The Giver, Commander, and Doer of All Things Good

“God is great, God is good.
And we thank Him for our food.
By His goodness, we all are fed.
Give us, Lord, our daily bread.”

When I was a child, I used to recite this little prayer before meals.  A mix of praise, thanks, and supplication, all contained within four short lines, which I would rattle off in a predictably anapestic meter every time I was selected to “say grace.”

Growing up, God’s goodness was always something that I acknowledged both implicitly and explicitly.  I sang “God is So Good” on Sunday mornings (“He’s so good to me”); I called Him “good” in my prayers; I read stories from the Bible about all the good things God has accomplished; and I knew that no matter what happened to me, it was for my own good, because God works all things together for good to them that love Him (Romans 8:28).

Now, having been a Christian for nearly 15 years, I regret to say that my affirmation of God’s goodness can still be mechanical at times.  I feel as if I’ve been programmed to respond to others’ pain and suffering with a ready “Don’t worry, God is good,” almost as a sort of reflex.  (“Aw, your grandmother died?  Well don’t worry, God is good.”  Or, “You lost your job?  I’m sorry, but just remember that God knows best; His ways are good.”)  These phrases roll off our tongues, sounding cheap and cliché, when really, they are anything but that.

God’s goodness is so abundant and ubiquitous that it has ceased to amaze us.  God’s wisdom is good; His sovereignty is good; His plans are good.  But do we live like they are?  Do we wrap our minds around His goodness, cling to it with our hearts, let it shoot through our veins and invigorate us?  The goodness of God is a foundational truth of Christianity.  But do we marvel at it daily, do we embrace its fullness?—not half-heartedly, or in knee-jerk fashion, but as a perspective-altering, life-changing reality?  I pray that the body of Christ will never become desensitized to the power and the beauty of this central truth:  that indeed, God is good.  All the time.

“O taste and see that the LORD is good.”  -Psalm 34:8

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  -Psalm 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!”  -Psalm 31:19

“I said to the LORD, ‘Thou art my Lord; I have no good besides Thee.’”  -Psalm 16:2

By God’s goodness, not only are we all fed, as the children’s prayer says; by His goodness, we live, breathe, move, think, create, and inherit eternal life.  God is good, not in the sense of being merely satisfactory, pleasant, or agreeable (as in “my day was good”); no, “good” refers to God’s eternal disposition, His very nature, which colors all His acts.  Goodness is the sum total of all God’s attributes, for every characteristic and act of God expresses His goodness.  God’s mercy is good.  His justice is good.  His providence is good.  God cannot do evil because He cannot contradict His own nature.

In Jeremiah 32:40-41, God says, “I will never stop doing good to them … I will rejoice in doing them good … with all my heart and soul.”  He is speaking of the Israelites, but we, too, can claim this promise, since we have been incorporated into the new covenant.  How amazing is it that God rejoices in doing us good?!  It makes Him happy to see us happy.  A lot of people have the false impression that God wants to keep us from doing the things we want to do and restrict our freedom.  On the contrary, God wants us to enjoy the greatest happiness and freedom there is, which comes through accepting the gift of salvation offered by His Son, Jesus Christ, who frees us to become who we were created to be and to do what we were created to do—that is, to share in intimate fellowship with our Lord and Creator.  God gives us good things, and it is His pleasure to see us enjoy the good He gives.

So whenever you find yourself questioning whether the hand that God has dealt you in life is a good one, be assured that if you are His child, it is not only a good one—it is the best.  “What man of you, if his son asks of him bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you, then, who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).  God, in His infinite wisdom, blesses His children with good things, things that He knows will lead to their ultimate happiness.  John Piper, in his sermon “What Do Answers to Prayer Depend On?”, says the following:

“That is what God will always give in response to our prayers—good things. ‘No good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.’ If God denies our bread or our fish, it is not to give us a stone or a serpent, but cake and steak.  When my one year old, Abraham, sees a shiny kitchen knife and wants to have it, I will divert his attention from it to a big, green can filled with clothespins and show him how much fun they are. Have I answered his prayer? No, I haven’t given the specific thing he asked for, but, yes, I did answer his longing to have a good time playing with something.  Day before yesterday we opened a box of oatmeal cookies for dessert and they were moldy, so I started to throw them all away. But Benjamin started to cry and say, ‘I saw one that didn’t have any fuzz on it.’ But I said, ‘Benjamin, the mold starts to grow before you can see it, and it can make you sick. Let’s have gorp instead.’ So we did, but Benjamin felt like he was definitely getting second best. And that’s the way we often feel when some of our specific requests are turned down. We think God is giving us second best. But he is not. To those who love him and are called according to his purpose, he always gives what is best for them. Therefore, when we pray, we may always have undoubting faith that God will give us what is best for us.”

And commentator David Guzik, on Matthew 7:9-11:

“Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t have to be persuaded or appeased in prayer.  He wants to give us not just bread, but even more than what we ask for.  Thankfully, the times we ask for something as bad as a serpent without knowing, like a loving parent God often mercifully spares us the penalty of our ignorance.”

Not only are God’s actions and gifts good; His commandments are good, too.  Since the time of Plato, theologians and philosophers have debated what’s known as the Euthyphro dilemma, asking just why God’s commandments are good.  The dilemma goes like this:  Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?  Although there are problems with both options (and some people reject the dilemma as altogether false), I hold the latter option to be true:  things are good because God commands them.  That doesn’t make goodness arbitrary.  Rather, it draws on the fixed, unchanging nature of God Himself.  God doesn’t issue commands based on pure whimsy or caprice; He commands in accordance to the moral law He embodies.  Yes, God’s power is unchecked, His authority absolute, and He answers to no one, but He is no tyrant, oppressing and brutalizing His subjects.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—eternally good.  Goodness is grounded in God’s character and expressed in His commands.

It has been said that God is not only good in His essence, but good by His essence.  God need not refer to some objective standard of morality to justify His decisions, because God is the standard; His very nature establishes what is good.  Christian philosopher William P. Alston offers the analogy of the standard meter bar in France.  Something is a meter long inasmuch as it is the same length as the standard meter bar, and likewise, something is good inasmuch as it approximates God.

In his Theodicy, Gottfried Leibniz exposes a seeming problem with this philosophy, asking, “What cause could one have to praise God for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?”  We praise God because we praise the goodness of His nature, which obligates Him to act accordingly, binding Him necessarily to goodness.  Detractors of divine command theory say that that puts limits on God and denies His omnipotence.  But I feel confident is saying that God is constrained by His nature, just as He is constrained by reality and by the Law of Non-Contradiction.  To me, that argument is empty, and reminiscent of the old paradox:  Can God make a stone that He cannot lift?  (This question is pure nonsense.  It essentially asks:  Can something that can’t be resisted be resisted?)

Christian apologist Timothy McCabe argues that the Euthyphro dilemma is erroneous, and he suggests turning it into a mathematical statement so that we can better see its fallacy.  Is the authority of objective morality “greater than” the authority of God, or is the authority of objective morality “less than” the authority of God?  He claims that “greater than” and “less than” are not the only possibilities in a mathematical statement.  “Equal to,” he suggests, is a clear third option.

God is immensely and perfectly good.  And may that never be something that passes from our lips with indifference, or that merely sits in our brains to be recalled during times of trial, but may it be something we acknowledge from the deepest part of ourselves and rely on with firm conviction every day.

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