The Goodness of God

This is another remarkable attribute of our God:

There is nothing greater to think about, study, or meditate upon, than God and his attributes. If I was allowed only to read, think and write about this one thing alone, I would be more than happy to do so. And of course throughout all eternity we will still be reflecting on it, and worshipping God for it.

The great A. W. Tozer was absolutely correct when he said this in the first page of the first chapter of his 1976 classic, The Knowledge of the Holy:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that comprises the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.

And so it is that I am delighted to pen another piece in my series on divine attributes. And this piece comes about for at least two reasons. One, I have not directly dealt with this attribute as yet. Two, a great saint of God called me recently, and she knows much about God’s goodness.

Paradoxically, she knows much of God and his goodness because she has allowed herself to be humbled and broken by God. It is in that condition that the believer gets the most from the Lord. As Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” So thanks for the call, sister!

Let me look briefly at this attribute. Here are just some texts, of many, that speak to this:

Psalm 25:7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
Psalm 31:19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!
Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Isaiah 63:7 I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
Jeremiah 31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more.
Romans 2:4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 11:22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.
Titus 3:3-5 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Let me draw upon three Christians who have written on these themes. Two more recent writers and one older one will be utilised here, with a few representative quotes of theirs worth running with here. In the same Tozer volume, he of course has a chapter on the goodness of God. In it he says this in part:

Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Because God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness. He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind. He is no respecter of persons but makes His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust. The cause of His goodness is in Himself; the recipients of His goodness are all His beneficiaries without merit and without recompense.

With this agrees reason, and the moral wisdom that knows itself runs to acknowledge that there can be no merit in human conduct, not even in the purest and the best. Always God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. Repentance, though necessary, is not meritorious but a condition for receiving the gracious gift of pardon that God gives of His goodness. Prayer is not in itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason. Nor is faith meritorious; it is simply confidence in the goodness of God, and the lack of it is a reflection upon God’s holy character….

By our own attitudes we may determine our reception by Him. Though the kindness of God is an infinite, overflowing fountain of cordiality, God will not force His attention upon us. If we would be welcomed as the Prodigal was, we must come as the Prodigal came; and when we so come, even though the Pharisees and the legalists sulk without, there will be a feast of welcome within, and music and dancing as the Father takes His child again to His heart.

The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid—that is the paradox of faith.

O God, my hope, my heavenly rest,
My all of happiness below,
Grant my importunate request,
To me, to me, Thy goodness show;
Thy beatific face display,
The brightness of eternal day.
Before my faith’s enlightened eyes,
Make all Thy gracious goodness pass;
Thy goodness is the sight I prize:
O might I see Thy smiling face:
Thy nature in my soul proclaim,
Reveal Thy love, Thy glorious name.
Charles Wesley

Image of The Knowledge of the Holy
The Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer (Author), General Press (Author) Amazon logo

An older volume written by the great English Puritan divine and Presbyterian clergyman, Stephen Charnock (1628-1680), is certainly worth mentioning. I refer to his classic work, The Existence and Attributes of God, published posthumously in 1682. In it he devotes some 150 pages to the matter of God’s goodness.

Because there is so much material here, I can only offer just a tiny portion of it, and that in bullet point form. Early on he offers four unique aspects to divine goodness:

-God is only originally good, good of Himself. All created goodness is a rivulet from this fountain…
-God only is infinitely good. A boundless goodness that knows no limits…
-God is only perfectly good, because only infinitely good…
-God only is immutably good…

And toward the end of this lengthy chapter he gives us 7 responses to this doctrine:

-A right sense of his goodness would dispose us to an ingenuous worship of God….
-A sense of it will keep us humble…
-A sense of the Divine goodness would make us faithful to him…
-A sense of the Divine goodness would make us patient under our miseries…
-A sense of the Divine goodness would mount us above the world. It would damp our appetites after meaner things; we should look upon the world not as a God, but a gift from God, and never think the present better than the Donor…
-It would check any motions of envy: it would make us joy in the prosperity of good men, and hinder us from envying the outward felicity of the wicked…
-It would make us thankful…

My last notable Christian worth featuring is the great contemporary theologian James Packer. In his classic 1973 book, Knowing God, he has a chapter on the goodness and severity of God, drawing upon the Rom. 11 passage I mentioned above. He defines this as follows:

Goodness, in God as in man, means something admirable, attractive and praiseworthy. When the biblical writers call God ‘good’, they are thinking in general of 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’….

Within the cluster of God’s moral perfections there is one in particular to which the term ‘goodness’ points – the quality which God especially singled out from the whole when, proclaiming ‘all his goodness’ to Moses, he spoke of himself as “abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). This is the quality of generosity. Generosity means a disposition to give to others in a way that has no mercenary motive and is not limited by what the recipients deserve, but consistently goes beyond it. Generosity expresses the simple wish that others should have what they need to make them happy. Generosity is, so to speak, the focal point of God’s moral perfection; it is the quality which determines how God’s other excellencies are to be displayed. God is ‘abundant in goodness’….

The classical exposition of God’s goodness is Psalm 107. Here, to enforce his summons to ‘give thanks to the LORD, for he is good’, the psalmist generalises from past experiences of Israel in captivity and Israelites in personal need to give four examples of how people ‘cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distress’ (verses 1, 6, 13, 19, 28). The first example is of God redeeming the helpless from their enemies and leading them out of barrenness to find a home; the second is of God delivering from ‘darkness and the shadow of death’ those whom He had himself brought into this condition because of their rebellion against Him; the ‘third is of God healing the diseases with which He had chastened ‘fools’ who disregarded Him; the fourth is of God protecting voyagers by stilling the storm which they thought would sink their ship. Each episode ends with the refrain, ‘Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men’ (verses 8, 15, 21, 31). The whole psalm is a majestic panorama of the operations of divine goodness, transforming human lives.

Much more can be said of course. But all of us need to exalt afresh in the wonderful goodness of our wonderful God.

[1872 words]

4 Replies to “The Goodness of God”

  1. Thanks Bill, what comes to mind and something good that God is doing is making a way for the Jews to return to their homeland from the four corners of the earth after all this time. The following is an exerpt from the Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
    ‘For as many nations struggle to deal with the pandemic and this new reality, Israel has continued to be what the prophet Isaiah called her: “a light to the nations” (51:4).
    Besides handling the pandemic we are all facing, the Jewish state has remained the beacon for God’s people she has always been.
    Even while dealing with the coronavirus crisis, Israel has continued to fulfill biblical prophecy by bringing the “remnants” of God’s children back home to the Holy Land, their biblical and historic homeland.
    This gathering of God’s people to the Promised Land, this fulfillment of His prophecy, is only possible because of YOU. Your fervent prayers and your sacrificial gifts make our holy work of aliyah (immigration to Israel) possible.
    And so we ask that you join us in prayer in the coming weeks, in prayer that God will bring His children home – while the doors to immigration open back up. The prophet Isaiah also wrote that our mighty God would “raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel” (11:12).
    As we pray together for Jewish people’s return “from the four quarters of the earth,” please mark Isaiah 11:12 in your Bible ………….to remind you to pray:
    “God, open the floodgates.”
    Pray that more nations will open their borders and allow Jewish immigrants to return to Israel.
    “God, plant a hedge of protection.”
    Pray for traveling mercies and blessings for the Jewish people as they return to their biblical homeland, and settle into their new lives.
    “Here I am, send me.”
    Encourage others to join you in this holy mission supporting the Jewish people in their return to the Holy Land.’

  2. The Knowledge of the Holy is one of my all-time favorite books. Even though it was written quite a few years ago, he said something that would be true and probably on a greater scale considering what we have seen take place in the church since the year 2000.

    He writes;
    “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.”

    What would he say about the Christian conception of God in today’s culture?

    The Knowledge of the Holy is a much needed book to be read over and over again. But, and from my experience with dealing with many believers that jibber jabber on various Christian websites, many of them have never even read the first thing about the Attributes of God, let alone anything deeper like Systematic Theology. They flat out refuse to read. Then I am reminded of this verses;

    Hos 4:1 Hear the word of the LORD, ye children of Israel: for the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
    Hos 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

  3. Hi Bill, thanks again for another great article, one to encourage us brothers and sisters in Christ to meditate on God’s wonderful attributes.. not so much as a respite from the concerns of this world, but to remind us of how great and mighty God is! He is sovereign and worthy to be praised now and into eternity. Praise the Lord for your continuing ministry , I really am blessed by your words you write, please be encouraged! God bless you , yours in Christ, Christa King-Freer

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