Leader: “God is good,”
People: “All the time!”
Leader: “And all the time,”
People: “God is good!”
If you have spent time in a faith tradition that makes use of call-and-response in worship, this exchange is probably familiar to you. But do you ever stop to consider what we mean when we say that, “God is good?”
When we contemplate God’s goodness, the sufferings that we endure and the evil that we witness sometimes cause us to struggle with God’s goodness. They may leave us asking “Is God good?”
God is good because goodness is His nature. And because goodness is God’s nature, all that He does is good, and God’s character is the standard for all that is good.
What is Goodness?
‘Good’ is a word that we use in a number of different ways in the English language. We are pleased when our children are good (obedient). We might describe our favorite songs and foods as good (pleasing). We prefer to work and associate with people who are good (honest and trustworthy).
‘Good’ means a lot of different things to us. The dictionary provides seven different definitions for ‘good’, and several of them are applicable to our understanding of God’s goodness:
- Possessing moral virtue
- Possessing the qualities required
- Enjoyable or satisfying
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.Psalm 100:5
Proclamations of God’s goodness can be found throughout scripture. This is just one of many. Yet, as we spend time with these proclamations of God’s goodness, that goodness begins to take shape in our minds. Here, the Psalmist speaks of God’s faithfulness as evidence of His goodness.
What other characteristics of goodness does scripture reveal?
- Justice, mercy, and humbleness: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8
- Kind and generous giving: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:9-11
- Protection: Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. – Psalm 34:8
- Compassion, patience, and love: The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness – Exodus 34:6
Only God is Good
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone –Luke 18:18-19
Jesus’s response to the rich young ruler reminds us of the weight of the word ‘good’. It is not a word to be thrown about lightly, because it is intrinsically tied to God’s character.
James underscores this truth when he reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,” (James 1:7a). We are reminded not only of God’s self-contained goodness, but of the way that His goodness compels Him to pour out good gifts upon us.
God’s Goodness within Us
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23
Goodness is a quality that we as Christians should see in increasing measure in our lives, along with the other fruits of the Spirit. Though it is important to understand that goodness is not something that we build on our own. It is something that we gain through God’s grace and God’s work within us.
The ט Teth stanza of Psalm 119 demonstrates how we can seek after God’s goodness:
- Do good to your servant according to your word, Lord. (v 65)
- Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I trust your commands. (v 66)
- You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. (v 67)
- It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (v 71)
At every step, the psalmist looks to God, trusts in God, and relies on God for goodness. And He finds it in God’s decrees and actions, and even in the affliction that led him to learn more of God’s word.
When we accept Jesus, receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and grow in the knowledge and application of God’s word, God causes His goodness to increase in us so that we may share His goodness with a world that desperately needs it.
This is where we often struggle. This is where we pause to ask “Is God good?” because we look at the world around us—or even at our own lives—and we see that everything is not good.
God’s Good Plan
If God is good, why is there evil in the world?
Just about all of us, believers and non-believers alike, have wrestled with this question. It is this very question that, for many, calls God’s goodness into question.
To answer, let us start by understanding God’s good and perfect intentions for creation and humanity:
- God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. – Genesis 1:31a
- He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:5a
The Bible begins with God’s creation of the universe and describes it as good. The Bible ends with God’s restoration of creation’s original goodness.
The problem for us is that we live in the midst of the mess that is between these verses.
So what went wrong? When did goodness break down?
Humanity’s Rejection of Goodness
Adam and Eve rejected the good gifts of God when they chose the fruit that was not given for them to use over the good fruit that was given to them (Genesis 3:3).
Ever since then, humanity has been in a continuous pattern of walking away from God’s goodness:
Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise… your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.Deuteronomy 8:11-14
We forget His faithfulness and neglect His gifts, which leads us on the path toward evil. We define evil as the absence of goodness, just as darkness is the absence of light. Evil fills the space where goodness departs.
When we depart from goodness, we leave behind all of the kindness, humility, compassion, and other virtuous qualities that we examined above. That’s when evil takes hold. And things get ugly when evil fills the void in the absence of goodness:
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.2 Timothy 3:2-5
Paul is describing the state of the world that we witness around us. It was the same state that prompted Noah’s flood. At this point, we might be inclined to ask, if God is so good and the world is so bad, why He doesn’t just wipe out all of the evil?
Because His goodness won’t allow it.
If God were to wipe out all of the evil, there would be nothing left. None of us is good apart from Him.
This is the lesson for us from Noah’s flood. Simply starting over doesn’t solve the problem of evil. So God set out to provide a lasting solution. A good solution. And that is where Jesus comes in.
God’s Good Response to Evil
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person 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.Romans 5:6-8
Paul makes it clear that Jesus not only died for us while we were not good but that he died for us because we are not good. God, being righteous and just, cannot allow evil to go unpunished. So in His goodness, he expressed His love and gave us the perfect gift of forgiveness and salvation.
Because Jesus endured evil on the cross for our sake, we are made good in God’s sight. Even as the world persists in its broken and evil state, God’s rescue continues reaching into the world, inviting more and more people to receive His goodness:
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
So it is precisely because of His goodness that He doesn’t enact swift justice on the world. In His goodness and patience, He gives us time and space to hear His invitation and repent.
Sometimes, He even uses our suffering to bring forth a greater good than we could have imagined.
Bringing Good Out of Evil
In Genesis, Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery out of jealousy. Joseph then endured bondage, false accusation, and imprisonment in a foreign land.
Yet, despite the evil that Joseph suffered, God—in His goodness—used these events to elevate Joseph to a place of prominence and power from which he would ultimately save the Egyptians and his brothers from a terrible famine.
When Joseph revealed himself to His brothers, he credited God’s goodness for all that had happened:
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.Genesis 50:19-21
So too, when we endure evil and suffering in the world, we do so knowing that God is good and that He has not abandoned us. Just as God worked good through Joseph’s life and through the cross of Jesus, He is at work bringing good out of our situation, too:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28