“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever” Psalm 136:1
God’s goodness seems to be one of the most obvious features of God’s glory. We instinctively define God that way. So much so, it seems self-evident even to those who say they don’t believe in God; if he is there, he must be good. If he weren’t good, he wouldn’t be God.
But it’s so obvious, do we really let ourselves reflect on it as deeply as we could? Or do you tend to do what I do when you see a verse like Psalm 136:1 and respond ‘yep, God’s good, I know that, what’s next?’
What does it actually mean?
When life is good, the sun is shining, and everything feels like it’s in its right place it still seems the most obvious thing in the world. ‘Life is good, and God is good.’ But what about those moments when things aren’t so perfect? What about the times when things just feel like they’ve gone a bit wrong for a time? When your plans are frustrated (maybe even all your pre-lockdown plans for the summer), or you can’t get that task right, or the kids are running wild while you’re meant to be home-schooling, or that important document you need just won’t print, or you’ve lost your phone or your keys just as you’re supposed to be going for that rare trip out to the shops.
At moments like that, if you pressed the pause button, hauled me out of my situation and asked me, ‘so is God good then?’ I would immediately answer ‘of course, all the time.’ But then show me the paused scene as I rage in frustration against the irritation of it all, this small problem I’m having, which is colouring my entire day and even the relationships with those around me. It doesn’t really look like I believe it.
And then, there are those times when life really doesn’t feel great. It’s not as easy to assume that ‘God is good’ is true then. If something seems to go really wrong, and we end up hurting and suffering, unless we have really thought deeply about what it means that God is good, it seems to be the least obvious thing in the world. The old problem rises; either God isn’t good and doesn’t really care about me, or he’s good but can’t do anything to help me…
But God’s goodness isn’t just a superficial fact we can parrot and then move on. We need to let it sink in much more deeply than that.
Instead, here are three small words which are filled with such depths of joy and wonder that we will one day spend eternity drinking them in, and never get anywhere near draining the cup.
God. Is. Good.
The psalms repeat it again and again. It’s a wonderful description. But it’s so much more too. When the Bible says ‘God is good’ it is describing him, but not in the way we might say a cake is good. The cake is good because it tastes and looks like a good cake should. But we’re not saying that everything good that exists is cake. That might be tempting sometimes, but it would be ridiculous!
With God it’s the other way around. God is good all the way down. Not because he fits the standards of what a good God should be, as though we can apply some sort of judgement to him like that.
Rather, everything about him is good because everything good is about him. ‘God is good’ is more than a description. It’s also a definition, more like saying ‘a cake is food made with eggs, flour, sugar and fat.’ Every food made that way is a cake, and every cake is made that way. If goodness is there, God is there, and if God is there, goodness is there.
That’s a cup worth drinking from. But it’s still hard to fathom. In those frustrated moments when I’m struggling to really believe that God is good, I need something more.
I need God’s goodness to be more than something I know about him. Rather, I need to know God as goodness himself. His objective ‘out there’ goodness is mind-blowing, but when that goodness becomes subjective, when it’s ‘right here’ with me, things really change.
So where can we go? How does that infinite goodness go from something ‘out there’ that we struggle to stretch our minds around to something wonderfully near, filling our hearts and changing our lives?
Where else could we go?!
How good is God? He’s good enough to send Jesus!
Think about what it means that God would do that. In eternity past, God willed to send his Son into the world to rescue rebellious, revolting sinners. Not only did we not merit the gift of Jesus, we merited judgement and wrath for our sin.
But stop there and we’ll see that’s precisely the point. Jesus is the one who deserved to experience nothing but God’s goodness in all its purity. Yet he willingly went to the cross for our sakes, to receive wrath. Everything reserved for the rebellion of sinners poured out on the sinless one.
What’s more; that pleased God. Somehow, “it was the Lord’s will to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10). Isn’t that astonishing? The depth of God’s goodness as it turns towards us is measured in this: for a moment at the cross, the sinless Son of God experienced more wrath that we, deserving wrath by nature, might receive all the goodness of God’s wondrous favour.
As one writer put it, “there is more of God’s goodness expressed in that one verse; ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son’, than there is the whole volume of the world: it is an incomprehensible so; a so that all the angels in heaven cannot analyse.”
And even here there is one more step to take in plumbing God’s goodness as we can experience it. Since God is the source of all goodness, everything he does is good. His creation could never have been anything else but ‘very good.’ So, why does God, in all his goodness, move to rescue sinners in this way?
To re-make us. To re-create us. He freely chooses to make us good. That’s his plan for us as we trust in Jesus.
Which means, that’s what he’s doing, right now. In that paused scene, in the middle of all those frustrations, lost keys, fractious children, and all the rest; if I could just have eyes to see, I might perceive the ways God is taking me as his rescued one and growing his goodness even within me.
Sometimes we might spot it. Often, we won’t. But we can always trust. If God is there, goodness is there, and if goodness is there, God is there.
That’s a truth with the power to keep us going along the way
Onwards, to glory!