What do you mean, “God is good”?

Words are funny things. They take on different meanings depending on how we use them. The word “good” is like that. Think of the many ways we use it. We use it to describe welcome news, an obedient child, a businessman with integrity, the healthy type of cholesterol, as well as a successful day of fishing. So what do we mean when we say that God is good? None of these things! When we talk about God’s goodness, we’re referring not so much to His righteousness and purity, but to how kind and generous He is. Tomorrow we’ll see how He demonstrates this. But first let me emphasize three facts about His goodness:

Fact #1: It is unbiased. You and I tend to favor people who are successful. For this reason, James warned, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4) Our evil thoughts are hopes that the successful person can benefit us in a way the poor person cannot. Praise God He never thinks like that! In talking about race relations, we may say that a person is “color blind” meaning that the color of someone’s skin makes no difference to him. Be they red or yellow, black or white, he treats them fairly. Something like that can be said about God. His goodness is not aimed at those who can benefit Him in some say, for what can we give to God that He hasn’t first given to us? Instead, He showers His goodness upon us all, no matter what we’re like.

For example, in Matthew 5:43, Jesus tells us how to respond to those who hurt us: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Don’t even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The mark of a “complete” person (That’s what “perfect” means here—not flawless performance, but the choice to love unconditionally) is the ability to be kind to those who hurt you and do good to those who have done you wrong. For that is the story of God’s love in a nutshell. His goodness is indiscriminating and—

Fact #2: It is undeserved. Romans 5:6 says, “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” In other words, where can we look to get a perfect picture of God’s goodness? To Jesus! For in Him God’s goodness finds its perfect expression. His death reminds us that God’s goodness never violates His justice. Sin must always be dealt with, for He is a holy God who cannot tolerate the smallest sin. And yet, His goodness reminds us that as wicked and as ungrateful as we are at times, He doesn’t want us to suffer for it. So He sent His only Son to die in our place.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the 19th century English artist, stopped for tea one day at his daughter’s home. As a special treat, his granddaughter was allowed to join them at the table. Unfortunately, she misbehaved and was made to stand in a corner with her face to the wall. A wise grandfather, Sir Edward knew better than to interfere with his granddaughter’s discipline. So the next morning he returned to his daughter’s home with paints and palette in hand. Going to the corner where the little girl was made to stand, he proceeded to decorate it with beautiful pictures—a kitten chasing its tail, lambs in a field, goldfish swimming. His wisdom kept him from interfering in his granddaughter’s training, but his love drove him to do whatever he could to reduce her suffering.

God’s goodness is like that. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” but then it quickly adds, “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) You and I deserve whatever we get when we sin. And because everyone sins, each one of us will one day die. But not forever! God’s goodness is so great that instead of leaving us to perish in our sins, He gave us a Savior to suffer in our place. For His goodness is undeserved, unbiased, and—

Fact #3: It is unending. While serving as a missionary in Romania, I was confronted by beggars on a daily basis. Usually I responded with compassion, not always giving them money, lest they spend it on alcohol, but at least with a gift of food. I say usually because there were days when I got up on the wrong side of the bed or had nothing with me to give them. On those days, I’m ashamed to say, I wasn’t very patient. I’d say, “Quit pestering me. I gave you something yesterday, and I don’t have time to deal with you today.” Aren’t you glad God isn’t like that? Because He’s infinitely wealthy, there’s no end to His goodness. Paul assures us of this in Philippians 4:19, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” And because His mood never fluctuates, He’s as happy to meet our needs today as He was yesterday, and the compassion He’ll feel for us after 10,000 years will be as strong as it is today. For “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:17) I close today’s study with the words of the songwriter:

“Praise the Lord, He never changes. I come to Him, He’s always there. He comforts me on every level, takes the burdens that I bear. Praise the Lord, He never changes. He’s never any other way. And He’ll be the same tomorrow as He was and is today.”

(Click on the picture below to listen to this song.)

Tomorrow’s lesson – “Evidences of God’s Goodness”

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