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God’s Attributes: The Goodness of God

14 Apr

goodness of GodIn and of itself, God’s power is not nearly as comforting as when seen in light of several of His other attributes. Two of these attributes are the “goodness” of God and the “wisdom” of God. The God who is all-powerful is the same God who is good and wise; God’s power becomes a source of great comfort and encouragement to the Christian. It is comforting to know One with so-o-o-o much power is also ‘good.’

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalms 107:1).

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! (Psalms 31:19).

(1) The “goodness” of God is prominent in the opening chapters of the Bible. Repeatedly, God pronounced everything which He created “good” (see Genesis 1:4, 10, 18; 1 Timothy 4:4). In chapter 2, God saw that it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, and so He created a wife for him (2:18-25). In the garden of Eden, where God had placed Adam and Eve, there was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” From the fruit of this one tree, the man and woman were forbidden to eat. We shall return to this matter of “goodness” in the garden, for it is a vitally important truth. Suffice to say the issues of “goodness” and “evil” are prominent at the beginning of the Bible.

(2) The goodness of God appears to be the sum total of all of God’s attributes. The goodness of God may thus be viewed as one facet of His glorious nature and character and also the overall summation of His nature and character.

Then Moses said, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exodus 33:19; see also Exodus 34:5-7).

(3) We cannot separate what is good from God. You cannot have goodness without God, just as you cannot have God without goodness. God alone is good:

I said to the LORD, “Thou art my Lord; I have no good besides Thee” (Psalms 16:2).

God is the source of everything that is good: Every good thing bestowed 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).

God does not withhold anything that is truly good from His children: For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).

(4) Man’s eternal destiny is determined by his decision as to how one can truly be good in God’s sight (See John 5:28-29; Romans 3:1-26; Titus 3:3-7).

(5) Apart from the divine revelation of the Scriptures, we cannot recognize true goodness, for it cannot be understood apart from knowing God and seeing life from His perspective. This is precisely the point of Psalm 73 which we will now consider, for it gives us a radically different definition of “good.”

Good Defined in Psalm 73

Asaph, a Levite who was chief of the musicians under David (1 Chronicles 16:4-7,37), composed Psalm 73. My conviction is that the central theme of Psalm 73 is the goodness of God. The first and the last verses of the psalm contain the word “good.” Through the course of time and this psalm, Asaph undergoes a radical change in his understanding of the meaning of the term “good.” Because Asaph’s misconception of the meaning of “good” is virtually the same as evangelical Christians today, we must understand the message of this psalm and the meaning of the term “good.”

Asaph describes a period in his life when he had serious spiritual struggles. His premise was the goodness of God, particularly His goodness to His own people, Israel: “Surely God is good to Israel, To those who are pure in heart!” (verse 1).

To Asaph, this affirmation of truth meant that because God was “good” to Israel, God’s blessings would constantly be poured out upon those Jews who were righteous. On the other hand, the unrighteous could expect many difficulties. Now there is an element of truth in this, as we can see from the blessings and cursings of Deuteronomy 28-30. But it was not altogether true, and this was evident even in the Book of Deuteronomy:

2 “And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).

Asaph admits to his readers that he strayed far off course. He was so far from the truth that he came close to destruction. In his words, “his feet had almost slipped” (verse 2). He seems to be confessing that he considered giving up the faith and forsaking the way of righteousness, supposing that it was of no real benefit.

Asaph’s problem was largely due to his distorted perspective. First of all, he was envious of the wicked. Unlike Lot, whose righteous soul was vexed by the sin all about him, Asaph wished he could be in the sandals of those who were wicked. He did not hate their sin; he envied their success (verse 3). Second, he was self-righteous. He looked upon himself as being better than he was. He seems to have supposed he deserved God’s blessings and concluded his “righteous living” had been in vain:

13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, And washed my hands in innocence; 14 For I have been stricken all day long, And chastened every morning (Psalms 73).

These verses also suggest Asaph views his suffering as coming from God. God was punishing him, he supposed, for being godly. Third, Asaph seems to have been consumed with self-pity. It is really difficult to see life clearly when you are looking at it through tear-filled eyes. And these tears were the tears of self-pity.

I believe Asaph’s words in verses 4-9 which describe the wicked are a description of those whom Asaph saw in the congregation of Israelites who came to worship. Asaph is talking about wicked Jews rather than pagan Gentiles. I also believe Asaph’s analysis is highly distorted and inaccurate.

Asaph makes some very sweeping generalizations in the first half of the psalm, implying that all the wicked prosper and the righteous, which surely included him, suffer. He wrongly supposes the wicked are always healthy and wealthy and thinks none of the wicked experience the difficulties of life. Even in their death, they are spared from discomfort. He likewise thinks those who prosper are all arrogant, blaspheming God, daring Him to know or care about what the wicked are doing.

There is some measure of truth in this. Some of the wealthy wicked would be just as Asaph has described them. But Asaph has over-generalized, making it seem God blesses all the wicked and punishes all the righteous. The wicked flaunt their wickedness and are blessed. The righteous practice their righteousness and are punished for doing so. As far as Asaph is concerned, there is good reason to consider joining the wicked rather than fighting them (see verses 10-14).

But Asaph was wrong, and this he confesses at several points in the psalm.

2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps had almost slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant, [As] I saw the prosperity of the wicked (verses 2-3).

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” Behold, I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children (verse 15).

21 When my heart was embittered, And I was pierced within, 22 Then I was senseless and ignorant; I was [like] a beast before Thee (verses 21-22).

The turning point in the psalm is verse 15. Up to this point, Asaph viewed life from a distorted human perspective. To him, the goodness of God meant health and wealth, not unlike the “good life gospeleers” of our own day. But, as Asaph admits, he was wrong. In verses 15-28, he explains why he was wrong, ending with an entirely different definition of “good.”

When Asaph came “into the sanctuary of God,” he was able to “perceive their end” (verse 17). Now Asaph viewed the prosperity of the wicked in the light of eternity rather than simply from the vantage point of time. Those who seemed to be doing so well in their wickedness Asaph now saw in great peril. Their feet were on a slippery place. In but a short time, they would face the judgment of God. Their payday for sin might not come in this life, but it would surely come in eternity:

18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form (verses 18-20).

How foolish, even beastly, Asaph had been to think the wicked would get away with their sin, and there would be no day of reckoning. How foolish to conclude God was punishing him for avoiding the sinful ways of the wicked. Asaph now sees his relationship with God in its true light. Eternity holds for him the bright hope of God’s glorious presence. But in addition to this future blessing, Asaph has the pleasure of God’s presence in this life:

23 Nevertheless I am continually with Thee; Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. 24 With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven [but Thee]? And besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (verses 23-26).

Asaph now sees that the prosperity of the wicked has hardened their hearts toward God. They have become proud, arrogant, and independent of God. Asaph also sees his “affliction,” whatever that might be, as a source of great blessing. His suffering and agony drew him closer to God; the prosperity of the wicked drew them away from God. His trials were indeed a gift from God for Asaph’s good. His struggles had led him into a deeper intimacy with God and were thus worth all the agony and distress of soul. Trusting God and living a holy life are not just the means to eternal blessings; they are the way to great temporal blessings as well.

Now Asaph understands the “goodness” of God in a different way. He has a new definition for “good.” In verse 1, “good” really meant the absence of pain, difficulty, trouble, sorrow, ill health, or poverty. In verse 28, “good” means something far better than physical prosperity:

28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works (verse 28).

Nearness to God—intimate fellowship with God—is our highest good. We may say then that whatever interferes with our nearness to God, our fellowship with Him, is actually evil. And whatever draws us into a deeper fellowship with God is actually “good.” When God brings suffering and adversity into our lives, our confidence in His goodness should not be undermined. Instead, we should be reassured of His goodness to us.

In the end, Job’s suffering brought him nearer to God; thus it was good, and God was good in afflicting him. Paul’s suffering brought him nearer to God, and he saw it as a blessing (Philippians 3:10). The chastening of the Lord in the life of the Christian is not only evidence of our sonship, it is God’s working in us for good (Hebrews 12:1-13; see Romans 8:28).

The Relevance of the Goodness of God

The goodness of God is a life-transforming truth. Let us conclude by considering ways the goodness of God should intersect our attitudes and actions.

(1) The goodness of God is a character trait which applies to every other attribute. God’s wrath is good. God’s holiness is good. God’s righteousness is good. God is good in His entirety. There is nothing about God that is not good. There is nothing God purposes for His children that is not good. God gives to His children only that which is good. And He withholds nothing good from us. God is good, and He is at work in our lives for good. Nothing which God creates, nothing which God accomplishes, is not good.[1]

We must take this truth of God’s goodness one more step. God allows nothing to happen to the Christian which is not good. We all know this passage well:

28 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).

We may be convinced of God’s goodness and yet doubt that everything which happens to us is good. We carefully avoid blaming God, because we know He is good. So we blame Satan for our trials and tribulations. Or, we can always blame people. May I remind you Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was brought about by a “messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and yet God permitted this so His strength might be manifested through Paul’s weakness (12:7-10). And the “evil” Joseph’s brothers intended against him God intended “for good” (Genesis 50:20). Whatever comes into the life of the Christian is a part of God’s purpose to bring about our good and His glory.

(2) We must conclude that teachers who tell us God wants only to bless us with healing and prosperity in this life are, in truth, false teachers. Their teaching leads Christians to the same conclusion Asaph reached in error, a conclusion which, upon reflection, he confesses to be evil and beastly. Knowing God is not the way to the “good life” as taught by the “good life gospeleers.” In fact, as Asaph indicates, along with countless others in the Bible, suffering is often the means by which we come to know God more intimately.

67 Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Thy word (Psalms 119:67).75 I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are righteous, And that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me (Psalms 119:75).

(3) The goodness of God is evident in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the “good news” (Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7; 61:6; Luke 1:19; 2:10; Acts 8:12; 13:32; Hebrews 4:2, 6), and good it is! God is good to all men in His common grace, showering blessings on the wicked and the righteous alike (Matthew 5:43-45; Acts 14:16-17). But God is particularly good to those who believe in the gospel.

Nowhere is the goodness of God more evident than in the person of our Lord. In His goodness, God provided a way for sinners to be forgiven and to be declared righteous. It is not by any good works which we do, but on the basis of the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Romans 3:19-26; Titus 3:4-7). If you have never trusted in His saving work, I have words of exhortation for you,

8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! (Psalms 34:8).

With this offer of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, I must also issue a word of warning. The goodness of God is directed toward our repentance (Romans 2:4). If we reject the goodness of God in Christ, if we reject the gospel, then we bring upon ourselves the divine wrath of God:

(4) The goodness of God is a foundational truth that shapes our perspective toward God and His dealings with us in this life. The goodness of God is a fact to which the Bible often testifies. It is a fact which every Christian should believe and embrace. But more than this, it is a perspective through which all of life’s experiences should be viewed.

In the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve, it is significant that Satan’s attack was on this dimension of the character of God. It is true Satan virtually called God a liar, but the first attack of Satan was waged against the attribute of His goodness. It was a subtle attack, but one that should be obvious to the Christian who reads these words:

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’ “ 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:1-5).

God is good, and everything He created is good. But the one thing in the garden which was not “good” to eat was “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Satan’s seemingly innocent question was intended to undermine Eve’s confidence in the goodness of God. By the time Satan has finished, Eve has come to view God as the One who is less than good, and the forbidden fruit as that which is good. Once Eve doubted the goodness of God, it was a great deal easier for her to disobey Him. If God was not good and was not acting for her good, then why should she obey Him? Indeed, why should she not act independently of God in seeking her own good—the forbidden fruit?

Satan first changed Eve’s perspective of God, and then he was able to persuade her to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit. The goodness of God is a perspective from which we can and should view all of God’s commands, including His prohibitions. It is apparent from what happened as a result of the eating of the forbidden fruit that God forbade that fruit for man’s good. The prohibition was an expression of God’s goodness. She did not understand why God forbade it, but knowing that God was good should have been enough. What a good God forbids must be evil, and what a good God commands must be good. We must know the truth found in the Word of God to avoid Satan when he tempts us to change our perspective of God. He often does this by causing us to doubt God and His Word.

May God grant that His goodness becomes a truth we not only accept, but embrace, so that it becomes the perspective from which we view all of the events of our lives.

[2] A. W. Pink, The Attributes of God, p. 52.

[3] Ibid, pp. 52, 53.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2016 in Sermon

 

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