The goodness of God
“O, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8)
When we begin to comprehend what God’s goodness means and how it applies to His relationship with us, it revolutionizes not only the way we think about God, but also how we pray to and worship Him. At the same time, God’s goodness is so self-evident to the Christian that many of us have not really spent time thinking about it. It’s like considering the blueness of the sky or the wetness of water. Yet the implications of God’s goodness are vast, so it is worth the effort.
The triune goodness of God
Scripture presents the goodness of God as a trinitarian doctrine—i.e. the Father, Son, and Spirit are each specifically said to be good in an unqualified sense (Matthew 7:11; John 10:11; Nehemiah 9:20). Jesus tells us that none are good except God (Matthew 19:17), so if the Father, Son, and Spirit all share the same unqualified goodness, all must be equally God.
Perhaps a definitional display of God’s goodness is when Moses asks to see God’s glory. God tells Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and I will proclaim before you my name, ‘The LORD’” (Exodus 33:19). However, the account does not tell us what Moses saw, but what God spoke to him: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).
This shows us that God’s goodness is revealed to us through His Word, and also through His revealed attributes. God’s mercy, forbearance, steadfast love, faithfulness, forgiveness, and judgment are good attributes.
God’s good creation
Because God is good, His original creation reflected that goodness. Six times throughout Creation Week, God evaluated what He had created as good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and it culminated in the finished creation being declared ‘very good’ (1:31). Now, the goodness of God’s creation was derivative, meaning that its goodness came from and depended on God’s goodness. Without God’s goodness, nothing else can be good.
Unfortunately, the original goodness of the creation was corrupted by sin. Today, we see carnivory, thorns, disease, and death in creation, not because it was God’s original intention for His creation, but because Adam disobeyed God and sin brought into the creation things that do not align with God’s goodness.
God’s good providence
Even though creation is fallen, God has not abandoned it. His continuing care and provision for His creation, called providence, is one of the primary ways He displays His goodness to what He has made. When Paul wanted to highlight to the Lystrans and Athenians who God was, he told them they already had God’s witness of Himself in His provision of rain and seasons and harvest (Acts 14:17; 17:24–25). God is the One who upholds creation and who provides every good thing to His creatures.
This is the case for all of creation, but especially to His own people. Scripture is filled with instances of God providing for the needs of His people, and His people are consistently called to praise Him for His provision. The Psalms exhort us to “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to his name, for it is pleasant!” (Psalm 135:3).
God’s good salvation
When Adam and Eve sinned, God would have been perfectly just if they had been immediately judged and killed. But that would have ended human history after only days. Instead, God chose to unfold a plan of salvation that would show the whole scope of His love and mercy, while still satisfying the demands of His justice and righteousness. This plan of salvation culminated in the coming of Jesus Christ, God the Son in human flesh. And as God Incarnate, Jesus is God’s goodness on full display. Paul speaks about the incarnation of Christ as “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared” (Titus 3:4), and the author of Hebrews calls Christ “a high priest of the good things that have come” (Hebrews 9:11).
Jesus declares His own goodness: “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). He states that the works He did during His ministry are good (John 10:32), and the apostles affirmed that Jesus did good works, “for God was with him” (Acts 10:38).
When evil people are confronted with the goodness of God, they lash out against Him. And that is what happened when the leaders of the Jews of that day conspired and handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified. As Christ hung on the Cross dying a death that was reserved for the most despised and accursed people, it seemed like the goodness of God might have suffered a crushing defeat.
However, nothing could have been further from the truth. On the Cross, it was God’s good Son who crushed death, so that He could offer salvation to sinful people. And on the third day, Jesus’ victory over death was manifested in the Resurrection.
God’s good plan for His people
Now when we believe in Christ, God does not leave us in our sinful state, but He begins to re-make us in His image in a process called sanctification. One consequence of this is that we become capable of good works. Even in the Old Testament, believers are exhorted to, “Trust in the LORD, and do good” (Psalm 37:3). And the New Testament consistently calls Christians to these good works, not to save us, but to demonstrate our thankfulness to God for what He has done for us. Paul says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). An elder is to be “a lover of good” (Titus 1:8) and older women “are to teach what is good” to younger women (2:3).
The Person in the Godhead who mediates this work in the life of the Christian is the Holy Spirit, who is also called good. David asks, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!” (Psalm 143:10). And goodness is a fruit of the Spirit that is an evidence of God’s work in the believer’s life (Galatians 5:22).
The restored creation: God’s goodness for all eternity
Scripture speaks about how “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). All believers look forward to living with Christ in resurrection bodies on the restored earth. In some ways it will be a return to the “very good” state which He first created, but in other ways it will be even better because it will never be subject to sin and death.
Not only will creation be restored, but we will be, too. We will no longer struggle against the sin nature that has plagued us since the Fall of Adam. We will no longer be subject to aging, sorrow, pain, or death. Sin will be gone forever; so will the consequences of sin.
Nothing makes sense except in the light of God’s goodness
Today, many atheists argue that various sorts of evil are proof against God, or at least His goodness. However, Scripture is clear that 1) the evil now in God’s creation is ultimately the result of human evil, not a lack in God’s goodness and 2) God will not allow the evil in creation to persist forever. These scriptural truths refute atheists who point to the evil in creation as an argument against God’s goodness.
Ironically, the atheist’s own sense of good and evil is proof of a good God who made the atheist (and every other person) in His image (James 3:9). From where does the atheist get his sense of good and evil? How, in his materialistic belief system, can he justify the idea that 10,000 people dying in an earthquake is any more evil than someone stepping on an anthill? Why is he able to assign worth and judge things to be good or bad? Only because he has an innate sense of the goodness of God, and appeals to those values because he is created in God’s image!
The goodness of our God
The goodness of God is such a vast truth that we can only hope to scratch the surface of what Scripture reveals about this aspect of His nature. To the extent that we apprehend it, God’s goodness will transform our worship and our walk in Christ, and it helps us as we share the Gospel of the good God who calls us to follow Him.