Jesus was on the road, making His final journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This time He Himself would be the Passover Lamb, 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 Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
“Good Teacher”—that was an 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. Was this a case of empty flattery, or had this young man become convinced of something that the rest of the religious establishment had refused to admit—that Jesus Christ was actually God in flesh?
“Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked. “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). His comment was not a denial of His deity, as some have suggested, but rather an opportunity for the rich young ruler to confess his faith in Christ’s divine person. That confession never came, indicating the man’s lack of spiritual understanding. But Christ’s statement tells us something about God that we need to consider if we ever hope to know Him intimately. God is good, and beyond that, He is the only one who can rightfully be called good.
The word for good which Jesus used refers to what is excellent in its character or constitution and beneficial or useful in its effect. The Old Testament equivalent means pleasant, agreeable, excellent, valuable, benevolent, and kind. Two separate ideas begin to surface as we examine these words that describe God’s goodness. One has to do with the perfections of His person and the other with the kindness of His acts.
Both ideas occur together in one verse in the Psalms: “Thou art good and doest good” (Psalm 119:68). First of all, God Himself is good; that is, He is everything that God should be—the ideal person, the sum total of all perfection. There are no defects or contradictions in Him, and nothing can be added to His nature to make Him any better. He is excellence to an infinite degree, possessing every desirable quality, and therefore of inestimable value. God is good.
Because God is Himself the highest and greatest good, He is also the source and fountain of all other good. He does good things. He extends His 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 sees that it is available to us. Every good thing we now enjoy or ever hope to enjoy flows from Him, and no good thing has ever existed or ever will exist that does not come from His good hand.
That is why Jesus could say to the rich young ruler, “No one is good except God alone.” No other being is infinitely and innately and immutably good. All goodness that exists outside of Him finds its source in Him. Even a man as godly as the Apostle Paul had to admit that in his natural being there was no good thing (Romans 7:18), and we have to admit it too. If there is any good to be found in us, it had to come from God, for we are incapable of producing it ourselves.
In addition, everything God does is good—specially tailored for our benefit. Asaph began Psalm 73 by stating quite literally, “Only God is good to Israel.” In other words, God is nothing but good. He can do nothing but what is absolutely best.
A little fellow was heard praying at bedtime, “Help me to be a good boy—but you be a good God too.” But there is no need to remind God to be good. He cannot possibly be otherwise.
If everything God does is good and all His acts are the outflowing of His goodness, it would seem that this attribute embraces all His other attributes. There is some Biblical evidence for that. God promised Moses that He would make all His goodness pass before him (Exodus 33:19). When God did pass before him the next morning on Mount Sinai, He 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.
We readily can see the relationship between goodness and some of God’s other 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 that God is good, it is referring to all these qualities and more.
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
Sing praises to His name, for it is lovely (Psalm 135:3).
Although 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, it is demonstrated in His creation. Seven times in Genesis God said that what He made was good (Genesis 1:4,10,12,18,21,25,31). The final statement sums it up: “And God saw all 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. Even though man has managed to mar it considerably, 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 infinitely varied shades of green and gold; brilliant, multicolored flowers with lovely fragrances. There is no end to the goodness we enjoy in God’s creation: “the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5 KJV). The beauty of God’s earth reminds us of His goodness.
Then there is man, the zenith of God’s creative genius. God 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 eatable delights, a sense of touch to help communicate love to someone precious to him, and a mind to comprehend the meaning of it all, 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 daily needs, and so many others that enrich our lives. These blessings turn our minds to Him in adoration and gratitude.
These “good things” are blessings God bestows on all mankind. They are not reserved for believers alone. King David wrote:
The LORD is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works (Psalm 145:9).
The eyes of all look to Thee, And Thou dost give them their food in due time.
Thou dost open Thy hand, And dost satisfy the desire of every living thing (15-16).
Jesus said He makes the sun rise on the evil as well as on the good, and sends the rain on the unrighteous as well as on the righteous (Matthew 5:45). He deals bountifully and kindly even with ungrateful and wicked men (Luke 6:35). Paul said in a message to a group of unbelievers at Lystra, “He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with good and gladness” (Acts 14:17).
Unbelievers have a tendency to take God’s goodness for granted and exploit it for their own ends. But the person who knows Him personally, who understands and appreciates His goodness, will not only enjoy His blessings fully, but use them thankfully and unselfishly, giving glory to Him. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude” (1 Timothy 4:4).
Along with the general benefits which God has bestowed on all people, the believer has additional good things to enjoy. For example, he has in his possession the Word of God which is described as good (Hebrews 6:5). He can know and do the will of God which is called good (Romans 12:2). He has the assurance that his good God will work every detail of his life together for good (Romans 8:28), the minor annoyances as well as the major crises. The expressions of God’s goodness to His children are endless.
How great is Thy goodness,
Which Thou hast stored up for those who fear Thee,
Which Thou hast wrought for those who take refuge in Thee,
Before the sons of men! (Psalm 31:19)
The Psalmist goes further: “No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
Our family has seen innumerable evidences of God’s goodness through the years. One small but unforgetable incident occurred when our youngest son was about five years old. We were spending the week at a Bible conference and Tim had gained a new friend named Peter. One evening we overheard him say, “Peter, let’s pray that we will find a treasure on the beach tomorrow.”
My wife and I thought that maybe we ought to plant something in the sand for him to find, in order to help God out a little and bolster our young son’s budding faith, but we completely forgot about it. As we relaxed on the beach the next afternoon we heard Tim suddenly exclaim, “I found it! I found a treasure!” He had dug a nickel out of the sand, and as an added bonus it had been minted in the year of his birth. It was just a little thing—but another evidence that a good God loves to do good things for His own.
Of course, not everybody agrees that God is good, and it should be no surprise that His goodness is being called into question today. 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 (cf. Genesis 3:1-5). 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, violence, war, bloodshed, catastrophe, and destruction? They argue, either He is not very good or He does not have the power to stop it.
It is difficult for us to understand how these human tragedies can possibly be good, and quite frankly, we may never fully understand it. God tells us that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9), therefore we cannot expect to understand everything. We do know, however, that God is not the author of sin (Habakkuk 1:13; James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). We also know that God in His sovereign good pleasure created man with volition—the ability to choose good or evil. The first man chose evil of his own will, and his sin affected all of God’s creation. All of the heartache and suffering in this world today are the direct result of that choice, the consequence of living in a world affected by sin.
In addition, our suffering is intensified by repeated sinful choices; not only our own, but those of individuals and nations around us. We may suffer when a drug addict decides to secure the money he needs for his next fix or when the leaders of some nation decide to enlarge their sphere of influence. The only way to remove all suffering from the world would be to deny everyone all of their freedom, to make them all automatons. None of us would opt for that.
God knew before He created him that man would choose evil, but He also knew that creating him was the best way to demonstrate the greatness of His person and the perfections of His nature—in other words, to show who He really is and to bring glory to Himself. He even has the power to overrule man’s sin to accomplish that good purpose. In fact, He promises to overrule all things for good: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). That is so difficult to accept in times of great trial, even for true Christians. “If God is so good, why did He let my mate get cancer, or why did He allow my child to be taken away from me, or why did He let my marriage fall apart, or why did He let me lose my job, or why did He let me lose my life savings? I’m not guilty of any great sin.”
The cause of our dilemma is our failure to understand what is truly good for us. We may have the notion that our ultimate good would be to have things go smoothly for us all the time, to do anything we please, knowing that everything we do will turn out for our happiness, comfort, convenience, health, affluence, and success. But God in His omniscience knows that the choices we make in our human wisdom and with our sinful natures will not always make us truly happy in the end.
God’s good goal for us is to make us like His Son. We should never separate verse 28 from the great promise of Romans 8:29: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” Our highest good is conformity to the model of humanity that Jesus presented to us. That will bring us maximum happiness. We can be growing toward that goal daily; any choice we make that fails to contribute to that goal is going to increase our unhappiness. In other words, we do not always know what is best for us.
Parents especially understand that. Children think they know what will make them happy, but since parents have lived a few more years and know a little more about life, they know better what produces true happiness. So they insist on what they know will be for their children’s good, because they love them. Sometimes parents even have to make life unpleasant for them so they will learn to do what is best. To do less than that would be inconsiderate and neglectful.
When I was sixteen years old I wanted to buy a motorcycle. I pleaded with my dad for permission, but he refused to grant it. As I look back, I know his decision was best. With the lack of responsibility I had at that age, I probably would have killed myself on a motorcycle. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but now I know that what he did was good and has worked out for my benefit.
Let me illustrate it from the world of medicine. Medical studies have determined that the disease known as Hansen’s disease or leprosy does not damage the limbs and make the fingers and toes drop off as people historically have believed. 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 seriously and not treating the wound, or putting their hands in a fire to pluck something out. On some occasions their limbs have actually been chewed off by rats while they slept, and they never felt a thing.
Medical technicians have experimented with devices that inflict an electric shock whenever a vulnerable part of the patients’ bodies is being abused. But the patients would switch off the current whenever they anticipated doing anything that might produce an unpleasant sensation, so the device did them no good. The only way a patient could be protected from destroying his own body and thus adding to his misery was to put the signal out of his reach. The pain of that electric shock, as unpleasant as it might have been for the moment, proved to be good and contributed to his ultimate happiness.5
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 would not necessarily be good. It might be inconsiderate and neglectful. If we had an on/off switch, we could take care of it ourselves, but that would not be very smart. True happiness can be found only when we get to know God and grow in the likeness of His Son. Nothing reminds us of that more dramatically or encourages us to grow in Him more effectively than pain and suffering. Without it we might 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. The Psalmist saw it clearly:
It is good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Thy statutes (Psalm 119:71).
Not only do we learn the truthfulness of His Word, we also learn firsthand the joy of His presence and the reality of His grace. It is often through suffering that we begin to appreciate God’s goodness as never before.
When we become aware of God’s goodness, it should elicit a certain kind of response from us. We see the proper response in a group of weary exiles who had made their way back to their promised land after seventy 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 with it in size or beauty. But that made little difference to them. They were back in their land, and their temple was under way. “And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid” (Ezra 3:11). God’s goodness prompted songs of praise and thanksgiving. And that is exactly what it should do for us.
Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalm 106:1).
(Cf. also Psalm 100; 107:1; 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 though we deserved anything), but simply because they demonstrate who He is. People who know a good God have no cause to grumble and complain. Praise becomes a way of life for them.
Our response to God’s goodness is not only praise, but also thanksgiving. If we take a few minutes each day to do nothing but thank God for some of the good things He has done, we may never get depressed again. So take a thanksgiving break! Thanksgiving is like a tonic that brightens the entire complexion of our lives. Learn to practice it. It may require discipline at first, but soon it will become a joyful and satisfying way of life. There is no better way to get it flowing than to rehearse the evidence of God’s goodness.
God is so good! If you have not yet discovered it, heed the exhortation of the Psalmist:
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Psalm 34:8)
Sit down with someone close to you and rehearse some of the good things God has done for you through the years. Then respond to Him with thanksgiving and praise. If you are presently facing some trial, think of some of the good things God could be teaching you through it.