Dr. Richard L. Strauss
March 30, 1980
Jesus was on the road, making His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate His last Passover on earth. This time He Himself would become the Passover Lamb who would be slain for the sins of the world. As He walked along with His disciples, a young man ran up to Him, knelt down in front of Him and asked, "Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17).
"Good Master." That was a very unusual form of address. In all of Jewish religious literature, no Rabbi was ever called "good." Only God and His law were considered to be good. Why did the man do it? Was this a case of empty flattery, or had this young man become convinced of something that the rest of the religious establishment of the day had refused to admit, that Jesus Christ was actually God in the flesh? Jesus was about to find out.
"Why do you call Me good?" He asked. "No one is good except God alone" (Mark 10:18). His comment was not a denial of His own deity, as some have tried to tell us. Rather, it was an opportunity for the rich young ruler to confess faith in Christ's divine Person. He was opening the door; Jesus was presenting the opportunity for him to confess that Jesus was the Messiah. That confession never came, indicating the man's lack of spiritual understanding.
But Christ's statement tells us something about God that I want to talk about today. It's something we need to consider if ever we hope to know Him intimately. It is that God is good, and beyond that, He is the only one who can rightfully be called "good" in the ultimate sense of that term. What does that mean?
1. Listening to the Word of God
That word good (agathos) refers to what is excellent in its character or constitution and beneficial or useful in its effect. Two ideas: excellent and beneficial. Its Old Testament equivalent (tohv) means pleasant or agreeable, excellent or valuable, as well as benevolent and kind. Two ideas that come together as we consider God's goodness: One has to do with the perfection of God's person and the other with the kindness of His acts.
We see both ideas put together in one verse in the Psalms.
"You are good, and what You do is good" (Psalm 119:68a).
In that little statement, it's all summed up.
First of all, God Himself is good. That is, everything that God should be, the ideal person, the sum total of all perfection. There are no defects nor contradictions in Him, and nothing can be added to His nature to make Him any better than He is. He is excellence to an infinite degree, possessing every possible desirable quality and, therefore, is of inestimable value. God is good.
Now look at the second part of that statement: What You do is good.
Because God is Himself the highest and greatest good, He is also the source and fountainhead of all other good. He does good things: He shows goodness to others. It is His nature to be kind, generous and benevolent, to demonstrate good will toward men, and to take great pleasure in making them happy. Because God is good, He wants us to have what we need for our happiness, and He see that we get it. We don't always understand how some of God's actions in our lives can be good—we'll talk about that in a little bit. But God knows what we need for our good and He sees that we get it. Every good thing we now enjoy or ever hope to enjoy flows from Him, and no good thing has ever existed or ever shall exist that does not come from His good hand.
For that reason Jesus could say, "No one is good except God alone." God alone is infinitely good. God alone is innately good. God alone is immutably good. And all goodness that exists outside of Him had to find its source in Him. He is the fountainhead of all good.
Even as a man as great and godly as the Apostle Paul had to admit that in his natural being there was no good thing (Romans 7:18). If Paul admitted it, we will have to admit it, too. If there is any good to be found in us, it had to come from God. We are incapable of producing good in and of ourselves.
As the Apostle James put it:
"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17a, NASB).
In addition to that, everything God does is good, specially tailored for our benefit. Asaph launched into Psalm 73 by stating literally, "Only good is God to Israel." In other words, God is nothing but good. He can do nothing but what is absolutely best.
Here is a verse I quote frequently:
"As for God, His way is perfect: The Lord's word is flawless; He shields all who take refuge in Him" (Psalm 18:30).
If everything God does is good, and all His acts are the outflowing of His goodness, it would seem that, in one sense, this attribute embraces all His other attributes. And there is Biblical evidence for that. God promised Moses that He would make all His goodness pass before him (Exodus 33:19). The next day when He did pass before him on Mt. Sinai, God revealed His compassion, His graciousness, His long-suffering, His mercy, His truth, and His forgiveness (Exodus 34:5-7). Evidently all those attributes were summed up in His goodness because the day before, He said, "I'm going to let My goodness pass before you."
The Roman Christians probably got the same idea. The apostle Paul wrote to them:
"Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).
He mentions three things: goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering. Then he says, "not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance." He only repeats one word: goodness. Evidently he's implying that forbearance and long-suffering are part of God's goodness. And they are. God's goodness embraces all of His other attributes.
I think we can see the relationship between goodness and some other of God's attributes. For example, when His goodness gives of itself unconditionally and sacrificially, it is love. When it shows favor to the guilty and undeserving, it is grace. When it reaches out to relieve the miserable and distressed, it is mercy. When it shows patience toward those who deserve punishment, it is long-suffering. When it reveals to us the way things are, it is truth. When it bears the offense of our sin and absolves us of our guilt, it is forgiveness. When the Bible says God is good, it is referring to all these qualities and more. "Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good.
"Sing praises unto His name; for it is pleasant" (Psalm 135:3).
"Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness," Psalm 107 says several times over.
2. The Expression of God's Goodness
While God's goodness is unfolded in all that He is and all that He does, the Bible reveals some specific expressions of it.
For one thing, it is expressed in creation. In the Genesis account we are told seven times that what God made was good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The last reference states, "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). No one can observe the grandeur of God's handiwork and deny that it is good.
Man has managed to mar it considerably, but it was good the way God made it, and it still reflects that goodness: blue skies studded with fluffy white clouds by day and spangled with sparkling bright stars at night; glistening snow-covered mountain peaks; fields and trees with infinite shades of green and gold; brilliant, multi-colored flowers that send out lovely fragrances. There is no end to the goodness we experience in God's creation. As the Psalmist put it, "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 33:5).
And then there is man: the zenith of God's creative genius. He made him with eyes to behold the beauty of nature, ears to hear its lovely sounds, nostrils to enjoy its pleasant aromas, taste buds to relish its infinite variety of edible delights, to name just a few evidences of God's goodness. He affords us no end of good things: the warmth of sunlight, the joy of loving family and friends, the satisfaction of productive labor, the exhilaration of physical exercise and recreation, the refreshment of a good night's sleep, provision for our needs, protection from dangers, and so many other good things that enrich our lives.
There are blessings God bestows on all mankind. They are not reserved for believers alone.
"The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. ...The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food at the proper time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing" (Psalm 145:9, 15-16).
Even the animals and the plants are objects of God's goodness. Every living thing.
Jesus said He makes the sun rise on the evil as well as on the good, and sends the rain on the just as well as the unjust (Matthew 5:45). He deals bountifully and kindly even with ungrateful and wicked men (Luke 6:35).
As Paul put it in a message to a group of unbelievers at Lystra, "He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17). He does that for unbelievers. That's how good He is.
The unbeliever tends to take God's goodness for granted. They might even think about it at all. But the person who knows God personally, who understands and appreciates God's goodness can not only enjoy His blessings fully, but also use them thankfully and unselfishly. And that's the way God wants us to use His blessings.
"For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:4).
God says, "Yes, here it is. I gave it to you for you to enjoy. Every good things is yours to enjoy; just use it thankfully."
Along with these general benefits which God has bestowed on everyone, believers enjoy a whole lot more:
- We have in our possession the Word of God, which is good (Psalm 110:39; Romans 7:12; Hebrews 6:5)
- We know the will of God, which is good (Romans 12:2)
- We have the assurance that our good God will work every detail of our lives together for good (Romans 8:28)
So we can experience an unshakeable peace and joy in the midst of calamity which unbelievers cannot begin to comprehend. The expressions of God's goodness to His children are endless.
"How abundant are the good things that You have stored up for those who fear You, that You bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in You" (Psalm 31:19).
"No good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless" (Psalm 84:11b).
No good thing.
3. The Objections to God's Goodness
Maybe you've been doubting that lately. It is no surprise that God's goodness is being called into question. It was probably the first attribute of God to be attacked in human history. When Satan met Eve in the garden, he implied that God was less than good for denying her the luscious fruit of that one forbidden tree (Genesis 3:1-5). And men have been challenging God's goodness ever since.
How can a good God allow evil to exist in His world? How can He permit disease, pain, suffering, poverty, hunger, prejudice, greed, exploitation, crime, war, natural catastrophe and destruction? Some are saying either He isn't very good, or He doesn't have the power to stop it.
We discussed then when we talked about God's sovereignty. We talked about how evil entered the world because man chose sin of his own volition. His sin affected all of God's creation, and we experience its detrimental effects to this day. Besides that, our suffering is intensified by repeated sinful choices, not only our own, but decisions made by individuals and nations the world over. We are inconvenienced when some Arab oil sheik makes a selfish decision regarding the price of oil. Or there is a drunk whose out of his mind and he gets behind the wheel and causes a tragic accident. Many people suffer because of his sin. The only way to remove all suffering would be to deny everyone in the world without exception all of their freedom. We need to remove choices because people can choose to sin, so we would need to make everyone puppets on a string. God would have to pull the strings and decide everything that everyone was going to do. Do you want to live like that? Do you want God to remove your freedom of choice?
But the question even nags at the mind of Christians. "If God is so good, why did He let my mate get cancer, or why did He take my child away from me, or why did He let my marriage fall apart, or why did He let me lose my job? I'm not guilty of any great sin." We begin to doubt that God is really good.
The cause of our dilemma is our unwillingness to understand what is truly good for us. We have the strange notion that the ultimate good would be to do anything we please and to know that everything we do will turn out for our happiness. We may not say those words, but deep down inside, we think we know best. But God, in His omniscience and wisdom, knows that the choices we make in our human wisdom and with our sinful natures will not make us truly happy in the end.
God's goal for us is to make us like His Son. Christlikeness is our highest good and will bring us maximum happiness. When we want something that does not contribute to that goal, it not only fails to bring us happiness, but ultimately it adds to unhappiness. In other words, we don't always know what is best for us.
We ought to be able to understand that, especially if we are parents. Our children think they know what will make them happy, but since we have lived a few more years than they and know a little more about life than they do, we know better than they about what produces true happiness. So we insist what we know will be for their good, and we do it because we love them. Sometimes we even have to make life unpleasant for them so they will learn to do what is best for them. To do less would not be loving and good. It would be inconsiderate and neglectful.
Let me illustrate it another way, from the world of medicine. Medical studies have determined that the disease known as leprosy does not damage the limbs and make the fingers and toes drop off, as we once thought it did. It attacks the nervous system and destroys the victim's ability to feel pain. As a result, lepers damage their own limbs by such careless practices as grasping things too tightly, cutting themselves and not treating the wound, or allowing infection to go unattended. That's what actually destroys the limbs, not the disease itself.
Medical technicians have experimented with a device that inflicts a minor electric chock whenever the leper is abusing a vulnerable part of his body. At first they made it with an on/off switch, and the lepers kept turning it off. After all, nobody enjoys an electric shock. So it did them no good. The only way the device proved to be useful was by making it impossible to turn off. Then the pain of the shock protected the patient from destroying his own body and adding to his own misery. The pain of that electric shock proved to be good, and it contributed to the patient's ultimate happiness, as unpleasant as it might have been for the moment.
Most of us would like God to turn off the current, to turn down the heat, to get us out from under our burdens. But that wouldn't be good. That would be inconsiderate and neglectful. If we had an on/off switch, we would take care of it ourselves, but that wouldn't be very smart. True happiness can only be found when we get to know Him and grow in the likeness of His Son. Nothing reminds us of that more dramatically nor encourages us to grow more effectively than pain and suffering. Without it, many of us would probably drift away, live our lives apart from Him, and never know true happiness.
Suffering does not cast doubt on God's goodness. It demonstrates it. Suffering is the evidence of God's goodness. The Psalmist saw it:
"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees" (Psalm 119:71).
I learn more about God when I suffer. I learn more about His will for my life. Here's how it works:
"I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear Him" (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
Whatever God does or whatever God allows, it's designed to draw us to Himself.
The objections are there, but when we understand who God is, they begin to melt away. God is good.
4. Our Response to God's Goodness
What should our response be? When we become aware of God's goodness, it should elicit a certain kind of response from us. We see that proper response in a group of weary exiles who had made their way back to their promised land after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. Their goal was to rebuild the temple of God. Progress was slow, but in the second year of their restoration, the foundation was finally completed.
Those who had lived long enough to see Solomon's temple knew that this one would not begin to compare in size and beauty. But it made little difference to them. They were back in their land, and their temple was under way.
"With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; His love toward Israel endures forever.' And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid" (Ezra 3:11).
They sang in praise and they gave thanks, because the Lord is good.
All through the Bible we are exhorted to do likewise.
"Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever" (Psalm 106:1).
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.
(See also Psalm 107:1, 8, 15, 21, 31; 118:1, 29; 135:3; 136:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 2 Chronicles 5:13.)
The word "praise" comes from a root that means "to be boastful." When we praise God we are boasting in the good things He has done, not necessarily because He has done them for us (as if we deserved anything good), but simply because they display His goodness.
Our response to God's goodness is not only praise, but also thanksgiving. Everyone knows what thanksgiving is, but not all that many practice it. I'm convinced that if we were to take a few minutes out of each day to do nothing but thank God for some of the good things He has done, we would probably never get depressed again. Take a thanksgiving break. Thanksgiving is like a tonic that brightens the entire complexion of our lives. Learn to practice it regularly. It may require discipline at first, but soon it will become a joyful and satisfying way of life.
God is good! If you haven't discovered it yet, won't you heed the exhortation of the Psalmist?
"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him" (Psalm 34:8).
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
One thing that demonstrates His goodness above all others is sending His Son to die on Calvary's cross for our sins. He did it because He loves us and He cares about our happiness—not only in time, but for eternity.
If you've never trusted Christ as your Savior, we invite you to do that, and receive His good gift of everlasting salvation. Won't you please settle that issue? Right now. Say to Him: "Lord, I thank You for Your goodness in sending Your Son to the cross to die for my sins. I believe Jesus died in my place and paid for my sins. Lord Jesus, come into my heart and save me from sin."
Jesus stands outside the door to your life and awaits your invitation. Won't you trust Him?
Father, we pray that some would respond to Your goodness today by thanking You for eternal life—which is found in the Person of Your Son—and opening our hearts' door to Him. May some today be saved, we pray. And may believers rejoice in Your goodness and develop that attitude of life that lives in continual praise. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
God Is Good
Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
Psalm 106:1 NIV
Continue to AT-22: He Will Abundantly Pardon