The Goodness of God


You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.

Psalm 119:68 ESV

God brought the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt by majestically displaying His glory. Ten plagues of apocalyptic magnitude He poured upon the Egyptians, His presence manifested in pillars of cloud and fire to His people as they fled, His mighty breath split the Red Sea into two for them to walk across and engulfed Pharaoh and his chariots as they followed after, and as they sojourned through the wilderness, He fed them with bread from heaven. Even still, when they came to Sinai to receive the Law of the LORD, the Israelites built a golden calf to worship while Moses was upon the mountain. God’s justified anger broken against the people, and He commanded them to enter the Promised Land alone, though He would still graciously send an angel with them to defeat their enemies. Moses, however, interceded on behalf of the Israelites, pleading for the LORD’s presence to go with them or else to never send them away. God relents at the prayer of Moses and looks favorably upon His people once more.

Yet it is after these events that Moses makes an astonishing request to God: “Please, show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). Amazing, God replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD’” (v. 19). The LORD then commanded Moses to hide himself within a cleft of a rock, for he would only be able to see the afterimage of God’s goodness. After all, if our mortal eyes can be damaged by the radiance of the sun, how much more by its Creator! Exodus 34:5-9 then describe the encounter:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “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.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

GOD IS GOOD

The prayer that many learn as little children, God is great; God is good, is a rather fitting summary of the two halves of this study. The incommunicable attributes from incomprehensibility to omnipotence could be said to describe the greatness of God, whereas the communicable attributes from wisdom to holiness are descriptions His goodness. And yet we must also seek to understand God’s goodness as an attribute itself.

The Scripture clearly communicates to us that God is good. “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8)! “The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:9). “The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7). “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34)! “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind” (Psalm 31:19)! “You are good and do good; teach me your statutes” (Psalm 119:68). And lest we forget, Jesus explicitly told us, “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).

God, therefore, is good. Amen!

But what is good? How is goodness defined? Is this another attribute that must be described negatively; is it merely everything that is not bad? Although we have been familiar with goodness from the beginning of our lives, placing it into words is quite a difficult task. John Frame does as fine a job:

Good is, first of all, a general term of commendation. We describe as good any kind of excellence, including beauty, economic value, practical usefulness, skillfulness—indeed, anything that evokes from us a favorable response. In theology we tend to focus on moral goodness, but there are many other kinds of goodness as well. We may describe someone as a “good plumber” or a “good pianist” even though he is morally wretched. A dinner, computer, or a hammer can be good, even though inanimate objects are not subject to moral evaluation. So we may distinguish between moral goodness and nonmoral goodness. Nonmoral goodness often means “good for something,” so we often describe it as “teleological goodness.” In this sense, God says that the light is good, in Genesis 1:4.[1]

Conceptualizing goodness as a “term of commendation” easily turns our attention toward Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4:8 for us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise,” or in other words, think about whatever is good. God’s declaration to Moses as His goodness passed over him seems to indicate this as well, for as God passed by He proclaimed His attributes: 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.

Charnock, however, notes that “he is not first God, and then afterwards good; but he is good as he is God, his essence, being one and the same, is formally and equally God and good.”[2] God, therefore, is goodness; He does not merely possess goodness. He alone is supremely true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy, merciful, gracious, patient, faithful, and forgiving. He alone is supremely good.

But as the psalmist prayed, God not only is good; He also does good. The first reference to the goodness of His deeds is, as Frame noted, Genesis 1:4, and by the end of the Bible’s first chapter, the LORD declares all of creation to be very good (1:31). And even with creation groaning under the weight of sin, “he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). His goodness still extends out over every square inch of the cosmos. We only must have eyes to see it. Yet, like God’s wisdom, His goodness is brilliantly displayed in the forming and sustaining of creation, but it is blindingly radiant within His redemption through Jesus Christ. Mark Jones remarks on the goodness of God particularly displayed in the crucifixion of Christ, saying:

The highest gift possible for the Father to bestow on his people was that of his Son, the one to whom he showed, for a period, less goodness than he showed to vile, God-hating sinners like you and me. As we reflect on such an expression of God’s goodness, you must also be moved by the fact that the one who for no reason merited divine wrath, received what we deserved. Amazingly, for a time, Christ received more wrath and we more love.[3]

TASTE AND SEE

The most obvious of applications for considering the goodness of God is our own call to do good. Paul, after all, commands us to “be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1), and we are to be people who are “zealous for good works” in Christ (Titus 2:14). Yet I would like to give two other exhortations from the goodness of God.

First, Psalm 34:8 tells us, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” God’s goodness is not merely a subject to study, a treatise to write, or a topic to discuss; it is a reality to be tasted and seen. In The Great Divorce, a character from heaven warns his scholarly friend about real truth, saying, “hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.”[4] The same is true of God’s goodness. We must not satisfy ourselves with the general understanding that God is good; we should strive to taste it and see it, to experience the wonders of His goodness.

But how do we do this? Psalm 19 tells us to study God’s world and His Word. Through the sun above, we have a visual display of God’s glory and goodness, and each piece of food within our mouths is tangible testament of His faithful provision. And God’s Word, like Himself, is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true. Treasures of more value than every ounce of gold in the world are within, waiting to be seen, and its words are “sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Second, the Psalms repeatedly call us to “give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever” (106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1)! If every breath, every heartbeat, every step, every thought, every conversation, every rainfall, every drink, every bite of food, every word of the Scriptures, every drop of Christ’s atoning and sinless blood is given to us by the sheer goodness of God our Father, how could we not be thankful? The command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) is not unreasonable. In fact, it is the only reasonable response to the flood of His goodness that has engulfed us.


[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology, 233-234.

[2] Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, as cited in Mark Jones, God Is, 136.

[3] Mark Jones, God Is, 139.

[4] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, 40.

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