Good

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[preface]

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.

[Previous: Father] [Next: Guide]

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

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5
Judge
[preface] I suppose this attribute of God is one of the most rejected in our culture, for a people who have self-ascended into their own divinity surely deem themselves immune from judgment. Spurning the notion of transcendent truth, we now get to make up our own. “My Heart” becomes a divine voice and everyone should be obligated to acknowledge it as holy and unassailable. If I want to define my own sexuality, then the world should bow down and pay homage. The individual’s heart is revered as sacrosanct. This is why we have become a culture filled with little angry gods who are incensed with those who fail to pay them tribute. But, alas, there is reality. This is the reality that Paul writes about where the divine nature of God is evident to all men because of what God has made, yet man stand’s in defiance before Him and He therefore judges them[i]. Peter writes of scoffers who deliberately overlook the fact that God judged the world with a flood in the past and choose, therefore, to ignore that He will judge the world with fire in the future[ii]. The reality is that God and His transcendent Truth not only really do exist, but that He also judges the evil works of men: “God’s judgment is against people who do evil acts.” Revelation 2:23 This is quite unnerving to us today. God judges rebellion. He really does. Regardless of what your heart tells you, regardless of how much our culture scoffs at it, regardless of the snarky Hollywood quips, God judges rebellion. This was a reality for Adam and Eve and all creation[iii]; it was a reality for those in Noah’s day[iv]; it was a reality for Pharoah and Egypt[v] and for Sodom and Gomorrah[vi]. Time does not allow us to speak of Ananias and Sapphira[vii] or Babel[viii] or Israel (judged over and over again) or Uzziah[ix] or Jezebel[x] or the 185,000 Assyrians that God put to death[xi] or when God opened up the earth and it swallowed the entire tribes of Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their households, their tents and every living thing that followed them[xii]. It is, indeed, “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31 These are things our culture doesn’t want to hear. And, if we were honest, we don’t either. It is possible that you really don’t like the picture and verse I posted at the beginning: Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. Isaiah 13:9 It just seems so... well, so judgmental! We would rather hear of a God of Hollywood love… a God of the wink and nod, “tsk tsk” and “boys will be boys” and “aren’t they just so adorable”. That’s the God we want… the God of pleasant things. Yet, God is both Creator and Holy, and He therefore has the right to judge rebellious acts by His creatures that are contrary to His Holy character and plans. But here we must be careful, for it is more than that He has the “right” to do it. He doesn’t judge simply because He has a right to, as if His judgment is merely an emotional reaction to being offended… a God pounding someone in order to assert His rights. He righteously judges because this is who He is. He doesn’t “judge” simply because He gets angry with someone. He judges because He is the Judge. This is sometimes hard for us to contemplate for we are so finite and depraved in our nature that we can only see judgment as a violent emotional outbreak rather than a holy, righteous attribute of God. When you step into a courtroom and the bailiff orders “All rise!” it is not because an emotional outbreak is about to enter the courtroom. The one who steps to the bench, wearing the judicial robes is a “judge”. So, too, is God. He is the Judge who judges rightly in accordance with what is righteous and holy. I sometimes wonder if the anthropomorphic language of God adorned in His robe is just as much the robe of a Judge as it is the robe of a King. The Judge of the universe will uphold righteousness and holiness. It may not be immediate and it may not be according to how you want it to be meted out. For our own rebellion, we would like for it to be overlooked; for our enemies, we want it swift and thorough. But, in the end, always according to His good plans and purposes, God will judge. His delay is often seen by the foolish as getting a pass or sometimes leads them to scoff “where is this God?” Sometimes we do the same, complaining when wrongdoers prosper or evil seems to reign. Of course, we are more than happy when God delays His judgment on us. This is the God we like. When my oldest daughter was a little girl, just learning to read, she was looking over my shoulder as I was studying J. I. Packer’s “Knowing God”. She looked at the title of the chapter I was reading and sounded out “God the Fudge”. It was written in a script and she mistook the “J” for an “F”. I thought it was funny and when I explained it to her we both laughed. But I’ve never forgotten that because it is in our nature to want to carve out the hard things in God and make them into soft things… sweet things that are more delightful to our own desires. But, the Judge has already meted out the most horrible of judgments, though there is yet a horrible one to come. This was the judgment rendered upon a totally innocent Man… a Man who lived a sinless life… a Man who obeyed God perfectly, even an obedience that took Him to the scourge and the cross. Jesus bore the entirety of God’s judgment and wrath for His people. All of it. God said that He would not let the guilty go unpunished. And if there had not been a substitute for us, this promise would have doomed us for all eternity. But God was pleased, for the sake of His elect, to place all of our rebellion on Him. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53 It was the Judge who smote Him. It was the Judge who pierced Him and crushed Him. For this we cringe at the massive weight He bore; yet for this we also rejoice and clap our hands in gladness for the judgment due us is no longer. The Judge didn’t lay aside our crimes; He just laid them on Someone else. Oh what a glorious mystery, this Good News! Let us ponder this week the goodness and the severity of God. P.S. I suppose I ought to here do the most unpopular thing and comment on the “Only God can judge me” mantra of our culture. You see it tattooed on a lot of body parts and you see it on posters and in songs and, well, everywhere. Although it has its genesis in a rap by Tupac Shakur in 1996, it is used today as a shut-down phrase for anyone or anything that attempts to tell me I can’t do what I want to do. It certainly isn’t an endorsement for God as Judge. But, as we all tend to use biblical sayings for our own purposes, so, too, does this phrase attempt to silence all who would disagree with the right to follow the longings of my own heart. Don’t be fooled by it. [Previous: Jesus] [Next: Just] Verses to contemplate throughout the week: God’s judgment is against people who do evil acts. Revelation 2:23 The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son. John 5:22 God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 7:11 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah Psalm 50:6 Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth. Psalm 58:1-2 Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it. Isaiah 13:9 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us. Isaiah 33:22 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 7:27 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.” Ezekiel 18:30 Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. Joel 3:12 He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide disputes for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; Micah 4:3 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. John 8:50 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. Acts 10:42 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31 “…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Romans 2:16 “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead…” 2 Timothy 4:1 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. James 5:9 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. Revelation 19:11 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Revelation 20:12-13     [i] Romans 1:18-32 [ii] 2 Peter 3:3-10 [iii] Genesis 3:1-20 [iv] Genesis 6-9 [v] Exodus 5-12 [vi] Genesis 19:1-29 [vii] Acts 5:1-11 [viii] Genesis 11:1-9 [ix] 2 Chronicles 26 [x] 2 Kings 9:30-37 [xi] 2 Kings 19:35 [xii] Numbers 16:1-35
6
Humble
[preface] Sometimes gazing upon the face of God stumps us. Sometimes it stupefies us. And sometimes it means we have to rethink the picture we have created in our minds of who God is. All of this was true of me the first time I contemplated that God was humble. I honestly didn’t know how to fit it in with attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty. It seemed that a God who was holy and just and a “consuming fire” that blazed forth wrath upon evildoers certainly, in my mind, didn’t quite match what I envisioned as “humble”. The road for me began with the words of Jesus when He said that He was “gentle and humble in heart”. Now I had read this many times before, but often the Spirit of God will highlight some words to us and it’s as if we had never read them before. So here was Jesus telling us that He had a humble heart. Well, in my shallow thinking, I thought that this was, of course, true of Jesus, but certainly couldn’t be true of God the Father, for He, in my mind, was the Lawgiver, the Judge and that awful “Consuming Fire” that devoured the offerings on Mt. Carmel and subsequently 450 prophets of Baal were slain. He split the ground open and swallowed up the entire clan of Korah and 250 priests were burned up. He is the God of Revelation who sends forth the four horsemen of the apocalypse that destroy vegetation, seas and rivers; He blasts trumpets and pours out bowls of wrath and sends plagues where the rivers turn to blood and men are consumed with sores; mountains are moved and stars fall from the sky and locusts torment men for months. Whew! Hard to reconcile the holy, wrath of God with a humble heart. And so I didn’t. I basically began to think that the “humble” heart was for Jesus and the consuming fire was the Father. And, unwittingly, I slowly created a polytheistic god in my mind and not the One God of Scripture. Then the Lord highlighted another passage for me. This was the killer. In the Upper Room, Jesus performed one of the greatest acts of humility, washing the disciples stinky, dirty feet. A few minutes later, after performing this humble act, Philip said to Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” And Jesus made the stunning response: “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…” And it dawned on me, that when they saw Jesus kneeling before them washing their feet, they were watching the Father as well. Paul states that Jesus is the “exact image” [eikon] of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We could dwell on this word for days, but the essence is just what Jesus said: "If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father." There is no polytheism here. There is One God, and He is humble… through and through… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So how do we reconcile our bad thinking? How do we bring together what we have erroneously thought as incompatible: the powerful, omniscient, almighty, holy, consuming fire of God and His humility? Well, the problem isn’t with God, for none of His attributes are contrary and He is totally consistent within His own Being, so it must be with us… with our thinking. I have often used this metaphor: Suppose there were two kings. Each ruled over half of the earth and all of its wealth. Both unimaginably powerful. One king would never, ever engage with the people, especially paupers. The other king, when his duties were done at the end of the day, would put on a ragged cloak and walk in the streets, talking with the people, the shop owners as well as the man who swept the street. In your eyes, which is the greater king? It is here that we begin to understand just what it means for God to be “humble”. In Psalm 113 we read this great passage: “Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?” The Hebrew word here [shaphel] means that God has to “stoop” to engage with our world. This is like the king who puts on the ragged cloak and comes down from his lofty throne to speak with the peasants. But it is greater, for God is higher than any king could ever be. And to Him, we are lower than any peasant could ever be to an earthly king. But this is our God… who stoops, who humbles Himself, to engage with us. “... Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phillipians 2:5-8 And why did God do such a thing? Because His humility is bound up inexorably with His love. It is impossible to truly love unless you are humble, for true love requires sacrifice. Jesus “humbled” Himself and became a man. He “stooped” to take on flesh that He might save us. This was not contrary to His nature, but it was in conformance with His nature. Just because God is all-powerful and sovereign does not mean that He is not humble in heart. When the Scripture calls us to be holy, it is because God is holy. When it calls us to be perfect, it is because He is perfect. When it calls us to be humble, is this because He is proud and arrogant? No. It is because He is “gentle and humble in heart”. And why He calls us to be like Him in Romans 12: “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16 And, it is why in Psalm 51 we read that God is not interested in the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but "... a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” There is no room in the heart of God’s people for pride and arrogance. There is no room for haughtiness or lack of love. If we are the children of God, we should be characterized by humility. Not a mousy, no-spine kind of thing, but a strong, courageous willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, to become engaged with the lowliest of God’s creatures. The Philippians passage begins with these words: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” And then it describes His willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, for the good of another. Are we willing to “stoop”? Are we willing to set aside our comfort, our script, our plans for the sake of those who, from a worldly perspective might be “beneath” us? God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 Ah! Therein lies a great clue. [Previous: Holy] [Next: Immanuel] Verses to ponder throughout this week:  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8 But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29 Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; Psalm 113:5-6 Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Psalm 138:6 For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15 These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. Isaiah 66:2 God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6 “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16 “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17