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, 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 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 him 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—and 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
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.
- 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. 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 is 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 “good.”
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 and holiness in action. It is related to moral purity, but also to kindness and mercy.
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 his expense.
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 are approving of it. And when we say that a person is good, we are saying that they do good consistently because of an inward character quality they have.
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. What did Jesus say about this?
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. 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. As the saying goes, God is good, all the time.
God’s goodness contrasted with human character
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 good, and humans by nature are not. Because this is true, we can look at the character and behavior of humans to define what goodness is not.
In Isaiah the thoughts and ways of the wicked are contrasted with those of God:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’ (Isaiah 55:6-9)
According to this passage the thoughts of God concern the condition of those entrapped and condemned by their own sin, and the ways of God are mercy, forgiveness, and restoration because of his love for the sinner. However, the thoughts and ways of the wicked are not concerned with the good of others. They delight in seeing the downfall and punishment of people, especially their enemies.
God is compassionate, we are not
We have all delighted in seeing the downfall of people we dislike, which shows that God’s ways are indeed higher than ours.
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 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 say, we are the miserly and vindictive ones, not God. God really does love the humans he made in his image. He is not looking for ways to punish, but for ways to turn aside his anger. Just as a father loves to give to his children, God 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 God’s dealings with humans, he ceaselessly proves that he is good, loving, and kind toward us.
God’s grace shown to all
Is God good only to certain people or is he good to all people? Jesus declared of 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)
Confirmation that God is good, loving, and kind 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.
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)
God shows all people kindness by his provisions of physical blessing, health, protection, and ability to enjoy life. Some theologians call this “common grace.” I don’t like to use this term, because in truth God is kind and gracious with all his gifts, both physical and spiritual, and offers them to all, whether they accept them or not.
Suffering and the Goodness of God
But these answers 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, and 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. Many times it’s because we reject God’s ways and choose our own paths.
The question of undeserved suffering is more difficult to answer, and I will deal with this in another blog post at some future time. The book Suffering and the Goodness of God, (Morgan and Petersen, editors) may help you start to 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 is worth the read.
But one thing must be said about this topic before we leave it. 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.
God is compassionate toward us
In Scripture and throughout human history, God has proven himself to be just, fair, and generous to all people. But if the question of the goodness of God is tied only to whether we receive physical blessings in this life, then we will never be able to answer it fully. 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 enjoy his love and compassion. Love is the “default” position of God toward us. But whether we are experiencing pain or comfort, God receives us when we seek him and turn to him in faith. Through faith in his Son Jesus, he accepts us and and gives us a place in his family as his children.
The blessing of the gospel
The ultimate proof of the goodness of God is that he offers to all people his spiritual blessings, which are eternal and transcend far beyond this physical existence. 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 back to him. God’s love for us 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)
This passage would really make no sense if Jesus was not God in the flesh. God himself would not make anyone die a sacrificial death, since he has given humans free will. But 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.
The gospel is the good news of God’s salvation, offered to all people. When we hear the gospel and receive it, we have received God’s most valuable blessings: forgiveness of sin, the power of God’s Spirit, a secure relationship with the Creator, and an eternal home with him. 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 God’s intentions or love toward us. But when we do accept his offer, 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)