Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the attributes of God are and their importance to the Christian faith.

attributes of godIntroduction

I am thankful for this new series on SOG (Servants of Grace) on the attributes of God where we will get a glimpse of God’s character. We do so, not from a desire to increase our head knowledge, but rather to understand that a biblical view of God leads to living for God. Notice the example from Psalm 46:1-2. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear …” Vs.1 is a statement of (what) fact. God is near. God is present. God is a stronghold in times of trouble. In light of this, what should our response be? Psalm 46:2 gives us the answer. We will not (what) fear. For example, if someone said your house was on fire (a statement of fact), that there would be an obviously expected action (get out of the building, call 911). The challenge for us is to take the truths of God and follow the path to the right action. Continuing the series on the attributes of God, this article will focus on the goodness of God.

To begin, think about the following questions:

  • What is it about a person that might lead you to say, “He is a good person,” or “She is a good person?”
  • What are some qualities that might lead you to think that a person is not good?
  • What are some examples of acts that have been perceived as not good only later to find out that they were good?
  • What things do you have to know in order to assess whether an action is a good act or a bad act and thereby making the person good or bad?

As an illustration, consider the story of Ray Rice, a former running back for the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. Last February, Mr. Rice was noticed coming out of a hotel elevator dragging his unconscious fiancé. In time, it was alleged that he had punched her and knocked her out, an allegation that would later be backed up by the security video released in September. A few days after the release of the video, at a Ravens’ home game, many fans, including some women, showed up with their Ray Rice #21 jersey. In interviews, the fans said they wore the jersey because Ray is a good guy who just had a bad moment. Now, how would you answer the question, “Is Ray Rice a good guy?” Perhaps, the question for us, is Ray Rice a “good guy” who had a bad moment, a bad guy who had a horrible moment, or a bad guy who had a bad moment who needs to repent and seek forgiveness and grace through the gospel?

One of the problems with defining “good” or “goodness” is that it really cannot be defined in isolation. Something is only good because there is an equal and opposite evil (or bad). Domestic violence (or perhaps all violence) is bad, which informs us that loving, caring actions are good. With God, we have to approach our definition differently. God is good all the time, yet there are times when that goodness is removed from certain people. J.I. Packer writes this in his classic book, Knowing God:

“Goodness, in God as in human beings, means something admirable, attractive and praiseworthy. When the biblical writers call God good, they are thinking in general of all those moral qualities which prompt His people to call Him perfect, and in particular of the generosity which moves them to call Him merciful and gracious and to speak of His love.”[i]

Goodness is admirable, attractive and praiseworthy. In the case of Ray Rice, what we see in the night of his abuse of his wife is actions that were anything but admirable, attractive or praiseworthy. With God, goodness is broken down into two main categories:

  • Moral qualities leading us to call Him perfect.
  • Generosity leading us to call Him merciful and gracious. Generosity: think in terms of Rom. 6:23 that the gift of God is eternal life. What a generous God who demonstrates His love and His goodness through the cross.

Let’s walk through some passages for the purpose of arriving at a biblical view of the goodness of God.

  • Exodus 33:18-20: God allows Moses to see his “goodness” instead of his glory
  • Exodus 34:6: God is described as “abounding in goodness”
  • Psalm 25:7b-8a: “according to Your steadfast love, remember me, for the sake of Your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord.”
  • Psalm 31:19: “Oh how abundant is your goodness …”
  • Psalm 100:5: “For the Lord is good …”
  • Psalm 106:1: “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
  • Psalm 107:1: “Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
  • Psalm 119:68: “You are good and do good.”
  • Psalm 145:7: “They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness.”
  • 2 Chron. 5:13: “Indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: ‘For He is good, for His mercy endures forever.’”
  • 3:11: “And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘for He is good, for His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’”
  • Let’s now consider what these verses mean for us.
    • Understood rightly, the goodness of God leads us to the worship of God.
    • Accepted corporately, the goodness of God is the unifying element to our worship and service to God. What is it that binds us together as the bride of Christ? It, at the very least, flows from the acceptance and acknowledgement of the goodness of God.
    • Applied accurately, the goodness of God partners well with the wisdom of God, to know that everything that God in His wisdom brings to our lives is meant for us to walk in faithful devotion to Him. We can trust God fully since He is not only all-wise but also completely good.
  • We still have not fully defined what the Bible says about God’s goodness. To further pull this together, let’s see what the Apostle Paul writes about it.
  • 2:4: “Do you despise the goodness of God … not knowing the goodness of God leads to repentance.” (NKJV)
  • 11:22: “Consider the goodness and severity of God” (NKJV)
  • Paul, in this verse, brings together the full essence of the goodness of God, that it cannot be fully understood without seeing the “severity” of God.
    • The severity of God is here referring to the cutting off (the literal interpretation of the word for severity) of Israel as God’s people.
    • Paul is also warning the Gentiles that they are next if they reject God.
    • To bring this full circle, God’s goodness is best understood in the context of His sovereign selection of His people and His invitation to all who will truly believe, a choice that is evidenced by a life lived for God.
    • Notice Paul writes, “but toward you (those who believe), goodness, if you continue in His goodness.”
    • The grafting into or out of the family of God is based on His benevolent expression of love through the cross, offered to all who will believe.
    • This is why Paul warns the Romans, “Do not be haughty …” (Rom. 11:20-21)
    • This is why we warn people when they begin to wander from the faith.
  • Principles about God’s Goodness.
    • God’s goodness is best understood through the lens of the cross.
      • Through the cross, we see God’s generosity on display, sacrificing His Son that we might have life.
      • Through the cross, we see God’s love on display, love that makes it possible for us to be called children of God.
      • Where we see God’s goodness discussed, it is almost always in relation to some kind of deliverance, and this is seen at in its greatest light at the foot of the cross.
    • God’s goodness can be and often is rejected.
      • It was rejected by Israel
      • It is rejected by all non-believers today
      • It is often rejected by believers when our faith is weak and our theology is untested
    • God’s goodness becomes God’s severity (removal of His goodness) when people reject it
      • Israel was cut off
      • Non-believers are cut off
      • We are not cut off if we persevere in the faith
    • God’s severity can always become God’s goodness again for those who repent and accept it
      • We cannot separate grace from repentance
      • Too often we want grace without repentance
      • We hear the call that God is love and that Jesus does not condemn. God’s grace is rea, strong, and available only to those who repent and turn from their sin. For those who do repent, there is a wonderful celebration of God’s goodness.

[i] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity), 161.