“God is good,” the non-Christian says. Even though he’s not living for the Lord, he recognizes the goodness of God. People — both Christians and non-Christians — usually say “God is good” after something good happens. The problem, though, is that we toss expressions like these around without stopping to define what they actually mean.
Many questions abound when we speak of God’s goodness. Is God’s goodness the same for Christians as it is for unbelievers? Why do we use the word “good” and not use something better like, say, “great”? And the classic one: if God is good, why does he allow suffering? The answers to all of these questions are beyond the aim of this post. But I do want to reflect on what it means that God is good, and how this affects believers.
What Does it Mean that God is Good?
The first thing to note about God’s goodness is that it is part of his character. It’s one of his attributes. More specifically, it’s one of his communicable attributes. Meaning, it’s one of the attributes that he shares or “communicates” with us. This is in contrast to God’s incommunicable attributes (omniscience, sovereignty, etc) in which he does not share with us. God’s goodness is part of his character; it is fundamentally who he is.
But how do we define God’s goodness?
Defining God’s Goodness
Recently, I’ve been flipping through Wayne Grudem’s book, Systematic Theology, to find some answers. Here is how he defines God’s goodness: “The goodness of God means that God is the final standard of good and that all that God is and does is worthy of approval.”
Here now I will mention a few more of his points.
God’s goodness doesn’t mean we will agree with all that he does.
Grudem’s definition above ends with saying “worthy of approval.” The question becomes: who’s approval are we talking about? Mine? God’s? Yours?
Grudem says: “. . . we are not free to decide by ourselves what is worthy of approval and what is not. Ultimately, therefore, God’s being and actions are perfectly worthy of his own approval.” (See Luke 18:19; Psalm 100:5; Psalm 34:8).
So . . . not everything that God does is worthy of your approval. And certainly, not everything that God does is worthy of the approval of unbelievers. There are times that God will do things in your life that you don’t understand. But you have to trust in his goodness. And you have to trust that his goodness is worthy of his approval. And if it’s worthy of God’s approval, it should be worthy of yours, too. He knows better.
What is good?
If God’s goodness means anything that is worthy of his approval, the next question is what is good?
Grudem says, “Good is what God approves . . . there is no higher standard of goodness than God’s own character and his approval of whatever is consistent with that character.”
Everything that God approves is good, and good is what God approves. As I study God’s goodness, there is a common theme that I’m starting to notice. God’s goodness is not necessarily about what we think. Instead, God’s goodness starts with him and what he thinks. We bring our lack of understanding and subjective thoughts into the argument. But God, who knows best, has the final say. Every good study of theology starts with God, including the study of God’s goodness.
God’s goodness is connected with his actions.
“The psalmist,” as Grudem argues, “connects the goodness of God with the goodness of his actions” (see Psalm 119:68). God’s creation is beautiful. And over and over again the Psalmists and other writers of Scripture are praising him for his actions.
Grudem tells us more of the goodness of God. He reminds us that God is the source of all good (James 1:17), that God works all things for the good of believers (Romans 8:28), that everything he does for the believer is good (Psalm 84:11), and that we should give thanks for his goodness (1 Thess. 5:18).
How do we respond to God’s goodness?
God is good, all the time. Yes and amen. But how should we as believers respond to God’s goodness? I’ve mentioned a few things above, but here now I will give three answers.
In light of God’s goodness, you should: 1. Trust him. 2. Praise him. 3. Imitate him.
You should trust him. It’s easy to think that God is good when good things happen. After a job promotion, when we’re healed of a sickness, when we get good grades. But what about the senseless suffering, the tragedy and trauma, and all the hard things that happen in life? The Bible tells us that God is not the one to blame for evil. And yet, he somehow (for his glory) allows it. We don’t fully understand why.
You will not always understand why God allows hard things in your life. But when hard things happen, will you trust his goodness toward you?
You should praise him. God is worthy of all our praise. A thankless Christian doesn’t glorify God. We should praise him in the good and in the bad, knowing that he is working all things out for good.
You should do good. Grudem writes, “. . . we should ourselves do good (that is, we should do what God approves), and thereby imitate the goodness of our heavenly father.” (Gal. 6:10; 2 Tim. 3:17). We are saved by grace, not by works. But that doesn’t mean our good works don’t mean anything. In fact, God has created them before time began that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). Like our good God, we should do good and seek to glorify God and serve others.
The next time you hear someone say “God is good,” you’ll now have a better understanding of what this means, and how this applies to your life. I hope you will continue to increase your understanding of God’s goodness and respond to his goodness appropriately. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
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