THE GOODNESS OF GOD
Is God really good?
“Why does God allow wars and suffering?” “Why did God create the corona virus?” The goodness of God has come under scrutiny lately. Many people blame God either indirectly or indirectly, insinuating that he is responsible for the world’s problems, or for everyone’s personal misery. Countless people in the world today view him as harsh, angry, cruel, or disinterested in the people he created. For some, even the concept of God brings negative images and thoughts. Some people even believe that he not only creates good, but evil as well.
By logic most of us intuitively know that God should be good but have nagging questions about it. Some Christians say they believe God is good, but secretly doubt that it is true. In response to these questions, most Bible teachers and pastors teach the goodness of God. But you get the impression that some assert that it is true only because it’s what the Bible teaches, but they don’t understand it and cannot defend it. We believe God is good, but how do we know it’s true?
Misinformation about God
The enemy of our souls has suppressed the truth about God and lied about him that he is not good. And people have listened to and have believed these lies. A strategy the devil has used throughout human history is to blame God for the evil that people have done. People commonly accuse God of causing the suffering of millions by allowing wars and conflicts. But God does not cause wars and human conflict—humans cause them. God in fact commands us to love our neighbors, not start wars with them. So, we can’t blame God for our disobedience.
These types of lies have been passed down in human communication through many generations, and have been repeated everywhere, over and over, drowning out the truth of God’s Word. Wherever false teachings about God’s nature flourish, the knowledge of his goodness is suppressed. In this kind of spiritual environment, people tend to see him as cruel, harsh, and unforgiving—an angry God. This is the “default” view of God when the devil is in charge. There are some cynical people who have become very proficient at expressing this viewpoint.
Church teachings that cause us to doubt God’s goodness
Even some teachings of certain churches have caused many people to doubt the goodness of God. These teachings have been a source of contention and even derision for many non-believers, and have without question kept many from entering the faith:
- The teaching that God does not love everyone, but only certain people he chooses to love, that he’s good only to certain people, but not to all people.
- The teaching that Christ did not die for everyone, but only for those he predetermined would believe in him.
- That God torments or tortures the wicked in hell for ever. This teaching has probably caused more people to unnecessarily reject the Christian faith than any other.
- That God eternally condemns all people who have not had an opportunity to respond to the gospel in any form.
Does our opinion of God matter?
God is good whether people recognize it or not. Because he is good, he can even use evil and suffering for good. And he does not need our approval, as he knows that his intentions towards us are right and pure.
But on the other hand, God wants people to know that he is good. He’s grieved when people think of him as miserly, harsh, and vindictive. When people see him as such, he is sad and is angry with those who spread this misinformation. They clearly do not know who he really is.
What is Goodness?
Before going any farther, let’s look at what we mean by the term “goodness.”
Galatians 5:22-23 describes the fruits of the Spirit, that are a reflection of God himself. Goodness is one of those fruits. In the New Testament, goodness is translated from the Greek word agathosune, defined as “uprightness of heart and life.”
Goodness as a character quality is virtue in action as related to the treatment of others. Actions inspired by goodness are done to benefit others, not just for the sake of being virtuous. Someone who is filled with goodness will live and act selflessly on behalf of others, and their actions may even benefit others at their own expense. So, it’s related to kindness and mercy.
Goodness as a personal attribute is very difficult to describe in words, but we know it when we see it. When we see good behavior and recognize it as good, we approve of it. And when we say that a person is good, we mean that they bless and provide for the needs of others because of who they are, not because they have to.
Goodness is one of the main character attributes of God. This means that he doesn’t just do good things, but goodness is intrinsic to his nature. And when we say that God is good, we mean that he is good toward us—he is kind and merciful towards us. His actions toward us benefit us and not him.
How do we know that God is good?
This is a question that people ask a lot; if they don’t ask it out loud, they wonder about it to themselves. It’s important we understand that when the Bible says God is good, it means he is recognizably good, that he has demonstrated his goodness to us so that we can see and appreciate it. In God’s dealings with humans, he ceaselessly proves that he is good, loving, and kind toward us.
Jesus told a rich young ruler:
No one is good—except God alone. (Luke 18:19)
Jesus was saying that by God’s standards, only God is truly and innately good. In contrast, humans by nature are not in themselves good. Whatever goodness they have is derived from God, not themselves. The following are six ways we know that God is good.
1) God is kind
Jesus proclaimed of God:
He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. (Luke 6:35)
If you have ever raised children, you realize what it’s like to give constantly without being appreciated. A good father provides for his children because he loves them and is willing to sacrifice for them, regardless of how they treat him. In the same way, God shows us his kindness every day even though most people don’t acknowledge his kindness, show any gratitude, or even acknowledge his existence.
God shows all people kindness by his provisions of physical blessing, health, protection, and ability to enjoy life. Some theologians call this “common grace” as opposed to the grace God shows to those who are saved and forgiven. I don’t like this term, because in truth there is no such division in the Bible. God is kind and gracious with all his gifts, both physical and spiritual, and offers them to all people, whether they accept them or not. As the saying goes, God is good, all the time.
2) God is generous
Our heavenly Father is gracious and gives generously to all. Confirmation of this is that he keeps sending good gifts to us even though we don’t recognize that they come from him and that we don’t deserve them. Jesus said this about God:
He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
Just as a father loves to give to his children, God is generous and loves to give good gifts to us. James declared:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. (James 1:17)
Our heavenly Father’s gifts are good and perfect, and he gives generously to all. In the Apostle Paul’s plea to the crowd at Lystra who were about to worship him, he says of God:
“In the past, he let all nations go their way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:16-17)
3) God is compassionate
God is not looking for ways to punish those who do wrong, but for ways to turn aside his anger and instead show his compassion.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)
The author of Lamentations (thought by many to be the prophet Jeremiah) was well acquainted with grief and suffering. Even in the midst of great anguish, he wrote,
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord… For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lamentations 3:25-26, 31-33)
God does not take pleasure when people suffer. He much prefers to see people live a peaceful life under his love and care.
4) God is patient
God is patient with us. He doesn’t punish us right away for every sin we do.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
God waits for us to repent and gives people a lifetime of opportunity to respond to his kindness and love. If we perish it is our own fault, not his.
5) God is impartial
God is impartial in his treatment of people and his judgments. He is just and fair to all people, not just to certain people. Speaking of how God will judge the Jews and Gentiles, Paul said:
“…for God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:8-11)
After the apostle Peter saw how the Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ, he realized God didn’t favor the Jews just because they were Jews:
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (Acts 10:34-35)
I recommend Leighton Flowers’ book God’s Provision For All, A Defense of God’s Goodness for a more in-depth discussion on this.
6) God loves us
God really does love the humans he made in his image. In Scripture and throughout human history, God has proven himself to be just, fair, patient, and generous to all people. He is kind and provides for those he created because he loves and values them.
The ultimate proof of God’s love for us was shown in sending Christ to earth to dwell among us and then die a sacrificial death to reconcile us with him. God’s love compelled him to give us the greatest gift, at his own expense.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God came to earth and assumed a human body so that he himself could personally demonstrate his love, by dying for us through the body of Jesus Christ. By Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection he conquered sin and death for us all. Through faith in Christ, God accepts us and gives us a place in his family as his children.
Love is the “default” position of God toward us. The fact that God loves all people, but we do not, proves that by nature he is good, and we are not. Contrary to what people may say, we are the miserly and vindictive ones, not God. We have all delighted in seeing the downfall of people we dislike, but God doesn’t think this way. His ways are higher than ours.
We know God is good because he is:
- Generous, gracious
- Compassionate, merciful
- Impartial, just, fair
Suffering and the Goodness of God
The answers we have discussed so far will not satisfy everyone, because many people experience much pain in the course of their lives, and they tend to blame God for it. Everyone experiences both suffering and blessing in this life, but some clearly experience more pain than others. But we must also realize that suffering is normally a small part of anyone’s time on earth. The potential that God grants to enjoy life is much greater over one’s whole life span. But for various reasons we don’t take full advantage of these opportunities. Frequently (but not always), it’s because we reject God’s ways and choose our own paths.
The question of undeserved suffering is more difficult to answer. But those who struggle with this need first to consider the following. Jesus left his glory in heaven and came to earth to live as a human. As a man, he suffered in every way we suffer, but even more. He was born into a poor family and lived a very meager life. He was falsely accused and died an unjust death on a Roman cross, to pay for the sins we committed. Since Jesus was God in the flesh, we can never say that God doesn’t understand pain and suffering. We know that through Jesus, God not only suffered, but took our pain and sin upon himself. He suffered for us and along with us. This is quintessential goodness.
The book Suffering and the Goodness of God, (Morgan and Petersen, editors) may help you further explore these questions. It includes discussions by various authors on how evil and suffering relate to God’s goodness. C. S. Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain is a short philosophical discussion on the topic of suffering and offers very profound insights into human suffering.
The blessing of the gospel
Proof of the goodness of God lies in his eternal and transcendent blessings. The gospel is the good news of God’s salvation, offered to all people. When we receive this offer, we have received God’s most valuable blessings: forgiveness of sin, the power of his Spirit, a secure relationship with our Creator, an eternal home with him and a glorious destiny.
God offers these spiritual blessings to all, showing that he is indeed good to all. The fact that many will not accept them does not change his intentions or love toward us. But when we do accept them, we will personally know for certain that God is indeed good!
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 118:1)