by Del Tackett
Although this is one of the most oft-stated attributes of God: “God is good!”… “All the time!” we dutifully reply, it is also one of the most misunderstood and disbelieved. Misunderstood because we have crafted our own personal definition of “good”; and disbelieved because we “say” God is good, but often act as if He were not.
The former happens when I begin to think that I can define what is “good” for me and conversely what is “bad” for me. Notice here the prominence of “me”. When I do so, I have developed a false god because I believe that my golden calf or my Jesus doll should do what I want… not only bringing about what I believe to be “good” in my life, but also keeping me from any “bad”.
The latter is best described when Jesus quoted Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) He was describing the ugly situation in which people pretend to give praise and glory to God, but they don’t really believe it. Paul echoes this in Titus when he says “They profess to know God, but by their actions they deny Him.” (Titus 1:16) These are troubling statements for us because we, too, are deeply prone to say Christian phrases about God, but in the every day reality of our lives, act as if they aren’t really true.
Both of these deformities in our thinking are really from the same pathology. When I form in my mind what I think is “good” for me and then that “good” doesn’t happen, I begin to internalize the lie that God isn’t really “good”. And even more so, when something that I define as “bad” hits me, it reinforces in my heart, where my real beliefs are found, that God is not only not “good”, but I might even begin to think that He is “bad”. This is rapidly followed by bitterness toward God and/or disbelief and a rejection of Him.
There are many who have stumbled over this lie and are now trapped in a deep hostility or even hatred of God over some very difficult event in their past that didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to turn out. This self-centered thought process has given rise to the modern “problem of evil” where we can’t reconcile in our minds that a good God could exist if there is evil in the world. I actually see this from the totally opposite perspective. I am convinced that the presence of evil in the world actually confirms that God is good, for when the entire universe fell because of the rebellion of Adam, God could have evaporated everything and started over.
But He didn’t.
And not only did He not wad everything up and throw us in the cosmic waste bin, but He promised that He, Himself, would make the necessary sacrifice to save some and eventually restore all things. This only comes from a God who is truly good… a God whose steadfast love endures our rebellious hearts every day.
This is the ultimate demonstration of the goodness of God.
However, in response, we whine and protest about it all. We are like one who fell into the rapids, headed hopelessly over the raging falls that descend into a bottomless pit, and yet, having been miraculously rescued at the cost of the Rescuer’s son, we complain of a rope burn.
Trying to make even a partial list of the infinite ways that God is good would take days. For sure, He sustains all things and gives us breath; He pours out His generosity to us in a multitude of ways, giving us life and breath, sun and an earth that yields sustenance for us; He grants us sleep at night and the joy of community and fellowship and familial relationships; He gives us a mind and senses to think and feel and sample the world around us; He brings rain to refresh and the cool breeze to delight; He dazzles us with the colors of the sunrise and the beauty of the wildflowers in the meadow.
The goodness and generosity of God is innumerable.
Though much of what we have listed would match our own personal definition of “good”, we must not forget that the God who prunes is also good when He does so.
The problem is found in redefining “good” into “my pleasure” and thinking that God is somehow, because He is good, obligated to conform to my definition. And, conversely, He is obligated because of His “goodness” to keep me from all forms of discomfort or pain or loss or grief or lack of control or broken relationships or tragedy or just not feeling really chipper.
Do we mindlessly profess, “God is good” and yet when tragedy strikes or my plans get totally wrecked, become angry or upset or frustrated? If so, it reveals a heart that has embraced something other than “God is good… all the time”.
Now, of course, we aren’t saying that we should be happy when our dog dies or the sewer backs up into our basement. But any sense of inner joy in the midst of trials and tribulations is ultimately fed by the deep and unassailable belief that God is good.
As I write this, I am in South Carolina where I have come to spend time with family for a special event, yet I find myself isolated in a bedroom because I don’t want to infect my loved ones with whatever crud has descended upon me. I could sit here and fume about all of this, or I could rest in the goodness of God. I know that there are some who would say that God doesn’t want me to be sick, but physical wellness has never been promised to me. Paul instructed Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach ailments… ailments which must have been significant for Paul to write about in a time when it took weeks or months for correspondence.
And… death will someday take me as well.
Not only have I not been promised perfect health, but I have also not been promised perfect relationships or eternal dogs or dry basements. Our very dear friends lost their entire house and everything to the Black Forest fire several years ago. They didn’t have a divine promise that wouldn’t happen. But they do have, and we do as well, the surety that God is working everything out for “good” for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.
And it is here that we have the key to God’s goodness: He is faithful to fulfill the promises that He has made to His children according to His good purposes and plans.
I remember very clearly a talk I had with Joni Eareckson Tada. I asked her what she thought God was thinking just before she dove into the water and broke her neck, leaving her quadriplegic for the rest of her life. I was stunned by her answer. It went something like this: “Well, I think God was looking at me and saying, ‘There’s Joni. She’s been walking a path that isn’t for her good. But soon she will learn the depth of my love for her and the special way that she is going to bring glory to Me and have the most fulfilling life she could have ever imagined.’”
Now some would be astonished at this. But Joni isn’t. For she has learned the reality of what it means to say “God is good, all the time”… even in the most tragic of circumstances.
Peter, in his first sermon, declared that Jesus had been “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God”. It is here, in this act of God, we find the greatest suffering bound up inextricably within the greatest good that has ever been graciously and generously poured out upon mankind.
How blessed is the man who sees the goodness of God in the trials of life, for he has gazed upon the face of God and is filled with a never-ending spring of joy that will sustain him through the valleys and the summits, the smiles and the tears, both in life and death.
Verses to ponder throughout the week:
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17-18
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. Exodus 33:19
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6
I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. Isaiah 63:7
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. Psalm 145:3-7
For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! Zechariah 9:17
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28