“Not to Know About God, to Know God” – God is Good, Always
Recently, a particular phrase caught my attention as a friend and I discussed our college-aged children and their acceptance into the first universities of their choice. Not surprisingly, I had just heard the same phrase used in church on a recent Sunday – following the announcement of an entirely different kind of blessing. The phrase to which I am referring is simply, “God is good!”
What do we really mean when we use this phrase? Do we really stop to think about the implications contained within this statement? More often than not, people state that “God is good!” when they have been materially blessed, healed, or other prayers have been answered. What, then, do we say when we have material or financial loss, remain or become seriously ill, or otherwise receive the opposite of what we’ve been praying for? Do we then report that, “God is not good!”? What about when a clearly self-motivated, greedy, prideful individual is richly blessed? What do we say then? Is it not God’s right to send rain upon the fields of the wicked and righteous both (Matthew 5:45)?
Surely, God’s goodness is completely independent from what He does for us. His goodness, instead, is part of who He is – it is a part of His character that is inviolable and constant. So the question becomes… what do we mean by “goodness” as it applies to God? Is it His holiness, moral character, or benevolence? His mercy, amazing grace, or forbearance? Perhaps the best possible answer is… YES. Our Lord is good in every conceivable way.
Consider the following quote from C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain;
“God has no needs. Human love, as Plato teaches us, is the child of Poverty – of want or lack; it is caused by a real or supposed goal in its beloved which the lover needs and desires. But God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence, and then into real, though derivative, lovability. God is Goodness. He can give good, but cannot need or get it. In that sense, His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give, and nothing to receive.”
I don’t believe that it is possible to think about or study the goodness of God without arriving at the fact that His goodness is inextricably tied to His love. Lewis describes the connection perfectly in the passage above. God’s perfect Good is demonstrated by the fact that He continually gives without taking, loves without any need to be loved in return, and bestows His favor upon we who do not deserve it. His goodness comes first… it in an initiating act. Just as we love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), we can be good only because He is good first – and when through His love He chooses to make us so.
Lewis rightly distinguishes God’s goodness from ours by emphasizing His lack of need for anything He could be given. God does good simply because it is His nature to do so – He receives nothing in return, nor does He expect to (Romans 11:35-36). We, as fallen humans, can’t begin to grasp this because when we do good deeds for others, we do expect something in return. Even if we give out of charity and know that we won’t be repaid, we still receive something intangible in return. We always have a need we are seeking to fulfill… the need for love and acceptance, the need for accomplishment and success, the need to be esteemed and seen as valuable by others, the need to belong. Everything that we do, ultimately, is pursuant to meeting our social, physical, emotional, and relational needs. However, true Goodness is completely selfless – and this is a state that we can’t hope to achieve in this lifetime. It is, however, the natural state in which our glorious God dwells.
I believe that effectively exploring the goodness of God could take quite a while – but also that much could be learned from this subject of study.
I hope that you will join me as we learn together not just to know about God, but to know God.
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