Tuesday, September 28

God's Goodness

Looking at various descriptions on God's attributes, I find that the term "goodness" in relation to the character of God is used in two ways. Some who write on his attributes use it to describe the uprightness of God--that everything about him is perfectly pure and morally right. I have already done a piece on this aspect of God's character, and I called it God's righteousness. More commonly, however, this term is used to describe God's benevolent nature--his generosity--and this is the way I'm going to used it here.

God is by nature a giving God. He gives to his creation and sustains it out of his goodness. He provides all that is needed for all he has made.

The Lord is good to all,
and has compassion on all he has made.
The Lord supports all who fall,
and lifts up all who are bent over....
Everything looks to you in anticipation,
and you provide them with food on a regular basis.
You open your hand,
and fill every living thing with the food they desire.
(Psalm 145:9,10,15,16 NET)

God's love, mercy, and grace have their source in God's goodness, and sometimes those words are used more or less synonymously with general benevolency, but often they have meanings that are more specific, and I'm planning to consider each of them separately later in this series on God's attributes. In scripture, these terms are most frequently used in relation to God's benevolency in the particular gift of redemption, although this is not always the case. For instance, in Matthew 5:44, God's general providence for both "the evil and the good" is tied to his love.

God as truly good is the source of everything that is good:
All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change. (James 1:17 NET)
Everything good we have, and everything good that exists, comes from the heavenly Father. All that sustains our life and gives us true joy in life is given to us by God. Even when we receive good things through the benevolent acts of others, we are receiving from God's goodness, for none of us can give except from what we have already received as a good gift from our good Father.

In addition to being the source of all goodness, God is unchangingly and necessarily good. There is not even the slightest suggestion of instability or inconsistency in his goodness. He will never bring undue harm to anyone. At the same time, he is also freely good, meaning that he is good because it gives him pleasure to treat his creatures benevolently. Psalm 104 tells us that all of God provisions for human beings and all other creatures are part of God finding "pleasure in the living things he has made (v. 31)."

That God is good doesn't mean that every person receives equally from God's goodness. Some receive more generously of certain good gifts than others, and that doesn't negate his goodness. The parable in Matthew 20 suggests that as long as God does no one wrong, he can be more generous to some than others while remaining true to his goodness:
"Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (v. 15 NET)
Those who belong to him receive more of his goodness than those who are not his, for every single life circumstance works toward a good end in the lives of those who love him (Romans 8:28). For those who love God, even life's difficulties are good gifts given for good purposes.

The truest picture of God's goodness can be seen when this aspect of his nature is viewed in the context of the other facets of who he is. He is good in accordance with his righteousness, and because he is righteous, he must be harsh when harshness is the right response.
Notice therefore the kindness and harshness of God--harshness toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you... (Romans 11:22 NET)
He is never good toward us in a way that goes against what is right, and so he is never good in a way that overlooks sin:
The Lord , the Lord the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6,7 NET)
Out of his goodness, he is long-suffering toward us as sinners, slow to be harsh toward our sin, but in the end, our sin must be dealt with, and God's severity expressed against it.

God's goodness has a benevolent purpose that goes beyond just providing for our well-being in this temporal world, for it is designed with the generous intent of saving us from this rightful harshness of God toward sin. It is intended to work something of eternal consequence within us. Romans 2:4:
Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? (NET)
One of the kind purposes of God's goodness toward humankind is to turn human beings from their sin toward faith in the good God.

When we consider the goodness of God, one of the things we want to be certain of is that we have responded to that goodness with repentance. Not having an attitude of repentance shows contempt for God's goodness, and for God himself, and leads directly to "wrath...in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! (Romans 2:5 NET)." Considering God's goodness alongside his wrath against sin ought to bring us to God with the open hand of true repentant faith.

Let's be sure, as well, that we are appreciative of all the good things God has done for us. He is the source of everything good that we have, and he gives to us because he is good, not because we have a right to what we are given. Remember too, that when we are his, every single circumstance is a good gift, and an undeserved good gift, so God's people need to be the sort of people who give thanks in all circumstances.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his loyal love,
and for the amazing things he has done for people!
For he has satisfied those who thirst,
and those who hunger he has filled with food.

(Psalm 107:8,9)