What do we mean when we say “God is good?” I suspect that for many people, it’s a bit like saying “God is love.” Each statement is a good, proper Sunday School-type statement. But they don’t serve us well or take us deeper into an understanding of or relationship with God.
A few months ago I was talking with one of our grandchildren about what they were learning in Sunday School. They said, “All they tell us is that God loves us, and I already know that!” Statements like “God loves us” or “God is good” can easily become what one might call, a simplistic bumper-sticker theology (or window decal). Great sayings, but out of sight (or in the case of decals, backward when we see them in the rear-view mirror). I suspect that most of us want something more than a bumper-sticker theology.
What does it mean that God is good? In Psalm 34, the psalmist, David said: Taste and see that the lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him (34:8). In a previous post, we tasted and saw the goodness of God in the creation narrative (see Tov Meod). Our understanding of God’s goodness comes from the biblical narrative. The creation story points to God’s intrinsic goodness. It’s who he is. It’s an objective reality of his character. (If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man you will understand what I mean by “objective reality”).
As the biblical narrative developed, we continue to see His goodness manifested, especially as it relates to humanity. Sin entered the picture, disrupting God’s good creation. To restore and redeem his good creation, God called Abraham and his descendants to be integral to the redemption project. Abraham’s decedents, God’s people, were called to be a blessing – to communicate God’s objective goodness to the world.
As you may recall, they taxed God’s goodness. They constantly turned away from Him, chasing after other gods, proving to be unfaithful to him and to their calling. But God, in His goodness, remained faithful and loyal to the people and to his commitment to redeem the world. The story culminated with Jesus entering history with the good news that God’s kingdom had broken in and complete redemption was on the horizon. This is what we call the Gospel – GOOD news. Don’t miss the significance of that.
In the middle of the narrative, about a thousand years before Jesus, David found himself running for his life – the jealous King Saul was out to get him. Though David had been anointed to become the next king, survival itself was in doubt. It was during this time that he likely wrote Psalm 34. What we know of David is that he was a man after God’s own heart, and we see this in his song:
1 I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.
Given his personal history with God, David could say with confidence: I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears… Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:4,8). He could say, with confidence…
God has my best interests in mind.
When our kids were young, whenever I needed to make a Saturday run to the hardware store or the lumber yard (they were two different stores 30+ years ago), I would always grab whichever of our four kids was available to go with me. The excursion usually included a stop at the local Food Bonanza to visit all the Saturday morning food-sampling stations. As the kids got older, it took a little more encouragement to get them to drop what they were doing to join their dad as he ran errands. My usual enticement came in the form of “Have I ever steered you wrong?”
When Jonathan, our youngest, was about 11, we were living in the Memphis, TN, area. One Saturday I needed to make a Home Depot run and took Jonathan with me. As we were driving along, I asked him, “Do you know how much I love you?” We drove in silence for a while as he pondered his response. Then, in classic Jonathan-style, he said, “Well, you’ve never steered me wrong.” I suspect that David not only knew that God had his best interests in mind, but also that God had never steered him wrong.
We are going to continue to discuss the goodness of God, especially as it relates to our day-to-day living. Remember, this blog is about practical theology. In the meantime, as you read the biblical narrative, taste and see that the Lord is good. Maybe check out some images of his good creation via the Hubble telescope. Or via the new James Webb Telescope (which is 100 times more powerful than Hubble). And keep in mind the objective reality that the one true God who created this vast universe…
Has our bests interests in mind!