving.
~Psalm 62:11-12a (NIV, emph. mine)
Love, kindness, goodness -- these virtues, if removed from strength and power, are ineffective. Of what use is it that I want to do you a favor, if I cannot do you a favor?
Power, might, sovereign control -- these attributes, if removed from goodness and love, are downright dangerous.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is the perfect combination of goodness and omnipotence, of love and strength. With God, we have nothing to fear, because everything He desires to do, He has the power to do, and everything He does is motivated by love, for our good. He is perfectly faithful, and He will never fail.
So why do I sometimes find myself hung up over the idea of the goodness of the Lord?
Perhaps it is because we humans naturally associate goodness with two things: compliance and pleasure.
Let's consider compliance:
A compliant child obeys his parents. He is quiet and cooperative, sweet-spirited and easy to be around. He agrees and doesn't argue. He learns the rules and follows them. "What a good little boy," we say. "What a delightful child." Likewise, a good dog comes when it is called and stays off the furniture. A good car starts when you turn the key and is easy to steer.
God does not act in response to our turning a key. We do not steer Him (He steers us). God does not obey our commands like a genie in a bottle, for He is God, and we are not. He does not cooperate with our agenda; it is our job to cooperate with His agenda. We do not make rules for Him; He makes rules for us.
God is not compliant.
One of the most helpful explanations I've ever come across, with regard to the goodness of God, is from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. When the children (the main characters) are speaking with some beavers, they discover that Aslan is a lion, and Lucy cries out, "Is he safe?" Mr. Beaver replies something on the order of, "Of course he isn't safe, but he's good."
God isn't safe. But He's good. He won't give you everything you ask for, but He'll give you everything you need to accomplish His purpose for your life. He won't keep pain out of your life, but He will faithfully keep every promise He has made. He will forgive your sins when you ask Him to. He will grant salvation to everyone who believes, and He will never leave or forsake His children. He is preparing heaven for us, and He will take us there at the end of this age, delivering us into a glorious paradise beyond our wildest dreams.
God is not compliant, but He is good.
Let's consider pleasure:
"This is good ice-cream!" we say, meaning that it is delicious. A good book was a joy to read. A good day likely boasted beautiful weather, strapping health and successful accomplishments. We associate happiness, success, sunshine, sweet flavors, pretty colors and feelings of bliss with goodness. Goodness brings pleasure.
There is undeniably an aspect of pleasure in Christianity.
Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.
~Psalm 34:8 (NIV)
Delight yourself in the Lord
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
~Psalm 37:4 (NIV)
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
~Psalm 42:1 (NIV)
How lovely is Your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
~Psalam 84:1-2 (NIV)
How sweet are Your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
~Psalm 119:103 (NIV)
You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
~Psalm 16:11 (NIV)
Yet I am always with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You guide me by Your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
God is good in the sense that He grants us access to the greatest pleasure, delight, joy and fulfillment that we can possibly achieve.
Here's the rub: Christianity may be the greatest case of delayed gratification ever known to mankind. Your entire life on earth could be miserable, apart from the peace and joy that result from hoping in the promises of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. There are no promises that it will be otherwise. Yes, there will be pleasure, but you must exercise faith before you receive it. There will be no eternal pleasures without faith. That's why Matthew 7 tells us that the way to destruction is a broad road that many travel, but the way to life is narrow and only a few find it. You know the old adage, "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush"? Most people accept and live by that philosophy. It's worldly wisdom. On the contrary, Jesus tells us that if we'll just stop trying to consume that puny sparrow in our hand, He has barnyards full of plump, juicy chickens waiting for us in glory. We only have to trust Him.
How do we learn to trust? How can we have faith that God is indeed good, when life on earth is full of disappointment, pain and uncertain outcome?
It all culminates in Jesus. We can look to Jesus. We must look to Jesus. Jesus is the undeniable proof of the goodness of God. In Jesus, all the promises of God are "Yes!" (2 Corinthians 1:20).
When humanity rebelled and sullied all of God's perfect creation with the stain of sin, God did not point the almighty finger of wrath and destroy us. In contemporary, consumer-driven America, we should understand this above all things: when what someone gets is not what he wanted, he takes it back for a refund or exchange. Or he throws it out and gets a new one. God's creation was damaged, spoiled even, but He had already planned to fix us, to redeem us at His own personal cost, because of His goodness and His grace. He patiently worked through the building blocks of His creation--space, time and matter--and miraculously packaged His own perfect essence in the flesh and blood body of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, delivered to earth to divert the wrath of God from the rest of us. On the day He was crucified, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God, which we deserved and He certainly did not. He absorbed this wrath in our place, and at the same time somehow miraculously shed His own perfect righteousness over us, so that we could be saved. While we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
This is the goodness of God.
We can see it in the sunshine, a clear blue sky, a silent snowfall or a roaring waterfall. We see it in birds frolicking above us and squirrels scampering in furry gray arcs across the road. We see God's goodness in gallons of milk distributed to grocery stores, and miles of corn growing in fields, and apples dangling from tree boughs in September. We see His goodness in a hot, flickering bonfire, the kind smile of a stanger, and the squealing giggle of a little child. A gift, a flower, a love note, a piece of jewelry, an effective medicine, a drink of water, all these things are evidences of the goodness of the Lord.
Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .
~James 1:17a (NIV)
We are still here, and not destroyed, living in a world littered with remnant fragments of His goodness and glory, because of Jesus. God is good, and Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of His goodness. "The grace of God incarnate," I think I've heard them say.
If you ever start to doubt the goodness of God, remember our hopelessness without Him, our sin and our shame. Then remember the grace of Jesus, the sacrifice, the surrender of His life for our lives. Because of Jesus, we have forgiveness, freedom and hope.
For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 6:23 (NIV)
For God so loved the world
that He gave His one and only Son
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish
but have eternal life.
~John 3:16 (NIV)
Yes. God is good.