THE GOODNESS OF GOD


“Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes.”
(Psalm 119:68)


The goodness of God is asserted everywhere in Scripture. For examples:

The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Ex 34:6); The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD (Ps 33:5); The goodness of God endureth continually (Ps 52:1); Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee (Ps 86:5); The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works (Ps 145:9); The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him (Lam 3:25); The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him (Nah 1:7); And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God (Mt 19:17); Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Rom 2:4), etc.


But of all the declarations in Scripture on the goodness of God, the verse that particularly captures the doctrine of the goodness of God with the most succinct profundity, is no doubt Psalm 119:68a—“Thou art good, and doest good.”


In this statement, the Psalmist acknowledges that (1) God is intrinsically good; (2) God’s goodness is manifested in His works; and (3) God’s goodness can be personally experienced, and can and ought to affect our lives.


Nature of God’s Goodness


The Psalmist says, “Thou art good” (v. 68a). Simple as it may sound, this is actually a very profound confession.


In the first place, it is a declaration that cannot be made about man. When the rich young man came up to the Lord Jesus and said: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Mt 19:16), the Lord replied, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mt 19:17). What does He mean? He means that God alone is good in the absolute sense of the word. And therefore, only God is truly good. The goodness of all of God’s creation derives from, and is measured by, the goodness of God.


How do you know if a ruler is good or accurate? We measure it against the standard ruler kept in the Smithsonian Institute. How do we measure the moral goodness of a man? We must measure against the goodness of God, who is absolutely good. When we do so, we will immediately discover by experience and Scripture that all men fall short of the absolute goodness of God, and therefore cannot be truly described as good. That is, all men except the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Thomas Manton puts it so beautifully when he says: “He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good.” But we must realise that even that drop of good, if it were found in man, is polluted by evil. Were it not for Christ’s robe of righteousness covering us, who may stand in the sight of God as being righteous and good?


In the second place, since God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable, the declaration, “Thou art good,” tells us that His goodness is perfect and unchangeable. In other words, goodness is an intrinsic, essential attribute of God. He cannot cease to be good and remain God. Thus, as the LORD declares: “I am the LORD, I change not” (Mal 3:6), so the Psalmist proclaims: “The goodness of God endureth continually” (Ps 52:1).


Manifestations of God’s Goodness


When we talk about God’s goodness, we are talking about His benevolence, love, mercy and grace. But God’s goodness has real meaning for us only when it is manifested in His works relative to His creation and creatures; and thus the Psalmist declares: “Thou art good, and doest good” (Ps 119:68).


How is God’s goodness manifested in His works?


It is manifested, firstly, in His Creation and Providence. So, right from the beginning in Genesis, we are told: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). What does it mean that what is created was good, but that it was perfect and without flaw. Such was God’s creation before it was marred by the Fall of man (Gen 3:17—19). We have an idea of what is the original goodness of God’s creation, from the fact that we speak of the intrusion of sicknesses, pain, tragedies and disasters. In using these terms we acknowledge that there is such a thing as a state of wellness or goodness, where the body is functioning healthily, and men dwell in peace and nature exists in harmony. Why is there such a satisfactorily state in every sphere of creation and life, rather than utter chaos, but that God is good and has manifested His goodness in Creation and Providence. On account of sin, God has ordained evil and disasters, and allowed such as is bad to intrude upon what may be perceived as good and normal in God’s providence. Yet, it cannot be denied that all, which may be regarded as good, must find its origin in God. This the Psalmist declares: “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast” (Ps 36:6).


Secondly, from a different angle, God’s goodness is manifested in His Benevolence. This includes His benevolence and compassion towards all His creatures, including the reprobates. This is the declaration of Scripture: “The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps 145:9); “The earth is full of the goodness of the LORD” (Ps 33:5); “For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). Benevolence includes His making provision for the relief of those suffering, and His not judging the impenitent immediately, but patiently forbearing them: “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance and long suffering?” (Rom 2:4). Some would call this benevolence of God towards His creatures “Common Grace.” But, we must be careful not to entertain the Arminian concept that God is gracious to all men and desirous of all men to be saved simply because He deals benevolently with men in the temporal and providential sphere. No, all men must regard whatever they receive in life that conduce to their temporal comforts as being from the benevolent hand of God. Yet, these same blessings will become, for the finally impenitent, dead weights to sink them into the lake of fire.


Conversely, in the third place, God’s goodness is manifested in His Love, Election and Redemption of a people in Christ. While God demonstrates a general benevolence to all, He reserves a special distinctive love for His elect, which we may call “complacent love.” The word “complacent,” in this context, must not be taken with the modern connotation of smug satisfaction. Rather, it must be taken according to its Latin root, complacentia, which speaks of being pleased with, taking the fancy of, or having affections for. Thus complacent love is exercised towards a worthy object in which excellencies are perceived. It regards the object complacently or approvingly, because there is in the object something worthy of such regard.


When we talk about God’s benevolence or benevolent love, it is a love of God irrespective of the nature of the object. It speaks of God as being not malevolent but doing good to all. Thus we are taught to love even our enemies that we may be children of our heavenly Father (Mt 5:44–45). But this love cannot be the same kind of love, which we should have towards our parents, children, spouses or even friends. Our love for these is a complacent love based on our approbation of them, on our special relationship with them, or our considering them to be good or useful to us.


God’s love for the elect is a complacent love. But why does He love us complacently? What is it in the elect that differs from the reprobate that God should love them complacently? The answer to this question is simply that we are loved in Christ (Rom 8:39; Eph 1:3). Complacent love must be exercised by God in its highest degree, in the love of one who is infinitely excellent. Who is infinitely excellent but God Himself? And thanks be to God, Christ who represented us in the Covenant of Grace is fully God and fully man.


By this special love and mercy, God demonstrates His goodness towards His own people; in choosing them, in redeeming them, in calling them, in pardoning them, in adopting them, in sanctifying them, in preserving them, and ultimately in glorifying them and giving them possession of His kingdom hereafter. Again the Scripture testifies of this special love: “The LORD God, merciful and gracious,… abundant in goodness…, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 24:6–7); “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Ps 73:1); “The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” (Lam 3:25); “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).


What a tremendous comfort it must be for the child of God to know that the goodness of God is especially demonstrated in His special love for us, and that love is independent of who we are, for we are not only unworthy but do constantly make ourselves hateful by our sins. So we exclaim with the Apostle Paul:

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:33–39).


Experience of God’s Goodness


The goodness of God, moreover, must not be seen as a speculative theological concept. The fact that it can be experienced by the child of God can be seen from the fact that the declaration: “Thou art good, and doest good,” though written under inspiration, was born out of the Psalmist’s personal experience of God’s providential dealings with him. So he begins the stanza with the words: “Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word” (Ps 119:65).


It should be noted further more, that the Psalmist, in expressing of the goodness of God, is declaring his confidence in God’s ways, for he immediately adds: “teach me thy statutes” (Ps 119:68b). But astonishingly, the “goodness of God” experienced by the Psalmist is not what the world will call good. Notice how he puts it in verses 67 and 71: “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word”; and “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”


These statements immediately confront us with two important facts, which every child of God ought to bear in mind in our pilgrimage on earth.


Firstly, we should be reminded that God must be the standard of goodness. Let us therefore not be too quick to judge any turn of event as being bad. Yes, we may indeed grieve when something untoward happens to us. Yes, we ought to regard evil as evil. Yes, we ought not to be rejoicing when we should be weeping. But at the same time, we must never entertain any thought of unfairness or wrongness on the part of God.


Secondly, we must realise that God has a purpose in everything that He brings to pass. Though the constituent events, which leads up to God’s ultimate goal may not appear good in isolation, yet we must agree that: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).


Are you experiencing some frowning providence in your life right now, beloved? Do not be discouraged. God has a purpose in our trial. Behind every storm cloud of providence is the Sun of Righteousness who knows what is best for us.


Did He ordain suffering for you at this time to chastise you for sin and to warn you of greater evil if you remain unrepentant (Heb 12:6)? Or did He bring about the calamity in your life as a trial of faith and to strengthen your resolve to trust Him (Jas 1:2–4) as was the case with Job (Job 23:10), Joseph (Gen 50:20) and Paul (2 Cor 12)? Or is this trial simply for God’s ultimate glory (Jn 9:3; 11:44; Rom 9:21–23). Until the day we meet the Lord, we may not understand the reason for our present suffering. But we must believe that God is good and does good, and we must respond in the same way as the Psalmist: “Teach me thy statutes” (Ps 119:68b). We may pray for wisdom to know how best to conduct ourselves under the trial so as to bear spiritual fruit and testimony (Jas 1:5), but we must never demand an answer from the Lord. Instead while our proud hearts are being softened by the tears of trial or the fire of tribulation, we must meekly resolve to learn of God’s revealed will and seek to obey it despite, and in spite, of our circumstances. Only then can we resound with the Psalmist: “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.”


Conclusion


May the Lord grant us a proper apprehension of the goodness of God, especially of His goodness towards those in Christ that we may run our Christian race with joy and confidence.


Just as the Psalmist contemplates and is deeply assured of God’s goodness, let us also appreciate the goodness of God. Let us count our blessings, but let us learn not to see blessings only with the eyes of the world. And so let us thank God in every circumstance (1 Thes 5:18). But as we live in a time of greater light as compared to the Psalmist, let us, furthermore, look to the Cross of Calvary to see the paradox of the Cross. For the Cross appears to be the greatest evil conceivable, in that the Son of God should be afflicted with infinite injustice and pain for sin not His own. But it was there on the Cross that God most clearly manifested His goodness and love for us all.


J.J. Lim